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The Films of Charlie Chaplin

When: Friday through Nov. 4 Where: Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Tickets: $9.25 per movie; all-Chaplin pass, $30 in advance (via the Music Box website); $35 at the door Info: musicboxtheatre.com

It used to be said that Charlie Chaplin was the most famous living person in the history of the earth. You could make a good argument for that. He was the first great star of motion pictures, he made silent films so everyone could understand them, and his films penetrated to the most distant corners of the globe.

Today with television such fame is common. Consider the grief when Michael Jackson died. But Chaplin was a new species of famous person, and part of his success is that he almost always played the same person, the Little Tramp. Other silent comedians were also famed: Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Ben Turpin. But even though they might look similar from picture to picture, and Buster often wore his porkpie hat, they played different characters. The Little Tramp was a constant.

The great moments from Chaplin's work will be featured in an ambitious two-week retrospective starting today (Oct. 22) at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport Ave.

Charlie Chaplin was not only famous, but very good. He directed his later films, and so much was he in command of every nuance and gesture, so much was he the designer of elaborate sight gags, so much were the films tailored for the Tramp, that in a sense the character was the auteur.

Chaplin is in a constant state of rediscovery. Unlike many silent stars, he was rich and powerful enough to control the prints of most of his own films; still overseen by his estate, they seem to be in a constant state of restoration, so that you could argue they look better today than when the majority of people saw them for the first time.

The Music Box extravaganza is part of a retrospective, touring nationally, organized by MK2, the Chaplin estate and Janus Films. There will be new 35mm prints of such classics as "The Kid," "The Circus," "City Lights" and "Modern Times."

It's not the first time Chaplin has returned to glory. I recall the first great retro which played here at the old Carnegie theater, circa 1967. Then in 1972 I was at the Venice Film Festival when it showed literally every Chaplin film it could find, with Charlie in person. That climaxed with a breathtaking outdoor screening of "City Lights" in the Piazza San Marco, jammed with a huge audience, and after the film ended (not without some tears), the great square fell dark and a single spotlight picked out a balcony high above, onto which stepped a small, happy man.

Admission to single screenings is $9.25. There's an "All Chaplin Pass" good for every screening at $30 in advance or $35 at the box office. If you plan to see at least six films, that's the way to go. Anyone who turns up for the Halloween screenings dressed as the Tramp gets in for $6. The complete schedule of the Chaplin festival is online at http://j.mp/ceaumY

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