A Dreamer Walking

Charlie Chaplin – An Observation – The Key to Comedy

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series, Personal Philosophy by Jacob on November 6, 2011

Charlie Chaplin 2You know if you threw all Charlie Chaplin’s gags into a montage you probably would be rolling on the floor laughing before it finished. However, many great gag artists filled the screens in the silent era. Critics credited Harold Lloyd  with just as much creativity in his gags as Chaplin. And, Buster Keaton in my opinion might have been better. Keaton did things that stuntmen these days wouldn’t do. The gag in and of itself didn’t make Chaplin stick out. Charlie was the best comedian of the silent era and one of the greatest comedians of all time because he was able to generate a huge amount of sympathy and affection for the gags he pulled off. Most of this sympathy and affection was directed toward the legendary character that he often portrayed, the Tramp.  The Tramp was not the everyman character Harold Lloyd tried to portray and he definitely wasn’t known to be a stone face like Buster Keaton. Chaplin’s character almost always was living on the edge just trying to survive. The Tramp drew immediate sympathy because he represented the poorest of the poor in our society. The childlike heart and the ability to wear his emotions on his sleeve is what won over our affection for the Tramp. Even in this generation, almost a hundred years since the Tramp first appeared on screen, few children or adults can avoid being entranced by the amiable smile the Tramp gives when trying to get out of trouble or the poignant image he creates when going through tough times.

Chaplin’s makeup and costume perfectly expresses the sympathetic character he wants to be to his audience. His face is perfectly framed with the dark eye shadow, centered mustache, and tilted hat. His costume is abstract, he wears over sized pants and shoes, and a too small hat and shirt. Even though he represents the poorest of the poor in our society, the Tramp tries to make himself look like an established gentlemen with the cane he carries, the ripped up gentlemens gloves he wears, and his black felt bowler hat. The Tramp creates for himself along with the unwavering optimism for life he has, attracts us to his character. We invest in the Tramp because he is both visually and emotionally appealing. When we are invested in the Tramp as a character we become all the more interested in the scenarios he gets himself into and the gags he is able to pull off.

Chaplin’s gags stand out because they often give us a greater understanding of who his Tramp character is. Gags like, the Tramp trying not to starve through eating his own shoe in the The Gold Rush or the Tramp trying to save the depressed rich man from suicide in City Lights, separate Chaplin from his peers. Even at the point of starvation the Tramp is still optimistic he will survive. He treats the shoe like an upper class dinner, taking it apart piece by piece until the man next to him becomes envious of how much Tramp enjoys himself. The irony that comes with a completely broke man- the Tramp, trying to convince a extremely rich man not commit suicide is funny in and of itself.

Chaplin found humor in more then how he could pull off a fall or sell a punch. Chaplin figured out you don’t need to be in danger to pull off a gag. Sometimes Chaplin found humor through completely changing our emotions in the middle of a scene. One of the Tramp’s greatest gags is in City Lights when he meets the blind flower girl for the first time. Chaplin first wins over our heart through creating sentiment with the revelation that the flower girl is blind. Then Chaplin goes a step further when his Tramp character, even though dirt poor, is willing to let the girl keep the extra money for the flower he just purchased. Not knowing the Tramp is still there the girl washes out her flower bowl while the Tramp simply gazes at her beauty. At the most romantic point of the scene Chaplin completely changes the scenario as the blind girl unknowingly throws a bunch of water into the Tramp’s face. Plenty of gags involve people getting splashed with water. The reason why this gag rises above is because of the way Chaplin sets it up. He created a sympathy and affection for the scene in general. We were completely involved with what was happening on screen, completly in love with both characters, before Chaplin went to the punchline.

