When Charlie Chaplin released his comedy classic "The Circus" in 1928, the music accompanying the silent film was pulled together from source materials and songs of the time, selected by Chaplin and an assistant.
"It was a collection of odd bits," says conductor Timothy Brock, who has restored eight Chaplin scores.
But after he retired from filmmaking, Chaplin spent his days composing, especially for his early silent films. In 1968, he composed a score for "The Circus." And on Saturday, Brock will be conducting the fully restored Chaplin score at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra's 16th Annual Silent Film Gala at Royce Hall. Not only will Brock lead the orchestra in a live performance of "The Circus," he will also conduct the West Coast premiere of Carl Davis' score for the 1917 Chaplin short "How to Make Movies."
This year Dustin Hoffman makes his fifth appearance as honorary chairman of the event; Turner Entertainment Co. President Roger Mayer once again serves as co-chair.
Mayer says the gala tends to present silent comedies instead of dramas because "in general, people have found the comedies are more entertaining. And they also attract families. People bring a lot of children."
"The Circus," for which Chaplin received a special Academy Award in 1929 for his "versatility and genius," finds the Little Tramp becoming a circus performer who falls in love with a beautiful co-worker (Merna Kennedy).
The film's production was fraught with disaster. Chaplin's hair turned white during the filming -- it had to be dyed for the movie -- with his acrimonious divorce from Lita Grey.
All his assets were placed in receivership, and production was halted for eight months. Then a violent storm damaged the circus tent, and a film lab destroyed the results of the first four weeks of filming.
Brock restored the "Circus" score for the Chaplin family three years ago.
Over the years, bits had gone missing, and cues had been changed from Chaplin's originals; those were restored, Brock says. "For some reason or another, in 1968, the conductors didn't have a good take on it or weren't in perfect sync, and so they had to move some things around and sort of make it work. But Charlie was extremely explicit how he wanted the music to work. So I put it back to those original cues, and we are now hearing all the instruments he originally had written it for. It was a big job, but it was fun to do."
Chaplin began scoring his films -- with the help of such assistants as composers David Raksin and Meredith Willson -- with 1931's "City Lights."
"You have to look at Charlie in terms of a composer in three distinct periods," says Brock. "There is the early period with 'City Lights' -- it's a brilliant score -- and it runs through 'Modern Times,' 'The Great Dictator' and 'Limelight.' This was his initial creative peak. Then there is the middle period, through 'A King in New York' and 'A Countess From Hong Kong.'
"His last period is in the 1960s, when he started writing for his very early films. The scores became lighter and more sentimental and harkened back a little bit more to his English music hall days, as opposed to his early period, which was much more American in sound, a little bit symphonic, a little bit less of a light approach."
Though this film score doesn't have the power or recognition of "City Lights," "Modern Times" or "Limelight," for which he won an Oscar, Brock says it's still "very good circus music. It's very understated and lets the comedy do its thing, which was Chaplin's philosophy about music anyway, to counterpoint the action. It is very funny."
'L.A. Chamber Orchestra's 16th Annual Silent Film Gala'
Where: Royce Hall, UCLA
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Price: $30 for general admission: $75 for priority seating; $275 for film and post-film supper
Info: (213) 622-7001 or www.laco.org