Thanks to the Gallery Players of Niagara, I recently watched "Movie Night! - Three Rare Comedies - Charlie Chaplin, 1916," a total of 78 minutes of rare film footage, each a short classic Chaplin silent film, all a hundred years old, brilliantly performed and edited - in fact, according to Film historian, Joan Nicks, "the best three of the day."
The Film House wasn't exactly silent. Chaplin's hilarious slapstick antics were accompanied by extemporaneous music derived from three accomplished musicians from the Gallery Players - Penner MacKay on the drums, Eric Mahar, guitar and Douglas Miller, flute.
Joan Nicks, introduced and briefly described the titles - ONE A.M., Chaplin's take on an intoxicated playboy who erratically maneuvers around furniture and stairs like a stranger navigating the layout of someone else's home; THE PAWNSHOP, Charlie creates chaos as the owner's assistant and a fixer of pawned items, including a client's clock; THE RINK, Charlie as a restaurant employee, makes mischief in the kitchen, roller-skates like a pro, and captures the girl in the end, each silent film approximately 26 minutes in length.
Brock University's Nicks, an adjunct professor of film and popular culture, also provided us with a brief sketch of Chaplin's background and the amazing fact that although born in poverty, at age 26, he was remarkably wealthy and in total administrative control of his own film studio. What was evident throughout the three restored films was that the diminutive Chaplin was an incredible athlete, his challenging antics requiring unusual strength, agility and timing.
Chaplin became an international icon through his screen persona "the Tramp." He is considered one of the major figures in film industry history, his career spanning more than 75 years from his impoverished childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death in 1977.
In the informative program notes, Joan Nicks tells us that "the collaborative project of restoring Chaplin's twelve Mutual films involved several international film preservation institutions. The initial quest was to locate the best copies and pieces found in studio vaults, archives and private collections. Technical experts cleaned and repaired the selected surviving negatives and fragments, re-assembled and digitized them, a pain's-taking process. The work on Chaplin's Mutual films screened this evening was completed in 2013 and 2014."
The Gallery Players of Niagara initiated their concerts in 1994 and they have become one of Niagara's most distinguished presenters of classical chamber music. They present a variety of music from Vivaldi to Brahms to folk-inspired music to the improvised music that we heard to accompany the silent Chaplin movies.
They perform in many of Niagara's churches, the Rodman Hall Arts Centre in St. Catharines, the Niagara Artists Centre, and this weekend at the new and seemingly quite busy FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.
The Gallery Players of Niagara boast a core membership of 15 regular performers, supplementing the ranks each season with invited guests. Core players perform with the Niagara Symphony, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, Toronto Symphony, and myriad smaller arts organizations within the Golden Horseshoe.
We are fortunate to have this talented group in Niagara. Their next gig is "Haydn Central" performed by the Eybler Quartet, April 30, 2.00 pm at the Silver Spire United Church, 366 St. Paul St. You can order tickets by phone - 905-468-1525 or online at