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Charlie Chaplin, one of cinema’s most famous stars, was a man of many talents… actor, director, writer, and composer are among his many credits. With the upcoming screening of Modern Times at the Bristol Hippodrome, I thought I would take a bit of time to talk about Chaplin’s work as a composer… especially since the score for Modern Times contains the iconic melody of “Smile,” one of the most beloved songs of the 20th Century that has been covered by many recording stars. Although he had received a couple of honorary Oscars for his work in film, his first Academy Award was awarded for his score of Limelight in 1973.

In making his films, Chaplin had almost complete control over production. With the advent of sound…. he could also have control over an entirely new aspect of cinema production… the film score. The first film that Chaplin composed the score for was City Lights – a film that could have been made as a talkie, but Chaplin resisted, and it remained silent… but it did mean that he could score the film as he wanted. Before sound in cinema, Chaplin had control over the pieces that he wished to accompany his films. After sound, he became a composer. After the success of City Lights, Chaplin went back to his earlier films and composed scores for them as well.

Not a classically trained musician, Chaplin was able to play some instruments by ear and sing melodies. He had assistants who would then transpose these melodies into a finished score for his films. He was also very much influenced by his early experiences in the English music hall tradition. He would also use counterpoint in his compositions. In scenes where characters are living in poor conditions, he would often compose music that would evoke richer surroundings. Chaplin did not want his scores to sound comedic. In his mind, the music should not overshadow the comedy that was showing on screen. He wanted the scores to express the sentimentality of the narrative of his films.

Some of Chaplin’s melodies would go on to become popular songs. “Smile” has already been mentioned, but “Eternally” was adapted from his score for Limelight and “This is my Song” was from A Countess from Hong Kong. The lyrics for “Smile” were written by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons. Petula Clark had a number one hit with “This is my Song,” and “Smile” has been famously covered by Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, and Michael Jackson.

Join us on February 10th to hear Chaplin’s masterful score to Modern Times played by the Bristol Ensemble and conducted by Günter Buchwald. The evening will be hosted by Marcus Brigstocke and will also include two short silent comedies: Laurel and Hardy’s Bacon Grabbers and Buster Keaton’s The Scarecrow. Comic magician John Archer will also be appearing to round out an evening of fantastic entertainment!

More information about the evening can be found here – and for a limited period, we’re running a 2-4-1 offer on gala tickets! To take advantage put the code ‘241 Tickets’ in the box as you check out!

Finally, a quick throwback to Slapstick 2014 when we organised a flashmob prior to our gala with Paul McGann, the City of Bristol Choir and the Bristol School’s Chamber Choir singing Smile. Enjoy!