Chaplin, (Sir) Charles (Spencer)
(Sir) Charles (Spencer) Chaplin 1889–1977
English director, actor, producer, screenwriter, and musical composer.
Chaplin is widely heralded as the first genius of the cinema. He will be forever remembered for the creation of one of the most popular characters in the history of film—the little tramp. "Charlie"'s tottering gait and expressive face distinguished the character that many imitated but few equaled. Audiences saw the tramp as a symbol of humanity—a man becoming involved in dangerous situations, only to escape each time and still retain a warm love of friends and foes alike.
Chaplin was born in the slums of London to parents who were entertainers. Charlie and his brother were sent to an orphanage at an early age, where there was little food and severe punishment for any wrongdoing. The fact that the tramp character was sympathetic to the poor and underprivileged appears to stem directly from Chaplin's childhood.
Chaplin was introduced to the stage while very young, and joined the Fred Karno vaudeville troupe in 1906. On a tour to the United States in 1913, Chaplin was discovered by Mack Sennett, who signed him to a contract with Keystone Studios, despite Chaplin's worry that he would fail in films as a mime. He made thirty-five films within a year for Keystone. Kid Auto Races at Venice was the first film in which the "little tramp" appeared, and the character soon became widely popular.
When Chaplin switched to Essanay in 1915, he was allowed to direct all fourteen of his films, and the slapstick became less frenzied, with the tramp's sentimentality becoming more apparent. The Tramp, made during this period, is viewed as Chaplin's first masterpiece. His now standard character took on many roles—the mischievous boy, the frustrated lover, the underdog—in order to unify the theme of the individual crushed by the pressure of society.
In 1919 Chaplin, along with D. W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks, formed United Artists, and distributed his own films for the rest of his career. He wrote and directed A Woman of Paris, showing his great abilities as a director in a serious work. Chaplin had always had ambitions to star in a serious film, but did not get the chance until much later. In The Gold Rush, The Circus, and City Lights, Chaplin began to voice his increasing dissatisfaction with the modern world and its inventions. In fact, he refused to use sound, except for music, in City Lights, even though it had become a very popular addition to films. Modern Times was also mostly silent, and continued to satirize modern machines, but was also vicious in its portrayal of society.
The Great Dictator marked the decline of Chaplin's popularity. His divorces had made him more and more susceptible to ridicule and scandal, and the political commentary in the film further outraged many critics and fans. The Great Dictator was his first film in which sound was used throughout, and it was Chaplin's speeches that angered people the most. His concluding speech was thought to be Communist dogma, but Chaplin had intended it as a plea for freedom and peace. Chaplin played two roles in the film, and his tramp character was clearly overshadowed by Hynkel, the Hitlerian dictator. It seems not coincidental that Chaplin's popularity declined when he began to speak in philosophical jargon. The Great Dictator marked the last appearance of the "little tramp" on the screen.
Chaplin was labeled a Communist when, in 1942, after a paternity suit and another divorce, he urged American friendship with Russia. Monsieur Verdoux was widely picketed and withdrawn soon after its release. Most critics seemed to view the film as a "bad joke," others as a brilliant satire on capitalism. Limelight saw Chaplin at his most philosophically vocal, so much so that many critics wished he had never abandoned silent films. A most serious film, it deals with an aging clown on the decline, and appeared to parallel Chaplin's own life. When on his way to England to promote the film in 1952, the U.S. government branded Chaplin as a Communist sympathizer, and informed him that he probably would not be allowed back into the country. Chaplin settled in Switzerland, where he continued to live until his death. He returned once to the U.S., in 1972, to accept a special Academy Award and was triumphantly welcomed.
Chaplin is seen by many critics as an egotist who was successful only insofar as the tramp was successful. Others see him as a comic genius, writing scripts which paralleled his own early life, and making films in which his philosophical views were portrayed more effectively through mime than through the verbose lectures of his later films. His creation went beyond class boundaries, and it was the tramp's overtly "human" character that film audiences took to heart. His comedy continues to delight audiences today, and his lasting fame as a film pioneer and comedian is secure. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84; obituary, Vols. 73-76.)
