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Explaining the Cellphone User in the 1928 “Circus” Premiere Footage

Explaining the Cellphone User in the 1928 "Circus" Premiere Footage

In what seems to be the greatest potential real time-traveler mystery since John Titor, indie filmmaker George Clarke (“Battle of the Bone”) has noticed a person seemingly talking on a cellphone at the 1928 premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus.” Clark has shown the footage to hundreds of people and now shares it on YouTube with the strange shot in question zoomed in, slowed down and repeated over and over. The only thing missing is a narration saying something to the effect of “back and to the left.”

Clarke’s main explanation for the person’s actions — talking while holding something to his/her ear and mouth — is that this is not only the use of a cellphone in 1928, but it must be a time traveler. Of course, it would almost make more sense for someone in 1928 to have invented an early sort of mobile phone than for a person to both travel through time and be able to get reception, whether in that year or through some trans-dimensional frequency a la the movie “Frequency.”

Then again this could just be some crazy person talking to her dead husband via a magic piece of wood (as Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical suggests.) Similarly, Film Drunk’s Vince Mancini says the person looks just like the crazy hobos in his neighborhood talking into imaginary phones). Clarke is clearly just using this crank-as-curiosity for personal and professional gain, right?

Brad Brevet at Rope of Silicon thinks it might just be an old-timey hearing aid and links to a possible device available at the time. Other more believable explanations read around the web include that this woman is shielding her eyes from the sun or the camera, and then there’s the totally plausible reasoning that she was smacked in the face by her husband and is holding the pained area. We could be logical about this and come up with other possibilities, or we can have fun with it.

It’s interesting that this is coming out (thanks in part to Roger Ebert) during the 25th anniversary festivities for “Back to the Future” and the release of that film’s Blu-ray. Oh, and Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter were seen together last night! Perhaps this is all just viral promotion for the possible third “Bill and Ted” movie? Maybe in this installment the boys use a cellphone to dial into the circuits of history (or whatever it was they did with the phone booth).

As we saw with “Freaked” (what, you missed it? shame on you), Winter has some interest in circuses — or at least freak shows. My guess is that that person in the old film clip is in fact Winters. There, mystery solved.

Also, if this story and the circulation of the video ends up benefiting anyone or anything, hopefully it’s the film itself. “The Circus” is one of the best silent comedies of all time. Let’s all take a minute and watch the classic funhouse scene once again:

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