Monday, July 12, 2004

Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times

I'm not one to talk out of turn, but what's the big deal about Charlie Chaplin??

I watched Modern Times the other day, a DVD copy picked up from the Melbourne CAE library. The first time I saw it was as a teenager at St. Bedes. I must admit, I really enjoyed it when I first saw it.

My second viewing gave me a creepy feeling about Charlie Chaplin. I didn't like his tramp character's complete and utter innocence. The way he jauntily trundles along is really annoying. In fact, I found his character INSIPID. It's like he's a child in an adult's body - and he stays continually in this immature mode, never learning anything from his experiences.

I know, people will point to some of Charles Dickens' innocents - like Oliver Twist. But he wasn't a grown man running around like a two year old!

Then there is the political aspect of Modern Times, not to mention his other films. I have no quarrel with his making a film about the negative aspects of modernity. It's just that it's all so didactic. Everything is done in the service of pushing his political agenda. The tramp character is just a complete VICTIM all the way through the film.

And the ending was plain awful, with him and Paulette Goddard ambling off into nowhere, with that god awful song 'Smile' playing. Again, they looked like two children walking into the sunset, and they're both grown adults. What are we supposed to make of this? That people will be continually kicked in the teeth, so they should take it with good cheer?

Give me the brilliantly misanthropic W C Fields any day.

I checked up Pauline Kael on Charlie Chaplin. She famously dissed Limelight. Here are a few of her comments:

'Chaplin's range as an actor is quite probably as wide as he thinks it is, but his range as a creative intelligence is certainly considerably less. He is almost the only man who is in the position to use the film medium for personal statement. (It is questionable if other creative film-makers would wish to do so; his aim may be as unique as his opportunity). His ideas and personality have pervaded his last three films. Verdoux remains fascinating, impudent enough to make one toss overboard some minor reservations. Mercifully in Verdoux the ideas are not nearly so explicit as in The Great Dictator and Limelight where the failures of taste and creative insight are alternately embarrassing and infuriating.

As Robert Duncan remarked, "It would have taken W.C. Fields spitting into Calvero's passed hat to restore the comic genius."

The Chaplin of Limelight is no irreverent little clown; his reverence for his own ideas would be astonishing even if the ideas were worth consideration. They are not-and the context of the film exposes them at every turn. The exhortations in the directions of life, courage, consciousness, and "truth" are set in a story line of the most self-pitying and self-glorifying daydream variety. Calvero's gala benefit in which he shows the unbelievers who think him finished that he is still the greatest performer of them all, his death in the wings as the applause fades--this is surely the richest hunk of gratification since Huck and Tom attended their own funeral. It was humor in Twain's day; Chaplin serves it at face value a hundred years later.'

1 comment:

Giddy London said...

Ooh, I'll have to speak to the doctor about this. He's a big CC fan and even has pictures of him around the house!!!!!!!!!!