Minnie Maddern Fiske
It will surprise numbers of well-meaning Americans to learn that a constantly increasing body of cultured, artistic people are beginning to regard the young English buffoon, Charles Chaplin, as an extraordinary artist, as well as a comic genius. To these Americans one may dare only to whisper that it is dangerous to condemn a great national figure thoughtlessly. First, let us realize that at the age of twenty-six Charles Chaplin … has made the whole world laugh. This proves that his work possesses a quality more vital than mere clowning…. To the writer Charles Chaplin appears as a great comic artist, possessing inspirational powers and a technique as unfaltering as Rejane's. If it be treason to Art to say this, then let those exalted persons who allow culture to be defined only upon their own terms make the most of it.
Apart from the qualified critics, many thoughtful persons are beginning to analyze the Chaplin performances with a serious desire to discover his secret for making irresistible entertainment out of more or less worthless material. They seek the elusive quality that leavens the lump of the usually pointless burlesques in which he takes part. The critic knows his secret. It is the old, familiar secret of inexhaustible imagination, governed by the unfailing precision of a perfect technique.
Chaplin is vulgar. At the present stage of his career he is frankly a buffoon, and buffoonery is and always has...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
According to recent press reports from Berlin The Circus has been hailed both as a supreme screen comedy and as a philosophic contribution of the highest significance. Some critics profess to see a philosophy in every scene. (p. 6)
Fortunately we have passed beyond that stage. We can enjoy Chaplin and let who will philosophize. There was a time, just before and after The Gold Rush, when we too used the heavy approach. There was much talk of the underlying pathos, the tragedy of frustration and other phrases invented by self-conscious critics who were afraid of laughing at Chaplin for his own sake. Echoes of this higher criticism seem to have reached Chaplin himself and to have cramped his spontaneity for a while, if we are to judge from some of the scenes in The Gold Rush where the pathos was laid on a little too thickly.
Chaplin has recovered from that phase and so have we…. [Whatever] Chaplin's philosophy may be, it has been present from the beginning in every one of his comedies and does not have to be hauled out on every occasion. Chaplin himself has been artistically most discreet about it, no doubt hiding much of its edge and its implications because he is a keen enough showman to know that too many philosophies are bound to spoil the laughter laden pudding of which he is the unchallenged chef. (pp. 6-7)
[It] is well to bear in mind that Chaplin's enormous success is due...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
G. W. Stonier
I do not think that [Chaplin] is a great genius or that in a hundred years' time his films, if they still exist, will excite the amusement they do to-day; but of this I am certain, that no other living person, writer or actor, exhibits as truly the particular element of city life which we call Cockney.
In this sense he is in the long tradition of English humour, starting with Chaucer and ending in the last century with Dickens and the music-halls…. His material is of the slightest, his tricks are the commonplace of every vaudeville comedian, he has created only one character, and that a theatrical one; yet he is as much above the Robeys and Fratellinis as Bach is above the usual village organist. None of his films, not even The Gold Rush or The Circus, can be properly judged by a standard which is purely artistic. That is not to say that Mr. Chaplin is not an artist, for he undoubtedly is, in his treatment, for instance, of pathos, and in the direction of his latest films; but all those positive qualities, which made him popular fifteen years ago, are as remote from any literary or artistic standard as a music-hall performance or a holiday fair.
G. W. Stonier, "Charlie Chaplin," in New Statesman (© 1928 The Statesman Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. XXI, No. 778, March 24, 1928, p. 763.
The sad ending of [The Circus] is significant. The tragic mask is increasingly apparent in the comic make-up of the waif whom the world has so tenderly taken to its heart. The irresponsible harlequin is receding. The tendency may or may not enrich Mr Chaplin's art. But if it is true that each new film reveals an ever growing maturity of thought, one would welcome similar progress in the "direction." The Circus is neat and competent but here as previously, its author has failed fully to rise to the opportunity placed before him by the extraordinarily fantastic world of the character he has created. The great screen genius of our time should not be afraid to find for the play as a whole, the fully...
(The entire section is 163 words.)
Barnet G. Braver-Mann
[The] grotesque figure we call "Charlie" has carried into cinema one of the oldest and most characteristic traditions of pure theatre, that of the Commedia dell'Arte. Chaplin is in direct line from the mimes of Roman comedy, the players of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the English pantomime of the eighteenth century…. Like [the] players of other times Chaplin has built certain elementary frailties and foibles of human nature into the framework of a conventional figure known as Charlie, whose shabby costume furnishes the needed mask. (p. 23)
The influence of tradition appears most strongly in the highly individual way in which he makes...
(The entire section is 667 words.)
