(Sir) Charles (Spencer) Chaplin

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Max Reinhardt

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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 entirely to his personality and the sheer force of his acting ability. To the technique of the motion picture, its development as an art in terms of pure cinema, Chaplin has contributed little except here and there in The Woman of Paris. As a matter of fact his technique is old-fashioned, photographic rather than cinematic…. In one respect the old-fashioned technique celebrates a triumph. We refer to the final scene where Chaplin, having married off the bareback rider whom he loves to his rival, sits in the desolate circle of his despair and chews the cud of fate. That is indeed a marvellous scene which should never have been spoiled by the subsequent close-up. Shot in the middle distance, with the hazy outline of a town behind it, this scene has a symbolic and (we might as well admit it) a philosophic significance scarcely equalled in the annals of the screen. (p. 7)

Max Reinhardt, "Screen Visions: 'The Circus'," in National Board of Review Magazine (copyright, 1928), Vol. III, No. 2, February, 1928, pp. 6-7.

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