F.I.L.M. presents: The Golden Age of Comedy: Chaplin and Keaton

By Ghada Emish ’19

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Febfest’s Comedy Show will not be the only laughter-inducing event at Hamilton this February. F.I.L.M. is sponsoring a dose of classic comedy through four screenings entitled, “For the Young and Young at Heart.” Professor Scott MacDonald has planned these screenings in tandem with his class, American Film Comedy: Classic and Modern. The screenings are scheduled every Sunday this month beginning Feb. 5 at 2:00 p.m. in KJ 125.
Professor MacDonald hopes these screenings will attract some special guests whose laughter itself is funny: kids. Professor MacDonald has invited them as they are incredibly and instantly entertained by Chaplin films and their laughter rises to a level of comfort and spontaneity that knows no restrictions. Also, watching comedy with other people is funnier to hear other people reacting strongly to comedy.
Classic comedy does not come to mind without mentioning Chaplin. Chaplin’s splendid agility is so effortless that, at times, it does not feel like he is performing. Although he looks young, he moves around with a stick, which one thinks is a magic wand that cancels the effect of gravity on him and unleashes his energy.
Knowing that Chaplin came from poverty has a humbling effect on his audience. Along with his little brother, Chaplin used to perform on London streets for money. Perhaps this is one of the reasons his performance feels so natural. Lots of hard work was invested for him to succeed and preserve his success.
The first film of the film series that will be screened on Feb. 5,The Adventurer, will feature The Tramp as a fugitive. He is being chased, but wittily tries to escape. Every time the viewer thinks he is doomed, he finds an opportunity—or it finds him––to combat his bad luck.
 The Kid (to be screened Feb. 5) is Chaplin’s first full length film (53 min). In order to transition from making short films to longer ones, Chaplin modified his method. The film touches upon the challenges facing a single parent, a serious subject, yet in no way does this detract from Chaplin’s irresistible comedy. Unlike protagonists in Chaplin’s films before The Kid, the main character has a strongly felt purpose that commences early in the film and is fulfilled by the end.
Chaplin knew The Tramp’s parameters as well as he knew his own palm. Chaplin invented The Tramp. He put the attire on and brought the character to life by improvising the smallest details of his personality. The Tramp is witty in his motion and facial expressions. This ability makes Chaplin unparalleled in the way he choreographed and directed such intelligent performances.
The General (to be screened Feb. 12) starring Buster Keaton, is full of awe-inspiring stunts. Keaton’s ability to master a decent level of acting while putting his life at risk is marvelous. According to MacDonald, Keaton wanted his work to feel real to people, because he knew that only then would he be able to move them.
In some stunts, there was a 50/50 chance that Keaton might not have survived—for example, sitting on a train’s connecting rods, which link wheels together, while the train is moving. This level of dedication is missed in the comedy productions of today. Because the single-comedian films have disappeared from modern-day Hollywood, Laurel and Hardy’s comedy duo is more similar to today’s comedy.
In The Music Box and Two Tars (to be screened Feb. 19),  Laurel and Hardy are two friends who constantly argue either because of their corresponding goals or because they just have different views on how to move a piano up high steps.
Modern Times (1935) (to be screened Feb. 26) is Chaplin’s first sound film, in which he remains silent for the most part. Apparently, Chaplin was quite sensitive to the negative influence of industry on social values.
The film reveals an obsessive tendency toward automation to the extent of feeding employees with a machine to reduce lunch time and increase productivity—boy! The times we spend chatting under the excuse of having lunch in college.
Additionally, Chaplin presents sweet and refreshing romance that does not rely on fancy possessions for happiness or satisfaction—had Chaplin seen HBO shows, who knows what he would have thought.
These classic comedies are action-loaded. Clearly, Keaton and Chaplin do not come from the same school of today’s action-comedy films with smashed cars, blazing fire and fancy smoke, but there is a lot of heartfelt emotion and amusing little incidents that lead to important events in the plot. These films are among the work for which Hollywood gained its reputation. The muscular flexibility of these actors is not visible in their “bulked up” figures, but rather in their ability to shift their ground smoothly and persuasively.
One does not have to be interested in silent movies to enjoy classic comedy films. Chaplin and Keaton produce human gestures that people around the world can relate to.
For this reason, these comedians are not only part of American cinematic history, but also a crucial part of human cultural memory.

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