An innovator of comedy.
We know him by name, and rightfully so. Some folklore live through history without the rest of us ever questioning why.
We accept he was a star of silent pictures. We have seen slapstick comedy and assume that Chaplin was funny. But cinema has changed. We record in color now. Why do we bother remembering, though vaguely? Who was Charlie Chaplin?
He was a man that should inspire you. Born on April 16th, 1889, he was the outlier of imagination and industry. He worked hard at being unparalleled, with an ability to communicate emotion through peculiar movement on silent film.
We aren’t lightyears away, despite the fact that the 1900’s seem like centuries ago. I argue that Charlie Chaplin is still very much an example for today. Especially now, in a world filled with possibility, I find myself asking, where have the Charlie Chaplin’s gone?
Chaplin will forever belong amongst the greats because he was an innovator. He fell into his craft, spun, ran, danced and mastered his way through. Chaplin did what he was born to do and never stopped getting better, a celebrity on a mission.
Don’t get me wrong, we have our talents today, but do you see Robert De Niro or Leonardo Dicaprio, scoring an entire film? 1931s, City Lights, was a critically acclaimed success, single handed sustained by Chaplin. He typically wrote, directed and starred in his movies.
Daniel Day-Lewis has his Oscars. But Chaplin was a cause a moment in history. He transformed a square mustache, a cane and a bowler bat, into a fixture of American culture.
And as for the funny guys, Will Ferrell and The Hangover cast, how many of them own a fully equipped film studio? Chaplin was the pinnacle of prominence. Chaplin sure did some a long way from his humble beginnings as a part of the Eight Lancashire Lads, the clog-dancing troupe.
He went from striking his heels and toes on small stages, to hitting it big on the big screen.
By 1928s, The Circus, Chaplin had already embodied the representation of his fictional persona, The Tramp. He was no longer just a character on screen. He was the everyday loser, optimistic and unfortunate as ever. On stage, he was the clumsy clown that always seemed to be one step ahead. Always finding a way out, but keeping the rest of us in suspense.
Some may be hard pressed to believe that the slapstick comedy required complete out of the box thinking. It all just seems like a jibberish sort of performance. Far from it. Plus it wasn't just the use of his body. On screen, Chaplin was sharp as a tack.
Chaplin was full of surprises. How else would the diminutive officer played by Chaplin in 1917s Easy Street, have gotten away? There seemed to be no way of escaping a beating from the violent and eager town bully. Only Chaplin would have seen the improvisational genius of using the folded gas lamp as a suffocating gas mask for neutralizing his enemy.
His quick wits came to his rescue, time and time again. Take for example a police chase in the Circus, Chaplin exits the boat shaped house of mirrors and knows to blend in with the decorative mannequins. He immediately becomes an object, moves robotically like one too. He ends up getting away with it all, after a chaotic scramble, leaving an entertaining show behind. The tramp was our survivor who lived to fight another day.
Chaplin sucked us in with lonely walks off to nowhere at the and of bold adventures. He was brilliant.
He told stories that moved us. He had this way of connecting with everything we were dying to say. In 1916s, The Rink he showed you magic on skates. In 1921´sThe kid, Chaplin breaks your heart. He kept busy, churning out film after film, even experimenting with entirely off screen responsibilities for 1923s, A woman of Paris. He was always trying something new.
We sure are lacking those days when actors wanted to do things that have never been done before.
With time Chaplin evolved in complexity, reflecting the dangers of his time with 1940’s The Great Dictator. I still consider his outstanding speech from this film among the greatest of cinematic history:
“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost….”
As great a talent as Chaplin was, he was an exception citizen. Do we have any Chaplins left? He was once asked inflammatorily, if he were a jew, Chaplin managed the most Chaplin-esque response possible. He replied, “I am afraid, I do not have that honor.”
In this instance, he was surprised by danger, danced around it a bit, and exited with grace, the Chaplin way.
Charlie Chaplin was an innovator because he saw no limits. In film, he already knew how to act a joke, but he didn`t stop there. He choreographed and performed our amusement. And it always seemed natural, like the next happening could not be planned.
If technology wouldn’t catch up to his idea of comedy, he could bring comedy to ideas of the future. The eating machine in 1936’s Modern Times was an inanimate high school project at best, till Chaplin touched it. With the camera rolling Chaplin pulled levers while playing the part of a worker and a machine. Two roles in one scene, performed simultaneously with neither of them losing credibility.
With his wife and children by his side, we lost a legend on December 25, 1977.
Chaplin knew no limits and cherished his craft and that is why I am writing this now. Fall in love with what you do. Be the Chaplin of your world, even if what you think is just a little tramp.
Here are 10 of his most inspiring quotes:
1. “You need Power, only when you want to do something harmful otherwise Love is enough to get everything done.”
2. “Perfect love is the most beautiful of all frustrations because it is more than one can express.”
3. “I always like walking in the rain, so no one can see me crying.”
4. “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
5. “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”
6. “We think too much and feel too little.”
7. “Man as an individual is a genius. But men in the mass form the headless monster, a great, brutish idiot that goes where prodded.”
8. “Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.”
9.“Nothing is permanent in this wicked world not even our troubles.”
10. “I am for people. I can’t help it.”