["City Lights"] is a completely organized and a completely created whole which exists for itself without question and without comparison. The immediate effect of the picture is that it is funnier than many things [Chaplin] has done and infinitely inventive; the second effect is that it is magnificently organized, deeply thought out and felt, and communicated with an unflagging energy and a masterly technique. Chaplin is the only artist whose pictures always give the impression of being created before your eyes, with this extraordinary result, that when you see them you cannot believe that they have ever been shown before, and that when you see them a second time you are constantly surprised and elated by their...
(The entire section is 579 words.)
Historically this remarkable film [Public Opinion (A Woman of Paris] is as important as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Potemkin. It was in its time a remarkable technical film. But its technique was concealed; it was rather an "emotional" than a "scientific" technique, an instrument for bitter comment rather than for the conscious construction of a filmic scene. [Chaplin's] technical gifts have been given to the cinema almost, as it were, unconsciously.
What is certainly more important than the accomplished technique of Public Opinion is the expression of an individual attitude. Such of the technique as is capable of transference has been assimilated by other...
(The entire section is 703 words.)
Between [Charlie Chaplin and Charles Dickens] there is, I think, an essential similarity. Both knew hardness in childhood. Both made their misfortunes steppingstones to success. They developed along different lines, chose different mediums of expression, but both quarried in the same rich mine of common life and found there treasure of laughter and drama for the delight of all mankind. (p. 24)
[An] indomitable spirit is an integral part of the make-up of the screen Charlie Chaplin. His portrayal of the underdog is definitely American rather than British. The English workingman has courage in plenty, but those whom prolonged unemployment has forced on the road are nowadays usually broken and...
(The entire section is 197 words.)
Modern Times is about the last thing they should have called the Chaplin picture, which has had one of the most amazing build-ups of interest and advance speculation on record…. [It is] a silent film, with pantomime, printed dialogue, and such sound effects as were formerly supplied by the pit band and would now be done by dubbing, except for Chaplin's song at the end….
Part of this old-time atmosphere can be credited to the sets. The factory layout is elaborate and stylized, but not in the modern way or with the modern vividness of light and shadow;… the costumes are generally previous; and as to faces and types, Chaplin has kept a lot of old friends with him, types from days when a...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
A long time ago, Charlie [Chaplin] achieved a perspicuity of style, or a readiness for being imparted…. Charlie had let go in a make-up and dance raising American acting to a world position, soon to offer comparisons with the histrionic poetry of the Japanese Noh.
There were differences. Instead of allowing him to say in concise Japanese verse, 'I am going on a journey down the road, it will lead me past' etc., and poising him graciously on the property, celluloid permitted him only movement and silence. The result was the composition of action on the screen: his back ambled off into the open. Drama was brought into the actual air. (p. 51)
Charlie's devices and "types" live with...
(The entire section is 828 words.)
To think of Charlie Chaplin is to think of the movies. Yet this unique actor, director, and producer has added little to movie technique or movie form. He has been not a technician but a pantomimist, a commentator, a satirist, a social critic. His artistic problems have not been cinematic; they have been personal, always being solved by feeling. His importance lies not in what he has contributed to film art, but in what he has contributed to humanity. If he is negligible as a movie craftsman, if he has evolved no new formal aspects to enrich the medium, he has created many moments to enrich society. Chaplin will always be known for his social outlook, his insight into human nature, his pantomimic skill, his ingenious...
(The entire section is 902 words.)
The Great Dictator opens on some pretty dated nonsense in the war zone and the kind of lighting and movie action they used in Shoulder Arms. What's new is the acting, the new and different character, a mixture of sharp mimicry and the devices of absurdity. And as we might have expected from the wonderful double-talk song in Modern Times, Chaplin is as acute and perfect verbally as he is in pantomime: he has the splenetic and krauty fustian of the German orator as exactly as Hitler himself….
[When a scene is funny] it is funny as always, in the shop, on the street, around the chimney pots, with some of the oldest Chaplin favorites still peeping through. But it is also tragic...
(The entire section is 300 words.)
[The Great Dictator], which is neither more or less episodic and shapeless than Modern Times, is at times unwontedly serious in its direction, weighted down, as it were, by its suspended advance towards Chaplin's final apologia. At such moments his failure fully to master the sound medium becomes painfully noticeable. The scenes are long; the composition stilted; the dialogue banal. Their object—for the most part—is to emphasise the misery of the Jews under the Nazi régime; but they are too dully sentimental to do more than bore.
It is only with Chaplin himself that we can feel and understand the cruelties and stupidities. As the little Ghetto barber, plunged after many...
