A Dreamer Walking

Charlie Chaplin – An Observation – His Way!

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on November 10, 2011

Charlie Chaplin 1When Charlie Chaplin wanted to work everyone around him needed to want to work. When Chaplin wanted to take a few months off it didn’t matter how inconvenient it was for everyone else, he would take a few months off. I am sure Chaplin’s “my way” mentality didn’t help in very many of his marriages. Frankly, he was spoiled. He was able to do something he would never be able to do in today’s cinema. He told actors exactly how to act. He hired nonprofessionals to be the leading ladies in his films because he didn’t want them to think for themselves when it came to acting. He wanted to do all the thinking for them. Chaplin’s greatest co-star and arguably his greatest collaboration of all time was with Jackie Coogan, the five year old boy who played with him in The Kid. Why was Jackie Chaplin’s best collaboration? Jackie was said to be a born mimic, and could copy exactly what Chaplin showed him.

If he could Chaplin would have played each of the roles in his movies. His obsessive nature not only drove him to perfection but also everyone around him. He would explain exactly what he wanted to not only the stars of his films but the extras as well. He shot take after take after take in order to complete his vision. He once talked to a co-worker about his frustration with Virginia Cherrill, the leading lady in City Lights, how she did not understand the art of lifting a flower. They shot the scene where the Tramp first meets the blind woman, Cherrill, several hundred times. Chaplin was never truly satisfied with Cherrill’s performance. He needed his actors to be both physically and emotionally dedicated to him. Chaplin was not satisfied with the actors just physically getting into the performance, he wanted to feel their performance and have it inspire his acting.

If the actors weren’t completely involved with the performance Chaplin would waste little time with them. He was known for changing actors mid way through production. In City Lights Chaplin finally had it with Virginia Cherrill when she kept him waiting on set one day and fired her. This happened toward the end of a two plus year production. Chaplin realized later he couldn’t afford to re-shoot all of her scenes so he needed to rehire her for twice the cost.

Chaplin’s “my way” philosophy got him into a lot of trouble. It drove up the cost of production and made it so he only made movies every few years. Chaplin didn’t know exactly what he wanted when he began shooting his films. What drove him was the search for perfection. He needed everyone on his side. Yet, he needed to figure out the story himself. He did not have a bunch of writers and gag men helping him. The film for the most part was Chaplin’s discovery. When Chaplin couldn’t think of any ideas he would stop, even if it was in the middle of production. Some of his crew talked about how he would sometimes stand in the middle of the set for hours thinking while the rest of the crew stood there waiting for an idea to spark. Sometimes Chaplin would leave the set and not come back for weeks, leaving his crew at the studio to entertain themselves. Cherrill said she was bored for the majority of the City Lights production. For the most part she was left at the studio to play cards and read books. It took Chaplin two years and eight months to create City Lights, only one hundred and eighty days was spent actually shooting on set.

Many people might say that Chaplin had an ego problem. He got caught up in being the star and thus was not willing to have things be anyone else’s way but his. This for the most part is true. Chaplin, like so many stars then and now, wanted to be in the spotlight. Unlike now, Chaplin was able to have almost complete control over his projects. This resulted in a lot of inconvenience and even more frustration from actors and crew who did not like being told exactly how to do their jobs. However, I also believe this “ego” of Chaplin’s is what drove him forward to create some of the greatest and most controversial films of all time. While making City Lights Chaplin was ridiculed and told the movie would fail because he wasn’t willing to make it a talkie. Yet, City Lights opened to both critical and public acclaim and is now hailed as one of the greatest silent films of all time. Very few people in the 1930’s were willing to attack the manufacturing companies for their inhumane treatment of the hard working lower class. Yet, in Chaplin’s film Modern Times, he shows the cold heartlessness of the industrial era where workers in the manufacturing companies are treated more like cattle then human beings. Chaplin was one of the only people in Hollywood willing to stand up against Hitler and the Nazi Party before America went to war. He put all his chips on the table when making The Great Dictator, financing the project himself and willing to go into bankruptcy if the film failed. Chaplin made a stand in his famous speech at the end of The Great Dictator, that seems to only become more relevant as the days go by. Chaplin was begged to take the speech out of the film. The critics criticized him for ending the film on too serious a note. And, the right wing accused him of supporting communism. Yet, all this criticism didn’t matter to Chaplin because he made his movies his way. If he believed in something he would dedicate himself to it no matter how inconvenient his stance might be. Now, that “ego problem” is something to admire.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: