Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Two Charlie Chaplain Films

Iowa Guru and I recently bought a box set of Charlie Chaplin films. We've watched two of them, and one learns that Chaplin was not simply a sad-sack, slapstick performer from the silent era, but an incredibly graceful and talented actor.

Modern Times is considered by many to be Chaplin's's greatest film. Made in 1936, it is in large measure a silent film, including large portions that use separate shots to display dialog, altougth later in the film some voice is used (as well as music). This film includes the famous scenes where Chaplin travels through a large series of gears. He winds through them like a reel of film through projector. This scene and other scenes that display work on an assembly line use his amazing slapstick sensibility. Yet, in another portion of the film, Chaplin dances, and he does so with the grace and litheness that is quite amazing.

Chaplin wrote and directed Modern Times, and in it you can appreciate his sense of concern about modern life and  especially the life of those less fortunate. The film centers on the destitution of those thrown out of work by the Depression and the often ugly demands placed on those who could work. The film also shows  "the little man" ensnared by the police and the legal system. Chaplin was eventually forced to leave Hollywood and the U.S. because of his alleged association with "Communists", but I think the fair assessment of hims would be of a person  who was concerned for the type of characters that he made famous. (If you haven't seen The Great Dictator, then you don't not have a complete appreciation of Chaplin's sense of injustice and support of democracy the belies any other charges that might be brought against him.)

The other film we viewed was A King in New York, the last feature film the Chaplin made. It was filmed in Great Britain and released in Great Britain in 1957, but was not released in  the US until 1967. In this film, Chaplin plays a king exiled to New York City. It again combines Chaplain's fascination with physical humor along with  cutting social satire. Chaplin ridicules the red hunting and red baiting that was plaguing the US in the 1950s. As a victim of such witch hunting, Chaplin had a full appreciation of what it entailed. Chaplin doesn't beat his audience over the head with anger or sarcasm, but instead he uses a gentle humorous ridicule and truly sympathetic characters who do their best when caught up in appalling circumstances. This latter Chaplin, which IG and I have seen in some other later films, is quite an appealing figure. For someone who began in the silent era, Chaplin always displays the utmost and consummate skills would truly fine actor.

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