Pianist Neil Brand is a man on a mission to introduce Charlie Chaplin to a new audience.
He has worked for 30 years as a film accompanist and composer and the silent film comedian is a passion of his.
He also works with the comedian Paul Merton on shows about silent movie stars.
Neil is coming to Sheffield for the University of Sheffield’s celebration of Charlie Chaplin and his work to talk about his films and perform live improvised accompaniments to six shorts.
He said that recent restoration of the films makes them far more watchable and gives the audience the chance to appreciate their artistry.
The films he is showing also represent Chaplin beginning to take control both in front of and behind the camera, said Neil: “Producer Mac Sennett used to send funny people and a camera crew out and told them to come back with 10 bits of comedy without worrying about the plot.
“These films show the first time that Chaplin appears as the tramp and his first steps to getting complete creative control.
“Chaplin builds up a gag and builds up another gag on top of that. He had an understanding of drama.”
Neil said he did that by showing a scenario such as the tramp chatting up a woman that he thinks is single but the audience has already seen is married.
The laughs increase when the husband can be seen coming around the corner and when Chaplin at last realises he is standing behind him.
Neil said: “In the film The Floorwalker, he is not only in charge of that comedy sequences but also building huge props to do it with as well.
The film was set in a department store.
“It’s the first time anyone filmed a comedy sequence on a moving staircase, where someone is running flat out but not moving anywhere. The two exactly mirror each other’s movements.”
Neil said that the early films almost certainly had no accompaniment written for them.
He added: “I’m playing more the way a modern film composer would. People are used to having the action driven by music rather than something light-hearted.
“Charlie Chaplin scored films himself. He obviously had in mind what he would want for himself.
“Part of his magic is that he’s got a musician’s timing for comedy and a comedian’s timing for music.”
He said that it’s a real workout requiring concentration and timing to help the audience’s anticipation and enjoyment of the comedy without spoiling it.
But he never tires of accompanying Chaplin films.
“I must have seen and played with films like The Floorwalker more than 100 times in my career and it still gets better. It’s an astonishing piece of comedy and film-making.”
Neil appears at the festival at the University of Sheffield Students’ Union Auditorium next Thursday at 8pm.
The week-long festival starts tomorrow at 9pm with a free event, Chaplin in the Park. Films will be projected on to the side of Weston Park Museum.
For tickets, call 0114 2233777 or go to concerts.sheffield.ac.uk