So here’s a challenge. Run through the best actor Oscar winners of the last five years – how many of those central characters will still be remembered in a century’s time?
There’s no doubt that Jean Dujardin did a fine turn as George Valentin in The Artist and Daniel Day Lewis delivered a pretty good job at bringing old Abraham Lincoln to life, but iconic? Memorable in a 100 years from now when we’ve been bombarded by a thousand other films? Perhaps not.
It’s what makes Charlie Chaplin so special. This year marks the centenary of the first film in which Chaplin’s loveable down-at-heel character The Tramp appeared. It wasn’t just his most memorable role, but one which would assure his star status long after the silent film era had come to an end.
To mark the anniversary, the University of Sheffield has just announced that it is to launch a two-week city-wide festival dedicated to the work of Chaplin this May.
Full details will be announced on Monday, but to whet the appetite a little the organisers have said that three of his most famous films will be projected onto the side of the Weston Park Museum for one night only.
The accompanying score for one of the films will be performed by an orchestra made up of local musicians, while the others will feature improvised live soundtracks by internationally renowned artists.
As part of the festival, acclaimed experts and academics will also give a range of talks about Chaplin’s extraordinary life and work.
“This year is the 100th anniversary of The Tramp, arguably one of the most instantly recognisable characters of modern times – the familiar combination of moustache, bowler hat, baggy pants and large shoes is an image very much embedded into our collective consciousness,” says Sheffield University concerts manager Stewart Campbell. “Chaplin was a true artist and one who exercised complete autonomy of his art, from conceiving artistic concepts, scripting, acting, directing, producing, editing and composing his own musical scores.
“Our festival examines many sides of this incredibly complex icon. It combines visiting musicians and speakers of international renown with our own talented students and connects with innovative film organisations in the city.
“It’s an opportunity to learn, listen and most importantly laugh out loud and I look forward to sharing the whole programme on Monday.”
Chaplin was working at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios when he devised the character of The Tramp. The first film to feature him in the role was Kid Auto Races at Venice which was released in February 1914.
He went on to play the character in dozens of short films and feature length productions and while there were no fancy special effects or witty one liners, The Tramp was quickly embraced by audiences. As the decades rolled on, it was often hard to work out where Chaplin ended and the Tramp began.
An inspiration for countless fancy dress costumes and one of cinema’s earliest stars, Chaplin is deserving of every plaudit and Sheffield may well find that a two week celebration is simply not long enough.
• Tickets for the Charlie Chaplin Festival go on sale on February 17 and will be available by calling 0114 223 3777 or online at www.shef.ac.uk/concerts.