(The entire section is 354 words.)
Since Mark Twain, no anarchist of the full nineteenth-century size has emerged except Charlie Chaplin. But the hero of the Chaplin films, with his quixotic gallantry and courtesy, his pity for the weak, his apologetic and ridiculous isolation from society and the amount of damage he does against his own very good will to that society makes this Yankee cussedness an ideal worthy of respect. For all its plethora of revolutionary symbols, Modern Times is not a socialist picture but an anarchist one: an allegory of the impartial destructiveness of humor…. We are left with a feeling that the man who is really part of his social group is only half a man, and we are taken back to the primitive belief, far older than...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
I could write many pages … about the richness and quality of [Monsieur Verdoux] as a work of art, in fact, of genius; and as many more trying, hopelessly, to determine how Chaplin's intellect, instinct, intuition, creative intelligence, and pure experience as a master artist and as a showman, serve and at times disserve one another: for intellectually and in every other kind of self-exhaustion this seems incomparably his most ambitious film. And since the film is provocative of so much that cannot be examined as fun, I wish I might also use the many thousands of words I would require to do it adequate honor, purely as fun. And all the more because I love and revere the film as deeply as any I have seen, and...
(The entire section is 1236 words.)
It is agreed, some will say, that [in Monsieur Verdoux] Chaplin has created a highly personal work, and we admit that he has undergone a natural artistic transformation. We only feel that he has done all this in a wrong direction. And they add that the greatest crime of Monsieur Verdoux was the killing-off of the beloved little vagabond who had been such a charmer. His creator should not only have kept him alive but depended on him in his search for a new form of expression. I cannot share this opinion.
In giving up the rundown shoes, the old derby hat and willowy cane of the raggedy little guy whose pathetic hangdog look used to melt our hearts, Chaplin has gone deliberately into a...
(The entire section is 348 words.)
All comedy is based on man's delight in man's inhumanity to man. I know that is so, because I have made forty million people laugh more or less every day for sixteen years, and this has been the basis of all the comedy I have created. I think it is the basis of all comedy.
But I had forgotten, until I saw Chaplin again, that comedy can become sublime when it makes men sorrow at man's inhumanity to man by making men pity themselves.
When the history of art in our time is written, and when the ideological passions of our time are laughable curios, the great artist that our time has produced will be recognized as Charlie Chaplin. (pp. 25-6)
In the Chaplin films you...
(The entire section is 594 words.)
Chaplin's first picture in five years has for its theme "the glamor of the limelight—from which age must pass as youth enters."… However Limelight is garnished with a little Freud, some ballet, a few aphorisms about life, and a certain artiness….
In accord with Chaplin's tendency of recent years, there is little comedy in Limelight. One of Chaplin's lines in this picture is: "Life isn't a gag any more. From now on I'm a retired humorist." There is scarcely a trace of the gags, satire, fantasy, caricature and slapstick of his earlier work. (p. 466)
Limelight is filled with autobiographical overtones. Although there is something in it of Chaplin's father, a...
(The entire section is 309 words.)
Thirty years ago Chaplin had encompassed tragi-comedy with a purity of form and feeling unique in the cinema, and from a historical point of view the qualities of Limelight are beautifully logical; what is less logical, perhaps, is the intense success with which they have been realised. At 63 Chaplin has executed an imaginative portrait of the artist as an old man and shown his creative powers to be at their height. The cinema is apt to exhaust its great talents early, but Limelight has all the vitality and sureness of Chaplin's best work, and it touches some new moments of experience. (p. 123)
The poetic unity of Limelight is a deep, calm, fatal emanation of sadness…. (p....
(The entire section is 713 words.)
J. L. Tallenay
"Limelight's" scenario unquestionably sounds melodramatic. Various critics have expressed the opinion that it is poorly done. Its very construction involves instances of ineptness: the entire first part of the film is broken up by long monologues on the part of Calvero, and the dramatic action takes too long to get under way. Finally although it is fictitious the film has a number of sequences that sound a personal and autobiographical note which may strike some people as discordant.
But despite these seeming weaknesses, and perhaps even because of them, "Limelight" is a major work of extraordinary richness and unprecedented originality.
