If it gives you goosebumps to know exactly where classic movies were made, “Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through The Films Of Charlie Chaplin” is the book for you. Yep, that’s where Charlie shot “Kid Auto Races” at Venice in 1914, with still-recognizable landmarks. What’s missing now are Charlie and the crowd, the folks who gave life and color to the location so long ago. They still give life and color to us through the movies they left behind. For a few minutes, whenever we like, we can go back to the “Kids’ Auto Races” of 1914 and watch Charlie create his little tramp character for the very first time. The landscape is still with us in the present, but the magical Charlie is not.
If you’ve ever visited a place where you once were terribly happy and the people you shared it with are gone forever, maybe you’ve recognized the thud that accompanied the return visit. You look at Echo Park Lake, where Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle created movies that made the whole world laugh in 1914. Within four years, Keystone filmmakers would be kicked out of the park for crushing the flowers. Within seven years, Roscoe Arbuckle’s shimmering career was history after a wild weekend at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Not long after, Mabel Normand’s career ended too, after a couple of scandals. Both died young in the early 1930’s. And Charlie, so loved throughout the world in the teens would be kicked out of the United States in the early 1950’s, a victim of cold war paranoia. He lived long enough to receive a special Oscar a few years before his death in 1977.
When you know the danger and sadness that would follow the years of uninhibited laughter, even the most lyrical celluloid moments can give you a lump in the throat. The talented folks who made us so happy are gone forever and many of the locations they made famous are paved over, rebuilt, renovated and, until this book, forgotten. “Silent Traces” is a source of fascination, (author Jack Bengtson definitely did his homework and his photo research is awesome) but also, for me, rather heartbreaking. Why do stars have to be everything to their audiences?
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 11/22/06
Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through The Films Of Charlie Chaplin
Jack Bengtson and Kevin Brownlow - Santa Monica Press