A claim such as “bigger than The Beatles” is tough to live up to, but Charlie Chaplin certainly does, according to entertainer Dan Kamin.
Chaplin was an international sensation in the early days of the movies. Gaining his start on the vaudeville stage in London, he rose to be one of the most recognizable faces in the cinemas and earned love and acclaim along the way.
Today, much of that reverence may be lost, but cinephiles like Kamin are hoping to continue to share the joy and excitement of a silent feature with this iconic star.
Kamin specializes in presenting the love and affection for the silent stars, specifically Chaplin, to a wider audience through his shows. Two of them, “Funny Bones” and “Red Letter Days,” are headed to the Tybee Post Theater this weekend and aim to give audiences an in-depth look at the nuances of Chaplin’s performances and style while also offering an involved presentation for those attending.
“I’ve learned the hard way by being interested in such arcane films — because how many people are going to go out of their way to see a silent film of any kind — that it’s very tricky to put these films in context so that people really understand what all the fuss was about,” he said.
“To understand why Chaplin became the biggest star in the world and the prototype for all superstars that followed.”
When many people think of Chaplin, they immediately go to a number of scenes — the ineffable Tramp getting caught in the gears in “Modern Times,” the sly, revelatory smile that crosses his face in “City Lights” or the plea for empathy in “The Great Dictator” — but Kamin has forgone the usual hits to focus on two films of different periods — 1916’s “The Pawnshop” and 1918’s “Shoulder Arms.”
“‘The Pawnshop’ has amazing content, the depth and theme of [the movie] and the messages are exhilarating to behold. It is one of his most exhilarating films,” Kamin said.
Melissa Turner, the executive director at Tybee Post Theater, tends to agree. She said the duo of programs are being put on after audiences showed an interest in their past silent film shows, including a live quartet playing during a showing of Buster Keaton’s “The General.”
“(Dan’s show) is more than just showing a full-length Chaplin feature. It is a much more deeper dive into Charlie Chaplin as an actor and a comedian, and the physical aspect of [Chaplin] is so recognizable,” she said.
“Charlie Chaplin just had this physical style and I think when you see Dan doing it on stage, you can just relate to him and the Chaplin character... and you see [Dan] acting out the character on stage in front of you.”
Kamin said his “Funny Bones” program focuses on that physicality and is a study of Chaplin as a performer, while his “Red Letter Days” program is more of a biography, taking audiences from Chaplin’s start through his run in Hollywood.
“I start the 'Red Letter Days' program by saying, ‘Charlie Chaplin was bigger than The Beatles’ and I’m going to prove that with artifacts of the period, music of the period and most of all with the films you will see,” he said. “[The program] is... a very interactive kind of seminar where literally everybody is going to [be] doing stuff.”
Kamin added that it means audiences become involved in the performance. “We’re in a world that doesn’t have a lot of visual entertainment anymore in the sense of silent films,” he said.
Turner hopes a strong turnout could mean more programs like this at the Tybee Post Theater, as they hold a special place in her own heart as a fan of classic movies. “I think it’s just so wonderful to come into a theater, especially a historic theater like ours, and see the movies on the big screen as they were originally seen,” she said.