Charles Chaplin

I believe Charlie Chaplin to be the greatest comedian since the invention of the camera. Charlie Chaplin was born in London in 1889 and his childhood was defined by hardship and tragedy. His father was absent for most of his early life and later died of alcoholism while his mother suffered from severe mental illness and was later committed to a mental asylum. Struggling with poverty and for some time even becoming homeless, Chaplin was sent to a workhouse at seven years old before he finally set out on his own at the age of fourteen. Chaplin’s difficult childhood prompted biographer David Robinson to describe his eventual trajectory as “the most dramatic of all the rags to riches stories ever told.” Many believe these early experiences even propelled Chaplin to develop the character of The Little Tramp whose stories focused on poverty, the harshness and cruelty of the outside world, and the contrasts between the rich and the poor. Chaplin’s early years in Hollywood were a brilliant mixture of improvisation and artistic growth, being the period where he created the iconic character of The Tramp. Wearing a costume with too large-sized pants, a little hat, big floppy shoes and a duck footed waddle, the look of the tramp character was said to be borrowed from a homeless figure Chaplin remembered from his early childhood in London. The personality of the Tramp, the innocence, sentimentality and romantic characteristics with his tipped hat and cane was created by Chaplin himself. When Chaplin started doing feature-length films it gave him more room to be flexible and extend his comic talents into something deeper, richer and much more grander. Films like The Kid (1921) The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus (1928) weren’t necessarily more amusing than his earlier shorts but it added a dimension of tragedy and artistic subtlety which was lacking in his earlier work. But it was his later films City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) which became Chaplin’s greatest cinematic achievements and for me sums up why I love the movies. Sound was already incorporated in films at that time, but besides the use of sound effects, Chaplin insisted that The Tramp would never speak because he feared it would destroy the magic of the character and alienate his fans in non-English speaking territories. It was extraordinary to watch the Little Tramp through the years evolve and mature, becoming not just an energetic, simplistic amusement but also a fragile, tragic soul who could be wounded by a harsh uncaring world during the time of the Great Depression. Chaplin abandoned the character of the Tramp in his later sound films, which include The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Limelight (1952); but those films never quite had the same commercial success as his films throughout the silent period. Chaplin perfectly summed up his cinematic perspective between the world of comedy and the world of tragedy by once stating:  “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”

Charles Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin Featured Films
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Articles and Essays on Charles Chaplin

Modern Times (1936)

To make a silent film in 1931 with City Lights four years after the first sound film The Jazz Singer, was a challenge. To make another in 1936 with Modern Times nearly a decade after audiences were now used to sound films, appeared downright perverse. Now audiences were used to the rapid dialog sound comedies of the […]