Thursday, March 22, 2012

Charlie Chaplin Focus Starts Now

Last November I decided to take on the task of looking at a selection of Charlie Chaplin's feature film work as my focus for December. It quickly ballooned into including his short films as well because several were available on DVD at my local library. The onset of the end of year films and the Oscars kept me busy with other film viewing and I kept putting off my Chaplin focus. Finally this month I've been able to get through a large chunk of his work.

I can count ten of his short films and 11 of 12 feature films on the list of what I've seen. The Pilgrim is the only feature I've not been able to get either through the library or Netflix. But I've watched all the rest. There are still some short films I plan to watch before finishing this long and drawn out project.

I am certainly not a Chaplin expert. I've read some sections of David Robinson's incredibly detailed biography of the man and watched Richard Attenborough's film Chaplin which is based on both Robinson's book as well as Chaplin's autobiography. I haven't studied his films in depth as I have done with other films. My project is more about the measured reactions of a cinema lover to encountering some classic works for the first time and others for the second or even third time. I had already seen The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times before taking this on, but I revisited each of them.

Chaplin is of course most known for his Little Tramp character. The Tramp's first appearance was in a Mack Sennett directed comedy called Kid Auto Races at Venice made in 1914 and his last was in Modern Times from 1936, although the Jewish Barber in The Great Dictator is very similar to the Tramp. For twenty years Chaplin entertained audiences with his beautiful creation: a clown who could be aggressive, vindictive, jealous, sad, forlorn and hilarious. Chaplin brought so much more than great physicality to his character - he could dance; play drunk; fall over; etc. - he also brought pathos to his stories. Through all his bumbling antics you want the Tramp to succeed. He captures hearts and imaginations in ways that most performers struggle their entire careers to achieve and he does it seemingly without any effort whatsoever. However, the stories behind the camera reveal a painstaking process undertaken by a man who demanded perfection from everyone, but none more than himself.

I have enjoyed my time with Charlie Chaplin and his films over the last several months and hopefully you might take the time to seek one or two of them out, especially now that a silent film in tribute to the silent era has just recently won the Academy Award for Best Picture. As the movies go through tremendous changes that will alter the cinema-going landscape forever, it's worth taking some time to remember the origins of the art form. It's no accident and hardly any surprise that The Artist and Hugo were the two films receiving more accolades within the industry than any other film last year. As digital projection and distribution and 3D cinema becomes more pervasive, many people are yearning for tradition. Times and methods are changing, but Charlie Chaplin is forever.

Please check back for upcoming reviews of all Chaplin's feature films and a handful of his short films.

Update 4/26:
Links to my reviews of all of Chaplin's feature films plus a review of 4 short films
4 Mutual short films from 1916
The Kid (1921)
A Woman of Paris (1923)
The Gold Rush (1925)
The Circus (1928)
City Lights (1931)
Modern Times (1936)
The Great Dictator (1940)
Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
Limelight (1952)
A King in New York (1957)
A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)

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