Thursday, April 16, 2015

Charlie Chaplin: "A Day Without Laughter Is A Day Wasted."

In his 88 years, he graced the world of entertainment as a performer, director, producer, businessman, and composer. His concern for everyday people and their often difficult lives was a common theme in virtually all his films as well as his private life. Such humanitarian sympathies led him to ally with well-known leftist in the U.S. and eventually leave the country in the early 1950s. Through it all, his endearing, bumbling, yet refined tramp brought laughter and awareness to millions.

We are of course talking about the irrepressible Charlie Chaplin, born on this day in 1889 in London. On a tour of the United States in 1913 he caught the eye of film producer Max Sennett. In was in preparation for his second film that he stumbled upon his persona as the "Little Tramp" a role that would become his signature. Today, if you took a photograph of the "Little Tramp" to almost any corner of the world touched by Western culture, chances are someone would recognize it. That's a powerful statement given that the character hasn't appeared in a film for almost eighty years. We should be pleased that such greatness persists. 

Take some time today to visit Chaplin's official site. The biography page is especially useful, providing information about nine "masterpiece features" and a complete filmography. Chaplin has three films on the American Film Institute's Greatest Films of All Time" list. They are: City Lights (1931) at #11, The Gold Rush (1925) at #58, and Modern Times (1936) at #78. It's important to keep in mind that Chaplin was the director, producer, writer, star, composer, and editor for all of these films except Modern Times which was edited by Willard Nico.

My personal favorite among all of his films is The Great Dictator (1940). Interestingly, this film was Chaplin's first "talkie." In it Chaplin portrays two characters, the "Little Tramp" variation of a Jewish veteran of World War I attempting to reestablish his life as a barber, and  Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomainia.   Any resemblance between Adenoid Hynkel and Adolph Hitler is completely intentional. The film is a masterful piece of political satire made as an appeal to Americans and their leadership to wake up to the threat of Nazi Germany. If you have not watched The Great Dictator (1940), add it to your queue today. You won't regret it.

Here is a 25 minute, French documentary on The Great Dictator produced in 2003. I normally do not link to long videos here but this one is exceptionally well-made. It's packed with important background information and features several scenes including the "globe scene" [19:26] rightfully described as "one of the most brilliant scenes in all of cinema." 

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