Posts tagged ‘Charlie Chaplin’

May 25, 2012

Limelight (1952 – DVD)

“This has been a wonderful evening, I’d like to continue… but I’m stuck”

I’m still only half way through my Charlie Chaplin box-set and I’ve come onto 1952’s ‘Limelight’. It was released at a time when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had revoked Chaplin’s American visa at the height of the McCarthy era forcing him to live in Europe. Seeing that the plot is about a forgotten tramp comedian called Calvero from the same area of London where Charlie learned his trade, you’d think it was filmed as a response to his troubles. But ‘Limelight’ was actually entirely filmed on the backlot in Hollywood and it was only when Chaplin travelled to the London premiere that he was informed he could not return to the country he had made his home for nearly forty years.

It’s a beautifully nostalgic and quietly tragic film dwelling on life, love, death and self belief.  Most of Charlie’s previous films are about optimistic characters who are larger than life but in ‘Limelight’ Calvero and the young ballet dancer (Claire Bloom) he befriends are lonely damaged souls that seem crushed by the weight of life.  Terry the dancer has a deep psychological problem that has convinced her she can’t walk and Calvero has turned to the bottle.  Most of the movie is confined to the claustrophobic set of Calvero’s flat with the two leads helping each other build up the courage to face the outside world that they are each hiding from.  The film climaxes with a Music-hall revue featuring Chaplin doing a side-splitting double act with his great silent film rival Buster Keaton, which is the only time they appeared together on-screen.  So far, from this box set, it seems that unlike a lot of Directors, Chaplin only got better with age.

April 10, 2012

Play Time (1967 – Blu-Ray)

“A film that comes from another planet, where they make films differently”

Jacques Tati is often declared a genius, with his blend of French mime and Chaplin-esque silent comedy. However when I tried watching 1953’s ‘Mr. Hulot’s Holiday’ I found it tedious in the extreme with only one gag involving his car towards the end eliciting anything beyond the merest smile. So after a few months I decided to give him another go with his celebrated 1967 colour film ‘Play Time’, but sadly I only found this slightly funnier. Maybe you just have to be French to find an extended sequence about sitting on chairs funny.


Thankfully this Blu-Ray of ‘Play Time’ has much more to recommend it. The fascinating commentary track tells the story of the long and troubled production and makes watching the film rather enjoyable. Clearly Tati went a little mad in his pursuit of perfection as he ended up shooting for three years, bankrupting himself, his family and his studio resulting in the French President becoming involved.

The idea was to have his Mr. Magoo like character Mr. Hulot stubble through a machine-like modernist city disrupting it’s ordered inhumane flow. Most directors would have got a location scout to find a suitable office complex to shoot in. But not Tati, he decided to build his own city with its own tarmaced roads, office buildings, working traffic lights, real escalators and even its own power plant along with a population of hundreds of office workers, tourists and pedestrians. The resulting effect is a grey minimalist fantasy world of glass walls, shiny metal design and infuriating electronics. It’s the kind of maniacal vision that is usually only the preserve of perhaps my favourite director Francis Ford Coppola. Tati further ramped up costs by shooting on expensive 70mm stock, which half a century later on Blu-ray translates into a glorious level of detail. Watch ‘Play Time’ to marvel at the sheer ambition… if not for the laughs.

April 2, 2012

City Lights (1931 – DVD)

“I’m not acting, almost apologetic, standing outside myself and looking, it’s a beautiful scene, beautiful, and because it isn’t over-acted”

Next in my Charlie Chaplin boxset is 1931’s ‘City Lights’ which was perhaps Chaplin’s own favourite film, and it was also Orson Welles’ favourite and is named as Sight & Sound Magazine’s 2nd greatest film ever.  I found it to be in the mould of Chaplin’s beautiful and emotional, heart-warming film ‘The Kid’.  ‘City Lights’s plot has two halves which Chaplin cunningly weaves together into one seemless narrative.

