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Charles Chaplin

(kelvin) · 5 · 2754

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on: June 26, 2003, 01:30:44 PM
An own category for one of the greatest directors ever.


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Reply #1 on: June 26, 2003, 05:05:03 PM
ill take BUSTER KEATON any day
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Reply #2 on: June 26, 2003, 05:13:10 PM
harold lloyd?
Christopher Nolan's directive was clear to everyone in the cast and crew: Use CGI only as a last resort.


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Reply #3 on: June 26, 2003, 06:11:41 PM

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Reply #4 on: May 19, 2006, 12:28:22 AM
Here's a review I just knocked off for Chaplin's LIMELIGHT.  Sort of an under-discussed film, it seems to me.  This review isn't very polished, but I hope it provides a little food for thought.

Limelight (1952)

As a longtime Woody Allen fan, it was difficult for me to watch Limelight without comparing the two actor/writer/directors.  Charles Chaplin's influence upon Allen -- upon cinema -- has been incalcuable.  As a relative neophyte to the work of Chaplin, it was also difficult for me to fully grasp the significance of Limelight's place in his oeuvre, and still is.  After Chaplin's first sound feature, The Great Dictator, flopped (hard to imagine, isn't it?) in 1940, failure greeted him again with Monsieur Verdoux.  In 1952, he completed Limelight, only to have it go unreleased in Los Angeles for another few decades, eventually winning his only competitive Oscar in 1972.  This much you can find out on the Internet Movie Database.  It doesn't tell you much about the raw experience of watching Chaplin sharply critique himself, his audience, and the place of art(istry) within the human condition.

In some ways, Limelight presaged Allen's forays into Bergmanesque dramedy.  The story begins when the aging Chaplin -- playing an obvious variation on himself, the fomerly great stage comedian Calvero -- rescues Terry Ambrose (Claire Bloom) from a suicide attempt.  Rousing himself from a haze of despondent alcoholism for the sake of the beautiful young girl, he nurses her back to health, determined to prevent the aspiring dancer from throwing her life away.  Chaplin devotes a great deal of time to Calvero and Terry holding grand existential debates in his austere little apartment.  Despairing of a purpose in her life now that her legs won't work (thanks to a psychosomatic condition), Terry contends that everything is meaningless and she should be allowed to die.  Calvero rallies with eloquent, often funny speeches about the inherent joy of being alive.  The dialogues are like a cavalier counterpart to the somber meditations of Bergman.

As Calvero's infectious facade of optimism cracks Terry's psychological barrier, his own resolve weakens, as he attempts to reconcile his pride with the fact that nobody wants to pay to see him anymore.  Terry's despondency takes up permanent residence in Calvero's sunken eyes.  He lashes out at the crowd, allowing that the individuals making it up may have greatness, but that together they are a "monster" with no head.  When Terry presses Calvero about why he couldn't perform his comedy routines without drinking first, he speculates that, as an artist grows older, he wants to retain some dignity, an overly reflexive comment on Chaplin's own performance in Limelight, in which the "Tramp" persona is unmasked, a projection of vaudevillian mystique barely understood by the artist behind him.  When we first meet Calvero, he is already fallen from grace, and his descent to rock bottom is painful to witness, especially in contrast to the rising star of the suicidal young dancer whose flame he ignited.

With only two sound films to his previous credit, Chaplin's dialogue is astonishingly sharp.  Perhaps a bit stagey at times and overmodulated (especially where it comes to Bloom's character, who spends most of the time in hysterics), it is also the kind of sentimental verbosity that gives performers substantial morsels to bite off and slowly digest.  In almost any other director's hands, Calvero's arc would have been that of a martyr, a manipulative, woebegone missive from an artist who purely strives for audience sympathy.  While Chaplin earns sympathy for Calvero, he also refuses to make him a victim of circumstance.  His callous treatment of Terry after ushering her into the titular limelight and steadfast, bitter pride round out the thoughtful self-critique Chaplin levels at himself, even as he lets the fickle audience and industry have it with both barrels.

It even occurred to me that besides being a eulogy to the milieu of stage comedy in which Chaplin got his start as a child performer, the slow self-destruction of alcoholism and perfectionism may have been an echo of his silent-era comrade-in-arms, Buster Keaton, who appears as Calvero's parter during the showstopping finale.  Chaplin's references to his own career and Keaton's are sharp and ruthless, even as they're bathed in the tears of laughter and sorrow.  As Pauline Kael said, Chaplin wanted to make the audience laugh and cry at the same time.  While she held it against the artist (to her own discredit), it articulates the heart of his greatness. While Limelight is nowhere near as raucous as his classic comedies, its balance of humor and pathos is what we now call "mature," though what it really is, is "accurate."  Chaplin had matured as a filmmaker long before Limelight, and even restrained in many respects.  But as his vision deepened and broadened, he seems to have become a little more perceptive and open.  There isn't much room for thematic complexity, even in masterpieces like Modern Times and City Lights.  The bad guys are bad guys, the heroes struggle valiantly on, and Chaplin's jibes at the capitalist establishment are sophisticated, but still distinctly black and white.  In Limelight, he is simply more attuned and less ideological, with some postmodern touches running throughout the film in more subtle ways than the inspired (and only) onscreen pairing of cinema's two greatest silent-era comedians.

By the end of the film the existential volley has broadened to include the complexities of romantic attachment (involving a delicately-handled triangle between Calvero, Terry, and a young composer played by Chaplin's son, Sydney, in a deft, likeable performance) and the role of art in the characters' lives.  One of the single most memorable lines of any film I've seen is when Calvero waxes poetic about the theater, and Terry reminds him that he once said he hated it.  "I also hate the sight of blood," he replies, "but it's in my veins."  In a single moment, Chaplin clinches the themes of life, art, and performance into one unified vision.  No amount of risk, rejection, or pain is worth giving up either the theater or life.  As Shakespeare said, we are all performers.  While Chaplin made Limelight as a response to his critics and his own audience, he expanded the scope to include not just the Artist, but the Performers of every size, shape, sex, and creed: the human race.  Ultimately, Chaplin's art was about people, reflected in the persona he created, then deconstructed in front of our eyes, and we are the richer for it, which is precisely the reason that the films of Charles Chaplin have endured, and will endure so long as we are human enough to loose laughter and shed tears.
Please don't correct me. It makes me sick.