I had a pretty cool experience Friday night. There was a revival showing of two Charlie Chaplin films, at the Capitol Theatre, the most reputable venue in the state of Utah, where the biggest touring shows play. On this night, however, they were showing the short Easy Street (1917), and the very famous City Lights (1931). Admission was only 25 cents, and the crowd it drew was substantial.
It was amazing to see what kind of crowd would show up to see a 76 year-old silent movie. Every demographic was represented. There were men and women, young kids and elderly folks, and just about everybody in between. There was no targeting of a specific group. The target audience was all groups. And they all seemed to be there. But would they enjoy this old classic?
I can't remember the last time I went to a movie with an audience that was this involved in what played out on that huge screen. They laughed and cheered, oohed and aahed, and generally reacted to just about everything. It was really magical. It didn't matter that the film was an antique of the cinema with only organ music to accompany it. What mattered was that it was an involving story with characters that you cared about. Oh, and was very funny, too.
I had never seen City Lights, and it deserves all the accolades heaped upon it. Chaplin was at his peak at this time, and he had mastered several things that set him apart. Harold Lloyd (Safety Last) was an amazing athlete, and Buster Keaton (The General) had incredible scope to his jokes, but Charlie Chaplin and his Tramp character had sympathy. You cared about him, and when Chaplin went to a closeup, it was always at the right moment.
As I sat in that theatre, watching this time capsule, I thought about what it must have been like in 1931. It was the time of the Great Depression. There was no internet, and television wouldn't be part of mainstream life for another twenty years. People went to the movies to forget their problems and be entertained. They went to see City Lights, as some sort of temporary relief from their own troubled lives. Is it really any different today?