One side features Chaplin’s Tramp befriending a drunken and suicidal millionaire, although when he sobers back up he is less than pleased to see the company he’s been keeping.  One of the funniest parts of this scenario is the look of disapproval and anger on the face of the millionaire’s Valet who is forced to follow his master’s drink sodden whims and treat the Tramp as an honoured guest.  Many sparkling comic vignettes follow, the greatest being when in an eating scene The Tramp accidentally chews the streamers hanging from the ceiling along with his spaghetti.

The other side is a sweet and tender romance between The Tramp and a poor blind flower seller that he meets.  Unfortunately, not being able to see his ragged clothes, she mistakes him for a rich man who he continues to pretend to be, making use of his millionaire friend in order to impress her.  He later learns she is to evicted, so in the guise of the rich gentleman he rashly promises to pay her rent and also pay for an expensive eye operation.  This leads him into a series of scrapes as he fights to get the money including a hilarious rigged boxing match.  The final scene between  the flower seller and The Tramp is utterly heartbreaking.  Naturally I respect Orson’s opinion, but I wouldn’t say this was my favourite film, however I would say it was Chaplin’s best early Silent movie (That I’ve watched so far) although I still think 1947’s Talkie ‘Monsieur Verdoux’ is his best film overall.

You can watch the full film on YouTube below:

March 28, 2012

The Great Dictator (1940 – DVD)

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed”

‘The Great Dictator’ starts like any other Charlie Chaplin film with a brilliantly comic prologue featuring his character’s haphazard attempts to serve his country. One scene has him unaware that he is flying upside down. The puzzled look on Charlie’s face as he observes his watch seemingly dangle up out of his pocket is priceless.  The film changes to something altogether more political after the inevitable plane crash, when Charlie’s character (In this film, a Jewish Barber, instead of a tramp) emerges from years in hospital to find his country in the grip of Fascism.  To put the film in context, Chaplin began filming the week after the outbreak of WWII and released the film a year before the US joined the Allied cause.  It’s amusing that America’s first salvo against Hitler should be a satirical one launched by its greatest comedian.

Chaplin doesn’t shy away from showing the awful brutality meeted out to the Jewish neighbourhood by the Fascists.  The horrors of the real Kristallnacht must have been the impetus behind the story as Chaplin began writing the film almost immediately after.  His Barber emerges from hospital still suffering from slight amnesia so merely sees the stormtroopers as petty bullies and stands up to them, as the rest of the neighbourhood initially looks on, too frightened by what they experienced during the Barber’s absence to resist.  So he when the word ‘Jew’ is crudely painted on his shop window he wipes it off as you would any normal grafitti, not realising it’s dreadful significance.  Chaplin then contrasts the Barber’s quiet dignity and humanity with his second character, that of Dictator Adenoid Hynkel.  Obviously the similarities between Hitler and Charlie’s moustaches was a big inspiration behind Hynkel.

Chaplin was initially reluctant to use sound in his pictures and ‘The Great Dictator’ was his first full talkie.  He needn’t have worried because with Hynkel’s hilarious nonsensical-germanic-sounding-pig-snorting rants he immediately proved himself the master of sound based comedy.  In one famous shot the microphone actually bends away as if to escape the rabid guff that Hynkel is shouting into it.  Chaplin’s portrayal of the pompous, vain, lunatic Hynkel was barely a parody at all, it was the truth.  It’s a tragedy that the German people didn’t see what a laughable figure Hitler really was years before.  ‘The Great Dictator’ manages a rare thing of being both an achingly funny comedy and a searing political statement by Hollywood’s most famous star.

March 6, 2012

Monsieur Verdoux (1947 – DVD)

“Wars, conflict, it’s all business. One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify my good fellow”

I’ve long considered Ealing’s ashen-black 1949 comedy ‘Kind Hearts & Coronets’ as being uniquely ahead of it’s time. But the third film I’ve watched from my Charlie Chaplin box set is 1947’s ‘Monsieur Verdoux’ and it approaches serial Murder from much the same Comedic angle (Of course two years earlier!). The story is by Orson Welles and is greatly inspired by the real-life French wife-killer Henri Désiré Landru. Welles pitched the idea to Chaplin but auteur that he was, Chaplin didn’t wish to be directed by someone else so he bought the idea and resolved to produce, compose, write, act and direct it himself.

