(Sir) Charles (Spencer) Chaplin Vernon Young - Essay

Vernon Young

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 away in a welter of tears, archness, smut, coincidental meetings, Pagliacci closeups, and in talk, talk, talk. For interminable stretches he either sets his camera while two or three actors play out a scene virtually face front, with no cuts to benefit either their comfort or the scene's modulations, or he simply moves in to a close shot from middle distance. These are almost the limits of his motion. When, during a ballet sequence, he suddenly gives us four overhead shots in as many minutes, the change of perspective is so unprepared for as to seem completely out of key.

Chaplin should have long ago—as far back as Modern Times, for instance—placed his idiosyncratic genius for pantomime and his occasionally seminal ideas at the disposal of a sympathetic director who might have created a context in which they were neither dissipated nor overdeployed. But this is to imagine a totally different personality for an artist who has increasingly become his own worst enemy from the deluded notion that it is not enough for him to be an ingenious comic—he must also be an entrepreneur with a message about faith, hope, and charity who can yet afford to ignore the finer details of everything but his own performance. (pp. 31-2)

Vernon Young, "Inside Chaplin" (1954), in his On Film: Unpopular Essays on a Popular Art (copyright © 1972 by Vernon Young), Quadrangle Books, 1972, pp. 31-3.