A train ride, a tramp, a satire on power and a comment on the Great Depression of the 1930s are the focal points of four classic silent movies showing at the Cinematheque de Bastakiya in January.

The classic quartet begins with Buster Keaton’s The General on January 8, followed by Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (Jan 15), Modern Times (Jan 22) and The Great Dictator (Jan 29). All screenings are on Wednesdays at 7pm in the courtyard of the XVA Gallery in Al Fahidi and are free. Each film is introduced by film curator Mariam de Ricaud and a short Q&A session follows each movie.

Mel Brooks, writer and director behind classic comedies Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Spaceballs says Keaton was a huge influence on his work. “He gave me things that you can’t put your finger on. He was always intensely and desperately true. He never winked at you. He never said, ‘Aren’t we having fun?’ That was a great lesson for me. He and Chaplin were my mentors.”

Brooks spent much of his childhood in the 1930s watching Buster Keaton’s movies at the cinema in Brooklyn, New York.

“We’d go there, and we’d get a frankfurter, a root beer and a boiled-to-death ear of corn at Feldman’s,” he recalls. “In the back, they had a silent movie theatre. The screen was just a white sheet. They had this flickering machine. That was the first time I saw this angel with a white face and these beautiful eyes. I knew this was something special. It was the first time I saw [Keaton]. He wore a flat pancake of a hat, and I just couldn’t believe the man’s grace. Buster Keaton was astonishing. I’ve never seen any human being able to perform as brilliantly and gracefully with such unusually gifted timing. There was only one Keaton.”

Many see modern day film star Jim Carrey as the man keeping the flame of silent cinema alive. Like Brooks, Carrey is also a big fan of Keaton. “What a creative genius, what an inventor. A guy like that, you just sit back and say, okay, I’ll never get there.” Billy Crystal agrees. “There are moments in many of his movies that are just poetic.”

FACT: Buster Keaton’s real name is Joseph Keaton. He got the nickname Buster from famous escape artist Harry Houdini – also his godfather – who, after seeing him fall down a flight of stairs as a kid, exclaimed: “What a buster your kid took!”

Still not sure what all the fuss is about? Relive some classic Charlie Chaplin moments below

THE KID (1921)
Most fondly remembered scene: Chaplin’s tramp teams up with a young boy to concoct a scam in which the boy throws stones at windows, only for Chaplin to arrive moments later with a new pane of glass which he offers to install for a fee to the duped house owner.

Most fondly remembered scene: Chaplin plays a factory worker who is enlisted by the boss to test a new contraption. The machine feeds him food, including a corn on the cob and a bowl of soup before blowing a fuse, turning dinner into a disaster.

Most fondly remembered scene: In a daring parody of Hitler, Chaplin plays a dictator of a fictional country. In the film’s most famous scene, he takes a world globe beach ball and dances around his office while bouncing and kicking it.

XVA Gallery, Al Fahidi, Dubai, Wed 7pm. Tel: (04) 3585117. Metro: Al Fahidi. xvagallery.com