Posted on Thursday, April 12th, 2012 by Jordan Hoffman
Chaplin (1992); Richard Attenborough, director.
Probably the most famous vaudevillian/music hall performer to segue into films is Charles Chaplin. While his muse eventually took him in the direction of political satire, songwriting and romanticism, he never forgot that he was put on this Earth to fall down in funny ways.
The 1992 Richard Attenborough (again?) biopic was a little bit of a letdown when it first came out. People were expecting a Ghandi-sized masterpiece. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some choice scenes and some terrific moments from the young Robert Downey Jr. The film opens with sequences of him living the vaudeville life that are very much worth the price of admission.
Limelight (1952); Charles Chaplin, director.
But why wax nostalgic over Chaplin when you can watch Chaplin wax nostalgic on his own? Yes, even as far back as 1952 folks were wistful of the forgotten Vaudeville culture, and Limelight, one of Chaplin’s later talkies, is a mostly-serious drama set upon that stage.
Limelight is probably best known for being the only film in which the two titans of silent comedy, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, performed together. If you ever want to come to my house to drink beer and argue over which of the two was funnier, contact SlashFilm directly and they’ll give you directions on how to reach me.
Nickelodeon (1976); Peter Bogdanavich, director.
Here’s a movie that, I must confess, is more interesting than good.
At the very dawn of cinema, even before the short films you’ll see in movies like Hugo, there were the gimmicky parlor films that lasted only moments. They were sometimes just one gag presented in a visual form – or maybe just opportunities for people to see stuff they wouldn’t normally see – like a mountain or an ocean.
These embryonic days of movie-making are lovingly retold in Peter Bogdanovich’s fun little movie – and many of the side characters are vaudevillians making the transition. The movie itself doesn’t quite know if it wants to be “of” the time or “about” the time, but even with this flaw it is still worth checking out.
Broadway Danny Rose (1984); Woody Allen, director.
If Nickelodeon is about the early years, Broadway Danny Rose is what happens after the very end. The final generation of comics from the live TV era, who were maybe kids during the final years of Vaudeville, are still eeking a living as nostalgia acts. They collect at the legendary Carnegie Deli in Manhattan (where, I swear, I just bought an 85 cent pickled tomato on Monday – check my Twitter feed to confirm) to tell their war stories.
All the old comedians (playing themselves) have fond memories for the schlubbiest of managers, Danny Rose, but only one can have the best story.
There are some people who aren’t sure if they’ll like Woody Allen – I would classify Broadway Danny Rose as one of the best entry points for a newcomer.
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