A Dreamer Walking

Charlie Chaplin- An Observation- The Outsider

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 17, 2011

The Outsider In most of his films Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp is on the outside looking in. Might this be the very reason we like him so much? The huge amount of empathy Chaplin creates through his Tramp character is unmatched in the history of film. The Tramp is universal. Even now, more then seven decades after the last movie staring the Tramp was released, there are people all across the world who instantly recognize the character with over sized shoes, a tight coat, and a small bowler hat.

Most of the Tramp’s empathy is ironically created because he is an outsider. Chaplin knew this and wasn’t afraid to create stories where the Tramp never really became the insider. Not all of Chaplin’s movies end with the Tramp being accepted. Most all of Chaplin’s movies show the Tramp going through a huge amount of rejection even if eventually he is accepted. We can learn from the way Chaplin uses the Tramp. A happy ending is not always the best choice. Sometimes a character is accepted the most by an audience through being rejected in his own world.

One of Charlie Chaplin’s most memorable scenes is when he does the “Roll Dance” using potatoes for feet and forks for legs. Although executed extremely well, what creates the admiration and empathy for the scene is not the Tramp’s superb execution of the dance. The scene starts with the Tramp waiting for the girl of his dreams to accompany him for a new years eve dinner. She promised she would come. the Tramp put in a tremendous amount of work to get everything ready. The Tramp waits so long he falls asleep. Suddenly we go inside the Tramp’s head as he imagines the party in front of him. He is having a ball of a time and to entertain his imagined guests he performs the “Roll Dance”. After finishing everyone cheers and it is the happiest moment in the film. This is contrasted with one of the saddest images, when the cheers slowly fad away to the Tramp sleeping at the table alone. Right then we know nobody is going to come. The context of this “Roll Dance” scene puts the moment in a completely different and more profound light. We cherish the scene so much more because we realize we are experiencing something everyone else has missed.

So often in Chaplin’s films we see the Tramp choose to be the outsider. He rejects his hope for happiness in City Lights by giving the blind girl money to regain her eye sight, even though he knows it means he will be sent to jail. The Tramp excludes himself from the rest of his factory workers in Modern Times by rebelling and going on a crazy rant destroying many of the factory machines. He stands up against a whole nation in The Great Dictator when he makes his speech on the importance of democracy and putting values like love and humanity above dictatorship and innovation. Each step he takes away from the “in” crowd and each selfless act he makes for the sake of others, represents a connection he creates with the audience.

The truth is I don’t think Chaplin ever really felt like he was part of the “in” crowd. He was a British man living in an American society. He was targeted as a communist and anarchist early in his career. Eventually he was driven out of America because of his beliefs by J. Edgar Hoover in 1952. As early as 1925 when Chaplin came out with The Gold Rush he was accused of being too old fashion with his comedy and film style. No scene expresses Chaplin’s feelings of isolation better then the scene at the end of his 1928 film The Circus. Only months before The Circus came out Hollywood produced it’s first talkie film. Already silent pictures were being described as “a thing of the past”. Yet, Chaplin felt he would do a disservice to his global audience if he made the Tramp talk. The premise of The Circus is that the Tramp gets involved with a traveling circus and almost by accident becomes it’s greatest star. In the movie the Tramp meets a girl who he falls desperately in love with. He also makes the circus famous through his comedy routines, much like the fame Charlie Chaplin created for Hollywood through the Tramp. Yet, in the end Chaplin loses the girl. The final scene is of the circus moving out leaving Chaplin’s Tramp behind. I believe this represented the emotional state Chaplin was in at the time. He was watching a entertainment industry he helped create pass him by through the creation of sound. In the end, the Tramp walks away toward the horizon, alone, with some of his greatest silent films yet to come.

Our job as filmmakers is to go our own way. At times others will walk beside us. However, there will also be times when we make decisions both thematically and professionally that isolate us and make us and the characters we create feel alone, like the outsider looking in. Sometimes it is the outsider looking in who has the best perspective. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to change the direction of those on the inside. Chaplin changed our perspective. With his little Tramp he gave us an understanding of what it feels like to be rejected. What it feels like to love someone and yet not be loved in the same way back. What it feels like to stand up against something that is wrong even though everyone else is silent or rejects us. This little outsider represents one of the greatest reasons I want to be in the film business. He has shown me that sometimes it’s the outsider’s voice that comes out the clearest. Sometimes it’s the people who need to fight through rejection, isolation, and criticism who make the greatest impact.

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