Chaplin’s portrayal of Verdoux is extraordinary, as he makes a man who marries and murders rich women so sympathetic. He floats around like a camp peacock lavishing compliments and flowers on his conquests.  But with his wheelchair bound first wife he is solemn and loving, it’s to provide for her that he does the killing.  It’s made clear in several scenes that he originally lost all his money in the great depression, and perhaps lost a little of his sanity too.  In the second half of the film he meets Martha Raye’s brash, vulgar widower who is considerably less polite and pliant than Verdoux’s other victims and is more than a match for him.

‘Monsieur Verdoux’ bombed when it was originally released, which may have been down to its dark tone, the controversial political sentiments of its final act or Chaplin’s growing persecution under the rise of McCarthyism.  Whatever the reason it was shear madness, as this is simply one of most ingenious films I’ve ever seen.  It remains to be seen if anything else in my Chaplin box set can rival it.  I think I might watch 1931’s ‘City Lights’ next.

March 5, 2012

The Gold Rush (1925 – DVD)

“The picture that I want to be remembered by”

This is part two of my Charlie Chaplin box set indulgence after his first feature ‘The Kid’. This is his third and perhaps most warmly regarded silent 1925’s ‘The Gold Rush’.  The Tramp or ‘The Little Fellow’ as Chaplin calls him in the narration, is a prospector in the bleak winter of the Klondike gold rush. It’s very much like ‘The Kid’ in tone with the same perfect blend of inventive visual gags and heartbreak. Only this time the gags are on a whole new daring level of sophistication.

The amount of humour he squeezes into one three walled shack is astounding. The setup where the hungry character cooks and eats his boiled boots as if he were a gourmet is rightly famous. What I wasn’t expecting was how powerful the romantic plot still is. The bit where The Little Fellow has saved all his money for a New Years dinner with the sophisticated Girl he has worshipped from afar, only for her to stand him up is heartbreaking. Especially when Chaplin has a close up of him looking mournfully out of his door into the cold darkness and hearing the faint sound of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ from the rest of the happy townsfolk… it almost had me blubbing.

Next I’m gonna skip forward a few films and try one of Chaplin’s later talkies.

February 26, 2012

The Kid (1921 – DVD)

“A picture with a smile and perhaps a tear”

After watching The Artist, I’ve decided to make an effort to see more silent films.  So why not start with the master himself Charlie Chaplin. Fortunately the fine team at Park Circus have just released a gorgeous 12 Disc DVD boxset comprising restored presentations of all of Chaplin’s greatest long-films, a selection of shorts, a 25 minute making-of for every movie and a treasure trove of other assorted extras.

I’ve only seen a few silent films and I’ve usually found the bizarre, mannered and melodramatic acting a big turn off.  However one that I saw on telly when I was young was Chaplin’s first long-form movie 1921’s ‘The Kid’ which I remember fondly.  So I couldn’t resist slipping it into my PS3 first before exploring the less familiar parts of the box set (No doubt more posts to follow).

It was a deeply personal film intertwined with Chaplin’s own life. He was suffering a creative block when two things seem to of inspired him to make ‘The Kid’, one was the death of his first child at just 3 days old and the other was seeing a captivating Musichall performance by the 4-year-old Jackie Coogan.  Of course coming from Musichall himself he cast Jackie in the title role of the abandoned kid and his own loveable tramp character as the surrogate father.  What was intended as another short feature became so precious to Chaplin that he expanded it to an hour and went on to shoot 53 hours of footage in a quest for perfection that lasted a whole year.  Knowing that Chaplin was separated from his own mother at seven and placed in a workhouse, gives added power to the scenes where the tramp fights off officials trying to take the kid.

There is only a very small amount of dated acting in evidence here and Chaplin’s tragic-comic performance is wonderful.  But it’s young Coogan’s naturalistic turn as the sweet mischievous kid that breaks your heart and in fact hasn’t aged a day.