Living in SF area makes it a bit easier for me - I caught "The Circus" at the Castro Theater some 5-7 years ago - and Sydney Chaplin was there to introduce the film!Saw "The Gold Rush" at The Stanford Theater eons ago (The also showed MY FAVORITE FILM EVER.."The Crowd" there once a few years back!) and took the nieces and nephews with me to experience Chaplin on the big screen. That was a great experience, with the live organ accompaniment.
Seeing "The Circus" on the big screen is one thing, but with Sydney there to introduce it! Wow! I have been lucky enough to see quite a few of Chaplin's films on the big screen (and once with live organ accompaniment)--most of them at the International Chaplin conference in Ohio back in 2010, otherwise I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity. It really is a great experience. I remember walking out of theater after "The Idle Class" (before that we were shown "The Kid"--I can die happy) and the guy next to me said it was so different seeing it that way--it was like seeing a different film. It's true. Plus this is the way the films were meant to be seen, not on little TV boxes or on a computer. You also get the crowd reaction, which you don't get if you're watching at home. It's unfortunate that's it's not easier to see them on a big screen--especially if you don't live near a big city. A friend of mine recently saw "The Gold Rush" in New York with live orchestra accompaniment. I would love to see it that way because they show the silent version, which I prefer.I love "The Crowd" too. What a great movie.
I also have some opportunities to see his films on big screen at Bologna festival last year and you are right the feeling is very different. However the reaction of the audience differs a lot depending you are watching the films with the public or the critics/film professionals. When I watched The Rink, The Immigrant, Easy Street where most of the audience were film professionals laughter was scarce, really! Only some few people laughed throughout the films but other just stayed silent. But The Pawnshop and Burlesque on Carmen were shown for free in a large square to the public and they laughed excitedly, as it was when I saw City Lights in Milan