Its primary originality is precisely in the...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
I think that [Limelight] is to be considered a mea culpa: an expression by the comedian that is more than art or entertainment; in brief, a moral credo that was designed to set everyone straight about its creator's positive and enduring convictions as a member of human society. It would be foolish to pretend such an assumption is irrelevant; that a work of art or a piece of entertainment is that and no more, has no moral value, and is not to be construed as an expression of private opinion, and so on. There are myriad signs that Monsieur Verdoux, like its predecessor The Great Dictator, not merely carried a view of contemporary life intended seriously in the moral sense but also was...
(The entire section is 732 words.)
Limelight cruelly exposes the limitations of Chaplin as producer, for it is everything, most of the time, a movie shouldn't be: overwritten, underdirected, slowly paced, monotonously photographed, fumblingly cut—and oh so dreary, far beyond any justification from the milieu, a penury of the soul…. The first ten minutes, roughly, are good Chaplin, relatively pure cinema…. Up to this point, or shortly thereafter, the situation is managed with a fine balance of tragic and comic, dramatic and ludicrous, theatrical and cinematic. But from here on, Chaplin abandons all effort to keep his invention within these disciplined commutations of method. The whole gorgeous potentiality breaks down, washes...
(The entire section is 340 words.)
The lapses of genius are always interesting, sometimes baffling, and inevitably sad. The important thing is that they don't, in the long run. greatly matter. Genius means, as often as not, an infinite capacity for taking risks: and with an artist like Chaplin, who has played for high stakes and never been concerned to hedge his bets, there is no possibility of failure in any small way. His new film. A King in New York, is for me as much of a failure as Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight were successes. Those were flawed masterpieces; this seems a failure that occasionally—but only occasionally—touches the edge of brilliance. And it is a film that appears at once important and of little lasting...
(The entire section is 780 words.)
I don't see any great difference between the first and the second parts of A King in New York. I didn't expect to laugh. We all read the newspapers, and I was well aware of Chaplin's misfortunes in America. I knew what his new film was about and I knew how profoundly sad his preceding films were. We could have known that A King in New York would be the saddest of all, also the most personal. The man who made The Gold Rush can, if he wants to, make his public laugh or cry at will; he knows all the tricks; he's an ace, that's sure. If we neither cry nor laugh at A King in New York, it's because Chaplin made up his mind to touch our heads instead of our...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
The Gold Rush, certainly, is one of Chaplin's achieved masterpieces of silent comedy, the work of a great artist of sentiment and pathos. (pp. 31-2)
The story-line (The Gold Rush was made after A Woman of Paris) has become firm and rich. And if the film has none of the flabbergasting imagination of a Keaton … it nonetheless creates a comic world as viable as any, and with a great deal of genuine poetry to it. (p. 32)
The key elements in the vision?—The search for love, above all; this time found in the person of a girl harder and less "good" than the usual Chaplin heroine…. The existence of good and evil, too; the Big Jims and Black Larsens of the world...
(The entire section is 843 words.)
[MacDonald quotes from a review which he wrote in 1956:]
Monsieur Verdoux is really two films, one a sentimental melodrama, the other a comedy in the old Chaplin style that burlesques the melodrama. What makes it confusing is that Chaplin shifts gears between the two without apparently knowing he is doing so…. It is unsettling to see an actor brilliantly taking off the conventional rhetoric of his trade one moment and the next employing it seriously, especially since Chaplin's serious rhetoric expresses a vain and foolish concept of himself—as the tragic man-of-the-world, disenchanted, elegant, sensitive, the gallant protector of the weak who, to make the bogus diamond...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Walking away from the camera, down a dirt road, his cane bobbing behind him, Charlie Chaplin is not a comedian but a clown. Emmett Kelly was the same kind of clown, smiling through a painted-on frown.
In Chaplin's films, the frown is painted on with a camera, and the audiences have to supply the smile themselves. Chaplin's deadly seriousness makes it clear that he does not understand why the joke should be on him….
The difference between Chaplin and the other great screen comics was that Chaplin played a clown. The others, by and large, played comedians, with a few exceptions such as Lahr, Keaton, and possibly Jerry Lewis.
Comedians and clowns aim in opposite...
(The entire section is 331 words.)
The recent reappearance of Chaplin's The Circus  provides an example of a rich film which has been overshadowed by its predecessor (The Gold Rush, 1925) and its successor (City Lights, 1931). True, The Circus lacks the superb economy of The Gold Rush and it does not plumb to the depths of pathos of City Lights. But its virtues are rather special, and, I think, ones which we, forty years later, are in a special position to notice. For The Circus is one of the few films in which Chaplin's nineteenth-century sensibility deals symbolically with art and despair in a truly twentieth-century way.
