Screened as part of NZIFF 2023

The Circus 1928

Directed by Charles Chaplin Big Nights

Roll up, roll up, the circus is in town. Live Cinema is back at NZIFF and what better way to celebrate than with the master himself—don’t miss The Circus featuring the 1969 score written by Sir Charlie Chaplin, performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by Vincent Hardaker.

Aug 06

The Civic

USA In English
72 minutes B&W / DCP

Director, Screenplay, Producer, Actor, Music, Editor


Roland Totheroh


Charles Chaplin

Production Designer

Charles D. Hall


Charles Chaplin
Al Ernest Garcia
Merna Kennedy
Harry Crocker
George Davis
Henry Bergman
Tiny Sandford
John Rand
Steve Murphy

The Circus © Roy Export S.A.S
Music for The Circus Copyright © Roy Export Company Ltd. and Bourne Co. All rights reserved.

Charlie Chaplin™ © Bubbles Incorporated S.A.


Charlie Chaplin

Welcome back to Live Cinema in Auckland’s mighty Civic with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra! It’s been far too long since we’ve had this opportunity, and we’re celebrating with Charlie Chaplin’s cheeriest feature, which earned him a special award for writing, directing and starring at the inaugural Academy Awards in 1929.

Chaplin’s Tramp stumbles into the circus arena as a lonely thief and exits transformed. As he walks a tightrope of love and loneliness, he dodges lions, mules, and a despicable ringmaster, who has only hired him because his mess-ups are much funnier than his deliberate attempts at humour.

In many ways, the film is a love-letter to the community of performers and an allegory for Chaplin’s own showbiz journey, from struggling at the lowest levels of vaudeville to becoming the most famous person in the world. As a filmmaker, he relishes the details of his pocket world: the rickety caravans, the fortune teller’s table, the magician’s wardrobe. Chaplin’s master cinematographer Roland Totheroh is at the height of his powers: shadows loom over the circus grounds; foggy greys comfort our lonely protagonist; the spotlight transforms tatty props and dusty ground into a magical realm. 

This enchanting film rose from the ashes of Chaplin’s scandalous-at-the-time divorce from Hollywood starlet Lita Grey. Grey’s lawyers halted the release, but this was not the most dramatic obstacle Chaplin faced. Gales, fire and theft ravaged the sets and props before and during shooting. His beloved mother died. And then the Internal Revenue Service came knocking. Despite challenges that made the arduous shoot of The Gold Rush look like a walk in the park, Chaplin persevered, and The Circus became an instant success upon its delayed release.

The Circus was one of the biggest films of the silent era and can only be fully appreciated on the enormous screen of a genuine picture palace, with live musical accompaniment. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra will perform Chaplin's own score, created for its 1969 re-release. Bring the whole family for an unforgettable experience!

Live Cinema is back, bigger and better than ever! Come one, come all, dress up and join The Circus!

— Lucy Goldsbro, Andrew Langridge