Chaplin classics now playing at Amherst Cinema

By Jeff Mitchell

The nostalgia-laden Amherst Cinema held the perfect venue for the silent film “The Gold Rush.” This film is the second installment in the Charlie Chaplin Festival, which is continuing until Nov. 3. The theater was filled with an aging audience that had an almost youthful exuberance when filing into the seats. The small crowd sat back with enthusiasm as the 85-year-old classic played before them.

The film takes place during the Alaskan Gold Rush in the early 20th century. The story follows Chaplin’s character, who finds himself stranded in a cabin with a prospector due to inclement weather. He eventually falls for a young woman and tries to win her at all costs. Unfortunately, obstacles such as gusting winds and rough barmen stand in his path.

While this movie might not be seen as dramatic as “The Kid,” which really exemplified Chaplin’s physical prowess, it is more lighthearted and displays the more comical side of silent film. This is a nice change of pace and demonstrates the many degrees of Chaplin’s work. It also adds to the reason why his work is so popular internationally due to its diversity.

The film was at first a shock to watch due to its static shots, but its simple take quickly became appreciated. The scenes were extremely basic and had no added angles or extreme shots. It takes a lot of pressure off of the audience and allows the viewer to just relax and view a plain story. With the emphasis being on Chaplin’s pursuit of the saloon girl, Georgia, this classic tale of a man vying for the love of a woman truly shows how little cinema has changed in the past 85 years.

Being a silent film, one can assume that watching this movie might become very tedious and uninteresting, but the implementation of music takes the place of this silence very well. The occasional narration also substitutes character dialogue. Without the constant conversation of characters, the audience must assume a lot of chatter which calls for a great deal of imagination. This movie shouldn’t be viewed as a “silent film,” but just viewed as a normal movie that substitutes character conversations with physical actions which can be viewed as a “cinematic ballet.”

The humor is definitely not something to be overlooked. The comedy Chaplin incorporates plays with an audience in a way that lets you in on the joke at his expense. The audience was at his mercy as every joke, no matter how subtle, was greeted with uproarious laughter. This display really shows that comedy is defined by a generation and that as we change, so does our sense of humor.

While the cinematography is basic, the story is highly elevated. The plot contains multiple story arcs that span the length of the entire film and intersect one another. While the overall tale itself is relatively simple, the storytelling was multifaceted. The characters are not complex, but they complement each other in a way that creates a dynamic story. These innovative features make the somewhat simple plot a true classic.

The special effects in this film are extremely primitive to an almost comical level. For example, scenes showing a clay-mation Chaplin hanging over a cliff or a man in an “avalanche?” who is clearly standing in front of a green screen. These are definitely not worthy of any top CGI accolades, but they display how dated the film is.

The film contains a plethora of cliché scenes that have been used in other movies. These include the boot in the soup, as well as a hungry person viewing another man as a piece of food. It is funny to see the archetypes of these jokes in recent cinema and then to see how they were original in their time.

Silent film should not be overlooked, no matter how hard it is to get into or as foreign as it seems. While our generation might view movies like “The Hangover” as defining films, “The Gold Rush” is a film that has maintained its cinematic quality over the past 85 years and still keeps audiences entertained. If you go in expecting a mind bender like “Inception,” you will be disappointed, but if you want a good old fashioned classic that has a simple story, “The Gold Rush” is a film worth seeing. A new Chaplin film can be seen every Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Amherst Cinema.

Jeff Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]