Chaplin’s humor succeeds because it goes beyond just a good laugh. His humor gives us joy that warms our hearts. He created in the Tramp a character that represented a part of us all. We can relate to the low parts in the Tramp’s life and are encouraged and find joy in the Tramp’s optimism. In real life Charlie Chaplin was a multimillionaire. He owned his own studio, a huge mansion, and was one of the most famous men in the world. Yet, the real Charlie Chaplin was always struggling with insecurities. He was always deathly afraid of not being adored and he went through many marriages and even more affairs. I think Chaplin would even admit he was never as happy as the Tramp. The Tramp’s gags encouraged us and allowed us to realize that happiness does not come from money or fame. Rather, happiness comes from finding the light in the darkest of times and most stressful of situations. Chaplin’s key to great comedy was through refusing to make the gag more important then the character or story he was telling. Gags can be repeated but there will never be a character like Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp again.

Martin Scorsese – An Observation – Perfecter Of The Elements

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on January 24, 2011

Martin on rightI have just begun to appreciate Martin Scorsese’s ability to use both visuals and sound to enhance our understanding of what his characters are feeling. We are not just told what emotions the character is going through, we see it. The most vivid example of this is in Raging Bull during the fight scenes.

In many ways Scorsese is at his best in Raging Bull. We are literally transported inside the main character Jake LeMotta. During the fights when Jake is doing well we are right in on the action with him, as if seeing most of the fight from Jake’s point of view. The camera is steady and the image is clear. The lights glamorously applaud Jake as if he is the king of the world, or in boxing terms “The Champ”.

This clip from Raging Bull is a perfect example of how the camera, sound, music, and lighting, are all glamorizing Jake’s climb to fame.

This section of the film represents Jake’s professional career at it’s best. Martin tries to stay in the moment as long as possible by doing a continuous shot from the locker room to the ring. The farther down the hall we get the more we are able to hear the glorious applause for Jake. On top of that we have music playing romanticizing the moment. Everything is smooth and there is no extreme close ups. Jake is in total control and thus the visuals and sounds are supporting that control. It almost ends as quickly as it starts. The opponent gives up and Jake is now Champion with all the elements of cinema supporting his victory.

Now take a look at this scene, where Jake finally falls and gives up his title.

Immediately we can tell the audience is not quite on Jake’s side anymore. The punches to Jake seem louder and the lighting is much more dim. We even see steam coming from the fighters and the ring, as if we left the real world and are in some kind of hell. Finally we see Jake has given up. He drops his hands and beckons his appointment to come and finish him off while leaning against the ring. Then it happens. We leave reality completely. We get a shot of Jake in the middle of the frame, a abnormal, wide angled, and uncomfortable perspective. Everything  goes quiet (Martin understands sometimes the greatest sound is silence). Then the camera does a tilt down covering the opponent in shadow. The opponent sounds more like an animal then an actual human now, breathing in and out slowly. Behind Jake the steam is more visible then ever before. Jake looks almost distorted in the frame.

The beating begins. Everything seems to go extremely fast now. For the audience the fast abrupt cuts are just as painful as the punches. The camera lights go off like they are attacking Jake along side his opponent. The sounds of the journalist’s camera lights going off are like machine guns emptying out clips. We get extreme close ups of Jake’s face and the blood spurting out in all directions. It no longer matters whether the scene is realistic or not, what Martin cares about is the feelings and emotions he is expressing. We finally end seeing Jake completely destroyed yet still standing.

These are just a few examples of how well Scorsese uses his cinematic skills and experience to further the journey of the viewer. In his movies we will not always see deep attention to plot. All of Scorsese’s cuts will not match up flawlessly. Sometimes we might be frustrated with the characters he is trying to express or the story he is telling. But one thing is for curtain, Scorsese knows how to use the camera. He knows how to literally express emotions through the medium of film. Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and Aviator are just a few other movies of Scorsese’s where we really are able to explore the inner being of one of his characters.

I think Scorsese does not care if we do or do not like his films. What he wants is for the audience to experience something unique and different. He wants to express himself through his films. He knows the best cinema comes from within.

(He is the LINK to my first Martin Scorsese “Observation” post)