Saturday, January 13, 2007

Charlie Chaplin Birthday Bash 03.09.00

Our Birthday Bashes put a nice spin on the whole gift-giving ritual. You walk in empty handed and leave with some of the greatest films on earth because, at our party, it's the honoree who's giving out the presents.

Charlie Chaplin is certainly the biggest and best-loved star of the Silent Era. While Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle’s contributions to screen comedy were tremendous, Charlie Chaplin virtually invented the comic forms that would be mimicked throughout the history of cinema.

With Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and DW Griffith, Chaplin also formed United Artists, the first and maybe the last Hollywood studio controlled entirely by the artists who wrote, directed and starred in the movies.

Chaplin died in 1977 (his grave robbed a few years later and his corpse held for ransom in one of the oddest Hollywood mysteries) at the ripe old age of 88. In memory of the Little Tramp, we raise a boiled shoe.

The Tramp (1915) Perhaps the saddest comedy of all time, The Tramp was Chaplin’s first masterpiece as both an actor and director. The film crystallized his persona as “The Little Tramp,” a hapless hobo whose bittersweet adventures alternate between riotously funny physical comedy, harrowing escapes from unfriendly forces and heartrending moments of unrequited love.

The Kid (1921) Chaplin’s first self-produced and directed feature introduced the world to the remarkable talents of child actor Jackie Coogan, who would eventually sue his parents for squandering his fortune, win a paltry $126,000 settlement, but be responsible for the enactment of Coogan’s Law, which protects child performers. In later life, Coogan was fondly remembered for the role of Uncler Fester on television’s The Addam’s Family. Chaplin’s film is an incredibly rich serio-comic story of the true meaning of parenting.

The Gold Rush (1925) Inspired by the Donner Party, Chaplin created one of the most oft imitated comic scenarios in film with the famous boiled shoe Thanksgiving dinner in which the Little Tramp’s prospecting partner, Big Jim is so hungry he imagines Chaplin is a gigantic chicken. This epic comedy contains scores of similarly duplicated gags and was perhaps the greatest silent classic of the Jazz Age.

City Lights (1931) The Little Tramp befriends a blind flower girl who mistakes him for a millionaire, and shortly thereafter, he befriends a drunken millionaire. With a fairly novel approach to cinematic storytelling, the two plots build toward a conclusion in which the Little Tramp attempts to raise money for the girl to undergo an eye surgery. Although the talkie revolution was well underway when Chaplin released this “silent,” the powerful storyline and solid performances in City Lights drew critical lauds if not audience aplomb at the time.

Modern Times (1936) Technically, this film is not a silent picture since Chaplin uses sound effects, vocal devices and musical stings throughout, but Modern Times is generally considered Chaplin’s last silent. Eschewing the Little Tramp character, Chaplin stars as an assembly-line factory worker who is driven batty by the doldrums of his job in this hilarious satire of the Machine Age. Filled with memorable comic bits, Modern Times also features the Chaplin-penned Smile, which became Jerry Lewis theme song years later.

The Great Dictator (1940) Chaplin’s first talkie was a doozy. A serio-comic plea for America to pay heed to the events taking place in Europe at the evil hands of Hitler and the Nazis, The Great Dictator is Chaplin’s magnum opus, an incredible piece of personal and political filmmaking. Blending slapstick comedy, biting satire and unmentionable tragedy, The Great Dictator is one of the most unique and riveting experiences in film.

The Great Dictator was a great failure at the time of its release but as the years passed, it came to be regarded as genius. The same is true of Chaplin. He fell out of favor after the release of The Great Dictator, plagued by legal hassles, women troubles and the unfriendly suspicions of the Eisenhower Era. As the years went by, Chaplin reclaimed his rightful crown in the eyes of the public, his genius again recognized.

Happy Birthday, Little Tramp. May you finally win the girl in the end.

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