It is a commonplace that the conemporary cinema has begun...
(The entire section is 608 words.)
It is easy to foresee what people will find to criticize in Monsieur Verdoux. There is a fairly complete list of them in an article in La Revue des Temps Modernes which goes about as far as anything could in misrepresentation. The author of the critique expresses herself as profoundly disappointed by Chaplin's work because to her it seems ideologically, psychologically, and aesthetically incoherent. "Monsieur Verdoux's crimes are dictated neither by a need for self-defense nor in order to repair injustices, nor by a deep ambition, nor by the desire to improve anything in the world around him. It is a sad thing to have expended so much energy and proved absolutely...
(The entire section is 2771 words.)
Nearly everyone who has cared about Chaplin's art has been convinced that in The Tramp or The Little Fellow, to use the terms invariably employed in discussing Chaplin's great creation, we had a very direct expression of the artist's personality—"so simple and unaffected" despite the onslaught of previously unimagined celebrity. Certainly Chaplin has wanted us to believe that…. Surely what is best and wisest in him can be found in The Tramp. (p. 13)
There are lots of ways to put it; he found poetry in the ordinary, he transcended reality, he extended the range of pantomime to previously unimagined dimensions. Yet none of them quite explain his phenomenal appeal. Chaplin has never been generous in...
(The entire section is 858 words.)
[A King in New York] is produced in typical Chaplin style—tackily. The lighting, photography, settings and editing are banal and cheap. The music is music-hall. The concern for accuracy is so small that, in what is supposed to be New York, the doors to a theater orchestra are labeled "Stalls," an elevator is labeled "Lift," and in a street scene we see the office of a famous London bookmaker. The direction is, as always, Chaplin-centered and theater-oriented. Most of the actors seem hardly to have been directed at all, and the predominant motions of the film are of actors' entrances and exits, rather than any intrinsic cinematic mode. (p. 247)
The script, by Chaplin, seems a series of ad hoc...
(The entire section is 811 words.)
Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.
At their funniest [Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), and A King in New York (1957)] hark back to the sort of antics in Charlie's early work. The brightest moment in any of them is a mime recital in Limelight at which Charlie's accompanist is Buster Keaton! Yet even in Limelight there is a pall hanging over the most comically intended moments….
[At] the mime recital in Limelight, we have the uncomfortable feeling Charlie is putting his whole reputation as a laugh-getter on the line. This is the effect of preceding scenes where Calvero plays to an empty house in his nightmare and is hooted off the stage in reality. At the recital it's as if we're...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
It is possible to propose … that [Maya Deren's] Meshes of the Afternoon finds its central derivations from a film made by Chaplin in 1916…. 1 A.M., a momentary departure from Chaplin's preoccupations with the Tramp, contains a wide range of formal characteristics which influence Meshes, not only directly but by an indirection through Dada and surrealism. Dada, the aesthetic movement which generated surrealism, which engendered the comic and irrational strategies of surrealist cinema, is, of course, most intimately affiliated with American comedy, with Sennett and Keaton and Chaplin. The leap from Chaplin's 1 A.M. to Dada to [Buñuel's] Un Chien Andalou to Meshes of the...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
There are things to find fault with in Monsieur Verdoux, but I should say that there is something heartening even in Charlie Chaplin's faults, because they are faults of excess, not of deficiency. If some scenes in Verdoux are puzzling, is it not because they might mean several things, not that they might mean nothing? In the revolutionary act of making the screen say something, Chaplin has made it say too much. There is more material in his latest film than he is able to manage—which is to say, more than any living dramatic artist could manage. (p. 161)
Chaplin takes the familiar moral dichotomy between the private life and the public, which in modern life has taken form as the...
(The entire section is 1113 words.)
[Before The Gold Rush, Chaplin] made very few films that took the Tramp out of contemporary city or country life. Tramps are, after all, a by-product of industry, urban or rural. Evidently (we can deduce after the event), Chaplin's unconscious saw at once, in those stereoscopic pictures, the advantages of the novelty of putting the Tramp into a context that, so to speak, had no direct relation to Trampdom, the possibilities for the "epic" that he was seeking. And, presumably, he saw the power in putting the image of the Tramp, whose black moustache is the center of the figure's color gradations, against predominantly white backgrounds. All in all, it was a chance to simultaneously vary and heighten what he had...
(The entire section is 1719 words.)