The 10th Slapstick Festival, January 2014: a centenary salute to Chaplin

City Lights (1931)
City Lights (1931)

The funniest weekend of the year is back: Bristol’s own rib-tickling Slapstick Festival. This year marks not only the 10th year of the festival but, as you all very well know, the 100th anniversary of Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp. The Slapstick Festival will be celebrating the tramp in fine style with an orchestral gala screening of the the wonderful City Lights (1931), recently voted into the Top 10 Silent Movies by the Guardian and Observer. The screening will be introduced by comedian Omid Djalili and music will be provided by the 39-piece Bristol Ensemble.

There’s a full weekend of funny films beyond the Chaplin too. Check the listings below for details. Notable screenings inlcude the Societ laugh-riot The Extraordinary Adventures of Mister West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), the rarely shown Raymond Grifffith romp Hands Up! (1926) and a chance to see Constance Talmadge in Her Sister From Paris (1925). And don’t miss Harold’s Lloyd’s classic Safety Last! (1923) with Radio 4’s Colin Sell on the piano.

Max Davidson
Max Davidson

More treasures are to be found in the talks and lecture events: David Robinson on the Tramp, Kevin Brownlow on Chaplin and the Great War, all three Goodies on Buster Keaton and Graeme Garden delving into the work of German Jewish comic Max Davidson.

There will be some modern work featured too: from Wallace & Gromit (naturally) to The Meaning of Life and Withnail & I. Yes, Tim Vine will be offering a tribute to Benny Hill too!

The 10th Slapstick Festival will be held at various venues across Bristol from 24-26 January 2014. Visit the website for more details, or read on for full listings and ticket information.



Director: Lev Kuleshov, USSR, 73mins

A little-known gem that is just as much a ‘must-see’ for those interested in political history as it is for vintage comedy fans. Director Lev Kuleshov was an enthusiastic supporter of the Russian Revolution but also liked the USA, its cinema and slapstick humour and dreamed of a future where Russians enjoyed a Socialist version of the American way of life. In this film, he shares his hopes while taking a Max Sennett- inspired poke at the fears and prejudices displayed by the West towards the new Soviet order. This screening will be introduced by film director Barry Bliss and will be accompanied live by pianist John Sweeney.

Tickets: £8.00/£6.50

Venue/bookings: Arnolfini, Narrow Quay, Bristol, BS1 4QA, 0117 917 2300

1600hrs:Lost Clowns: Raymond Griffith in HANDS UP! (1926)

Dir: Clarence Badger US 70mins

The Oscar-winning film-maker and film historian Kevin Brownlow introduces the funniest surviving comedy by the long and unfairly-neglected ‘silk hat’ silent comedian Raymond Griffith. Set in the American Civil War, this film finds Griffith plays a Confederate spy trying to capture a Union shipment of gold. The actor was a particularly fine mime – as is illustrated superbly here in a sequence of a stagecoach attack by Indians. With a piano accompaniment by John Sweeney.

Tickets: £8.00/£6.50

Venue/bookings: Watershed, Canons Road, Bristol, BS1 5TX 0117 927 5100 |

1740 hrs:100 Years of the Tramp with David Robinson

January 2014 is the centenary of when Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character first appeared on the cinema screen, sparking a global love affair which means the image is still one of the most universally recognised. In this session, David Robinson – the foremost authority on Chaplin – presents a visual survey of the Tramp’s first hundred years, from the first seemingly offhand choice of costume and accessories to his final screen appearance and subsequent immortality. Screenings include the film in which the Tramp debuted: KID AUTO RACES (Dir: Henry Lehrman, USA, 11 mins).

Tickets: £8.00/£6.50

Venue/bookings:Watershed, Canons Road, Bristol, BS1 5TX 0117 927 5100 |

1930hrs: Silent Comedy Gala with Omid Djalili

Featuring Charlie Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS accompanied live by a 39-piece orchestra

Slapstick celebrates both its 10th birthday and the centenary of the screen debut of Chaplin’s best-loved character, the Little Tramp, with a very special bill of silent movies and music, hosted by comedian, actor and Chaplin admirer Omid Djalili.

The centrepiece of the evening will be a screening of Chaplin’s deeply moving yet wonderfully funny CITY LIGHTS (1931) accompanied by Chaplin’s own original score performed live by the 39-piece Bristol Ensemble – the largest orchestra ever to feature at any Slapstick event. Other film highlights will include Laurel & Hardy in TWO TARS (1928), accompanied by the European Silent Screen Virtuosi, and PASS THE GRAVY (1928) showcasing the comedy genius of Max Davidson. Please note the special discount for under 16s (part of Slapstick’s mission to introduce a new generation to the heroes of silent film and visual comedy)

Tickets: £23.50/£20; £10 for under 16s)

Venue/bookings:Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR | 0844 887 1500 |


1000hrs Chaplin and the Great War

With Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Kelly

It wasn’t uncommon as the First World War began – a young man of military age fails to answer the call to fight and risks being punished as a deserter. But hiding from the recruiters wasn’t an option for someone already as famous as Charlie Chaplin. It could have meant prison or worse but, fortunately for cinema, the Allies decided Chaplin had far more value as a morale-booster than a soldier and let him carry on entertaining. Here, the acclaimed screen historian Kevin Brownlow looks back on a lesser known chapter in Chaplin’s life with Andrew Kelly, mastermind of Bristol’s Great War commemorations. Illustrated by rare footage from the era, including a never-released fund-raising film so-starring Harry Lauder.

