The Life and Art of Charlie Chaplin

Yesterday night, SBS featured a documentary on Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977). Said to be an insight into one of the greatest figures of world cinema, from acclaimed documentary filmmaker Robert Schickel. It was a fascinating documentary — a great blend of film clips, rare footage and interviews with colleagues, relatives and admirers including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Richard Attenborough and Johnny Depp.

Charlie Chaplin. The Gold Rush. 1925. 35mm film, black and white, silent, 66 minutes

Charlie ChaplinI really liked watching the Chaplin series on TV back in India but I never knew that he also produced and acted in some films from the era of “sound cinema” (his initial features from early 1900s were all silent movies). “The Kid” (1912) starring a young Jackie Coogan and Charlie was way ahead of its time back then, like most of his other features. Charlie’s image of the “Tramp” never faded. He went on to be a millionaire but still portrayed the poorest of characters, which itself was a fascinating irony. His cinematic viewpoint on politics, love and struggle-in-life was enchanting to watch. All his life, Chaplin was known to be an avowed atheist. He had nothing but contempt for any form of religion. He once joked, “I would love to play the part of Jesus! I fit it perfectly because I am a comedian”.

The bowler hat, walking cane and moustache were there right from the start of Charlie Chaplin’s movie career. It has been suggested that Chaplin’s enormous popularity may have persuaded Hitler that similar success would follow his own choice of Schnurrbart. But it seems more likely that Hitler had a moustache for the same reason Chaplin did: because it made him look older, and that the minimalist, toothbrush version was chosen for simplicity’s sake. Chaplin and Hitler had much more in common than just their moustaches, however. Both men were born in April 1889, within four days of each other; both had difficult childhoods, with violent or alcoholic fathers and ailing mothers; and both men left their native countries to make it big somewhere else. Both men loved the cinema, too, but German audiences did not respond well to the theatrical-looking Hitler in silent newsreels. Unlike Chaplin’s career, however, Hitler’s fortunes were transformed for the better by a film about a Jew named Asa Yoelson, better known as Al Jolson, whose 1927 movie The Jazz Singer ushered in the era of sound in motion pictures. Hitler certainly used sound far more effectively than Chaplin ever did. [source]

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