A New Chaplin Movie
By James Grahame
Award-winning cinematographer Carlo Piaget recently shot his 10-minute film Circus on a 1918 Bell & Howell 2709 camera once used by silent screen legend Charlie Chaplin. The project came about after a chance meeting with Chaplin's son Eugène, who also stars in the film.
"Circus opens in a foggy city as an agitated man is distracted by his mobile phone. He stumbles and finds himself pulled into a seemingly deserted circus. He glimpses a dancer, then a magician (Eugène Chaplin) hypnotises him via a spiral of zoetrope images. When the man wakes up, the circus has vanished but a circular mark on the ground and the music on his phone prove that his experience wasn’t a dream."
Before filming, Piaget painstakingly disassembled and restored the 90-year-old camera and located a set of vintage motion picture lenses. The unmodified camera had to be hand-cranked. Vintage silent films were usually shot at 16 frames per second, but Piaget chose the modern rate of 24 fps (although some scenes were shot slower for dramatic effect), requiring three rotations per second.
Rather than attempting to duplicate the distressed look of vintage film, Circus was carefully photographed on modern black & white Kodak negative film. It was then printed onto color stock with a range of monochromatic tints. The result is a modern re-imagining of silent-era cinematography.
At the end of the day, Piaget was impressed by the performance of the ancient Bell & Howell, “Others have shot films with old equipment, but with more or less modified cameras and newer lenses. This particular camera, the lenses and accessories are all 100% genuine. This little film is a love story between two objects of different ages and a good example of film’s universal compatibility.” [thanks, John Terendy!]
For Sale: Charlie Chaplin's Movie Camera (another unrestored camera)