If you feel like a little tramp, consider Charlie Chaplin?s A Dog?s Life, screening as part of a silent triptych of moving pictures presented by the Sonoma Film Institute.
As the top dog of the silent era, Chaplin?s depiction of a dog-day afternoon spent with a rescued mutt was the first of his films to be heralded as a masterpiece. Trailing Chaplin, but no less a comedian, was Buster Keaton who appears in the Institute?s unspooling of the mistaken identity yarn The Goat. The all-but-forgotten man-child shtick of Harry Langdon in Three?s a Crowd completes the bill in which the clown becomes a pater familias of sorts to a mother and child weathering a snowstorm.
In an era in which filmmakers? corpus callosums are permanently yoked to CGI systems that produce enough eye-candy to send audiences into hypoglycemic shock, these quaint, quiet, black and white visual tone poems are like a mental cleansing. Consider it a spa treatment for your media-drenched mind.
I understood little of the impact of silent cinema until I was walloped by a screening of The Thief of Baghdad at Los Angles? Silent Movie Theatre. Accompanied by a live pianist, the gauzy visions and quiet erotica of the pre-Hays Code flick (a stripped-to-the-waist Douglas Fairbanks cavorts with a scantily-clad Anna May Wong as a Mongol slave among other softcore set-ups) was a potent primer in the transportive power of pure cinema. Chaplin, of course, would make the more sentimental and child-proof version of silent cinema his m?tier. Why Chaplin, armed with little more than a hand-crank camera and well-trained canine, can evoke real human emotion while contemporary filmmakers with more technology than NORAD continually shoot the pooch, is the stuff of masters theses. Suffice it to say, in an era when filmmakers can have it all, sometimes less is more.