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This Week! The (Original) Gold Rush in San Rafael

December 23, 2011

Coming attraction slide for The Gold Rush (1925)
Coming attraction slide for The Gold Rush (1925)

Of all the silent films I have seen, and there have been thousands, Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925) is without a doubt the closest to my heart.  As I teenager I discovered silent film through the 8mm holdings of the local university library.  Their collection held only five titles: MetropolisThe Cabinet of Dr. CaligariBattleship PotemkinThe Phantom of the Opera, and The Gold Rush.  I borrowed, borrowed, and re-borrowed those five titles watching them over and over, the only soundtrack being the click-click-click of my little Eumig projector.  I don't know if anybody else ever borrowed them, possibly they never had the chance since I always had them out.  I remember well The Gold Rush being first that I watched and by the time Charlie finished "dancing" the Oceana Roll I was hooked for life.

Despite timeless acclaim for the film, the original silent version of The Gold Rush has been the most challenging of Chaplin's features to see in a theatrical setting.  Ironically (or not), the villain has been sound.  In 1942 Chaplin re-worked and re-released the film with a synchronized sound track.  He replaced the intertitles with narration (hear Charlie speak!), added sound effects and a musical score of his own composition, and re-edited, rearranged, and trimmed certain sequences.  Furthermore, by adding sound the film required projection at 24 frames per second, speeding up the action and reducing the film's overall running time.  All told, the 1942 re-release plays seven minutes shorter than the original and is a huge disappointment compared to this original 1925 version.  What's worse, until very recently the sound version has been the only version available for theatrical screening.

But wait!  It's a Christmas miracle!  This week the San Rafael Film Center is screening a beautiful  newly restored 35mm print of the original silent version.  The excised footage has been restored, the narration removed, and with the permission of the Chaplin estate, composer Timothy Brock has extended Chaplin's 1942 orchestral score to accommodate is original 90 minute length.

The Gold Rush plays through Thursday at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street).  

Happy Holidays!