Tickets: £8.00/£6.50

Venue/bookings: Watershed, Canons Road, Bristol, BS1 5TX | 0117 927 5100 |

1130hrs Funny Ladies: Constance Talmadge in HER SISTER FROM PARIS (1925)

Dir: Sidney Franklin, US, 74mins

Introduced by comedian Lucy Porter

Continuing Slapstick’s championing of silent screen comediennes, Constance Talmadge stars here in a dual role – as an unhappy wife (to a very young Ronald Coleman) and as the wife’s vivacious sister. This film has only recently been restored and shows Talmadge at 28 and on peak form. With an introduction by stand-up star Lucy Porter and accompanied live by The European Silent Screen Virtuosi.

Tickets: £9.00/£7.50

Venue/bookings: Arnolfini, Narrow Quay, Bristol, BS1 4QA, 0117 917 2300

1300hrs BBC Radio 3 Landmark Discussion: Chaplin Special

Broadcaster, film critic and author Matthew Sweet is joined by festival guests for a discussion about the enduring appeal of Chaplin’s 1931 film CITY LIGHTS and the global impact of its central character, the Little Tramp. This event will be broadcast as a Landmark Discussion on BBC Radio 3 and available afterwards on BBC i-Player.

Tickets: FREE

Venue/bookings: Watershed, Canons Road, Bristol, BS1 5TX | 0117 927 5100 |

1300hrs Cinekids: Timeless Chaplin

Introducing Chaplin to a new generation.

Charlie Chaplin didn’t have the happiest of childhoods. His father was mostly absent, his mother was committed to a mental asylum and by the time Chaplin was nine, he’d already spent two spells in the Lambeth Workhouse. So how did he overcome such early setbacks to achieve worldwide fame and wealth? In an engaging illustrated talk, Kate Guyonvarch, Director of the Chaplin Office in Paris shows how Chaplin’s difficult beginnings enabled his phenomenal later success possible. Includes a screening of THE ADVENTURER (1917).

Tickets: £5.50/£4.00/£2.50

Venue/bookings: Watershed, Canons Road, Bristol, BS1 5TX | 0117 927 5100 |

1430hrs: Gromit: Silent Comedy Canine

With Nick Park CBE

Slapstick unleashes a special tribute to Bristol’s very own Oscar-winning silent comedy, charity fund-raising and sculpture trail superstar: Gromit. Creator Nick Park CBE, talks here to broadcaster and author Matthew Sweet about the comedy canine’s best slapstick moments, using excerpts from the globally adored animation THE WRONG TROUSERS (1993) and other screen outings. This family friendly event also features a big screen showing of Gromit (and Wallace’s) debut film, A GRAND DAY OUT’(1989) accompanied with live improvised piano by Slapstick’s musical director, Günter A. Buchwald.

Tickets:£15.00 (£8.00 under 16s)

Venue/bookings: Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS1 4ED | 0117 987 7877 |

1630hrs Lost Keaton Goodies

With Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie (The Goodies)

Anyone who knows the wondrously funny work of The Goodies will also be aware of the influence on the tv award-winning comedy trio of silent clown Buster Keaton. So imagine their delight when they heard about the discovery of previously unknown footage, including a sequence cut from THE BLACKSMITH (1922) because it was too naughty for the time AND a hitherto ‘lost’ Keaton film. So now Bill, Graeme and Tim are reuniting to share their finds with the help of Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, Paris and present the long overdue premiere of THE GORILLA MAN (1950).


Venue/bookings: Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS1 4ED | 0117 987 7877 |

2015hrs Monty Python’s THE MEANING OF LIFE (Certificate: 15) 1983)

Dir: Terry Jones, UK, 1983, 107mins

With an intro and after-show chat with Python star Terry Jones

The last ever film by the Monty Python’s Flying Circus team is a riot of best-loved Python moments –a genius assembly of hysterical, silly and no-cow-too-sacred sketches exploring Life – from birth to death – including one of the most memorable of the many unforgettable characters created by Terry Jones: the appallingly gluttonous Mr Creosote. This is a rare chance to watch a 20th century comedy classic on the big screen with the added bonus of director, writer, performer Terry Jones providing the introduction and then joining Chris Serle on stage for an after-film discussion.


