Chaplin, The Great Comedian
My first exposure to Charlie Chaplin was (as far as I can remember) from an episode of The Muppet Babies. Fozzie the bear was fantasizing about his favorite comedian Sir Charles Chaplin. At the time, I had no idea who this man was with his toothbrush mustache and strange, ill fitting attire. As a child, I found him to be strange and even a little creepy (at least the way he was presented on the show).
After that initial exposure, I quickly forgot about Sir Chaplin. I think I may have seen photographs and reference to him here and there, but for the most part he wasn’t someone I knew or thought much of. It wasn’t until highschool that I stumbled on to him again. I saw a trailer for CHAPLIN, the 1992 movie about Chaplin starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role.
I had known of the movie, having read bits and pieces about it here and there, but it wasn’t until I saw that trailer that I suddenly had great interest in seeing the film.
It’s hard for me to remember exactly what my first impressions of the film were but I remember liking it a good deal. Learning a little about the early days of film through Charlie’s perspective was wonderful to me and seeing the little details that I didn’t expect to see in the film at all (like the Hollywoodland sign and Chaplin’s return to America for the Oscars ceremony) was a real treat as well.
When I first saw it I had little knowledge of Chaplin and had only seen one of his films. As time went on I saw more and more of his films and learned more about him. I still have not seen anywhere close to all his films but I do feel as if I understand the little fellow better.
He’s one of the people in history who really earned his money. He worked incredibly hard for it, often (being the workaholic that he was) running himself into the ground. He wanted nothing but perfection but still never quite made what he thought was a perfect movie. Having started out on stage, where broad gestures and the like were needed for the people in the nosebleed seats, he preferred to use his expressive body and face to get ideas across. He also had the uncanny ability to take normal, everyday objects and turn them into things of hilarity.
He was a very stubborn man, though, and didn’t make his first full on talking picture until over a decade after the silent era had ended. He believed that silent pictures were just hitting their peak and that silent filmmakers were just learning how to make them right. So he fought against it and made two essentially silent pictures, City Lights and Modern Times, from 1931 to 1936 (City Lights being regarded as one of his best films, if not the best) until finally making a talky in 1940.
He had a scandalous sex and marriage life, as well, having gotten married four times (to women far younger than he was) and having eleven children in all. Although it should be noted that he was married to his last wife for thirty-four years.
Despite these faults, among others, he still remains to be not only a great filmmaker but also one of the most influential men in movie history. He was always a performer at heart and never lost his desire to perform for people and for the camera even after he started to decline in health in his later years. During his life he saw both sides of living from the most extreme poverty to amazing fame and fortune. He never did forget his roots, however, and always brought those elements of the lower half of society into his films. That pathos that he brought to his movies is what makes him so wonderful.
He could make you laugh and cry without ever using a single word. It’s this mastery of storytelling that sets him apart and truly makes him a man to remember.