Venue/bookings: Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS1 4ED | 0117 987 7877 |

Sunday 26th January

1000hrs Lost Clowns: Max Davidson’s Best Comedy Shorts

With Graeme Garden

Max Davidson (1875-1950) was a German actor who specialised in playing a henpecked Jewish father. At the peak of his career in 1927 he was given his own series of two-reeler comedies which turned out to be the best shorts ever made by the Hal Roach Studios. Here Graeme Garden picks his favourites from the collection, each finding delicious humour in Davidson’s portrayal of a ‘fish out of water’ family man – raised in a tradition of old world manners but with children who are enthusiastic adopting the American way of life.

Tickets: £8.00/£6.50

Venue/bookings: Watershed, Canons Road, Bristol, BS1 5TX | 0117 927 5100 |

1130hrs Tim Vine: Why I LOVE Benny Hill

A steady flow of radio and TV appearances from the end of World War Two onwards turned Benny Hill into one of the best known comedians of his generation. But his star waned in the late 80s and early 90s amidst allegations that his nudge-nudge sense of humour was sexist and inspired violence against women. Now, though, Hill has a champion in stand-up, actor and punster Tim Vine – here joining Slapstick to show why he loves Benny Hill and why he believes Hill’s all-round comic flair is unfairly under-rated

Tickets: £8.00/£6.50

Venue/bookings: Watershed, Canons Road, Bristol, BS1 5TX | 0117 927 5100 |

1400hrs Colin Sell “On the Piano”, with Harold Lloyd in SAFETY LAST (1923)

Dir: Fred Newmeyer, US, 70mins

“Colin Sell…. on the piano” is a familiar phrase for fans of I’M SORRY I HAVEN’T A CLUE from Colin’s 40yrs as the accompanist to the BBC R4 comedy show. There, he’s usually only ever heard in short bursts. Here, he proves his true talent as musician, by playing live to one of the very finest and funniest full length silent features – Harold Lloyd’s SAFETY LAST (featuring the famously gripping clock tower climb that was a marvel of filmmaking ingenuity in its day). With an introduction by Slapstick Festival favourite Barry Cryer.


Venue/bookings: Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS1 4ED | 0117 987 7877 |

1600hrs Harry Hill’s Top Comedy Moments

Harry Hill makes his Slapstick Festival debut and becomes the latest top current comedian to reveal their best-loved and most influential comedy films, tv shows and performers. Teasing out Harry’s memories will be another master of the surreal, Graeme Garden, who may find himself on the bill of fare as well as on the stage. In a message accepting Slapstick’s invite, Harry Hill confides: “I’m thrilled to be coming to the Slapstick festival to spill the beans on my favourite comedy clips and even more excited to be sharing the stage with my comedy hero Graeme Gardening- hobby.  Who knows? There might even be a Goodies clip on my list.”


Venue/bookings: Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS1 4ED | 0117 987 7877 |

1930hrs WITHNAIL & I (Certificate; 15) UK

Dir Bruce Robertson, UK, 1987, 107mins

With Paul McGann and Ralph Brown in conversation with Phill Jupitus

To give rare insight into the making of a classic British black comedy of cult status, Slapstick 2014 concludes by getting cast members Paul McGann (Marwood) and Ralph Brown (Danny) to share their memories of making the very funny and still hugely popular WITHNAIL & I. After the screening, Phill Jupitus will lead a discussion on how and why the film became such an important cultural icon.


Venue/bookings: Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS1 4ED | 0117 987 7877 |

6 thoughts on “The 10th Slapstick Festival, January 2014: a centenary salute to Chaplin”

  1. Something to look forward to, but even sooner – and in London – I’ve organised a series of silents at Stratford Picturehouse on Wednesday evenings, as follows:


    Did cinema lose some of its magic when the screen started to speak and sing in the late 20s? What used to be called ‘silent’ films – which always had musical accompaniment – have been winning new audiences in recent years, and this special series offers a chance to sample a cross-section of some of the greatest films from the peak of the silent era. Two of them, *Sunrise* and *The Passion of Joan of Arc,* were actually voted among *Sight & Sound*’s Ten Best films of all time, while Chaplin and Keaton provide timeless holiday season entertainment. Introductions and programme notes as usual for this series, sponsored by Birkbeck College’s Dept of Film, Media and Cultural Studies. *Ian Christie*

    11 Dec SUNRISE

    18 Dec THE CIRCUS


    15 Jan EARTH

    22 Jan THE WIND (tbc)


    Any publicity you can create for these much appreciated!


  2. Do people actually find Max Davidson funny nowadays? I’d put it up there in wtfery alongside Golden Dawn and Goin’ to Heaven On a Mule. And I used to think that Lubitsch couldn’t be unfunny until I saw a couple of his Sally Pinkus ‘comedy jew’ shorts.

    Anyway, another heads up for Chaplin fans is that Arte are showing a brand new restoration of all his Mutual shorts over Christmas week. That’s a Lobster restoration, so it should be worth watching. Two a day at roughly noon UK time. And if you can’t get Arte on the telly then it looks like you can buy the downloads at some point but this page doesn’t give any clues when.

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