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.

Humor!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 14, 2011

When it comes to filmmaking humor is actually a pretty serious thing. There are several routs you can take to draw out a laugh from your audience. One way is to have something that is completely out there, on the border of being considered wrong. Movies like Dumb and Dummer, Superbad, and American Pie are only a few examples of what I am talking about. These kind of films think that toilet problems, drinking parties, and sexual insecurities are funny and they rely on making the crowd uncomfortable enough to feel they need to laugh rather then, dare I say, express how shallow the jokes truly are.

Another way to get a laugh is from gags. These are humorous acts you can see in any old movie, but can be quite funny if pulled off right. I think of the Loony Toons and Funniest Home Videos as good examples. They get their humor from every day situations. It is through the verbal or physical slip up that the funny stuff happens. The last way to create humor is through having your audience know the character you are portraying. The characters personality generates the humor. A good example is Wall-E. He is a lonely robot who happens to have a personality. It is through his unique perspective on the world we find the humor. The box holding the diamond ring is more important then the ring, plastic silverware is interesting enough to collect, and cockroaches make good pets in Wall-E’s world.

When the humor comes from the character rather then some lame toilet joke or some kind of sight gag, you impact the audience to a much higher extant and give them reason to come back. The visual gags and toilet jokes can come from anywhere, however the humor coming from the heart of the character can’t be copied. We are also able to get the audience more involved with the story when the humor comes from the essence of the character. Humor can be used as a connection device, it can help the audience buy into who the character is and the adventure he or she is on.

Have the humor come from the character rather then the gag. When the character is more important then the gag the gags become funnier. We laugh more from the mistakes Wall-E makes because we know who he is. When trying to connect to his love interest Eva he falls down a building, gets hit by lightning, and gets ran over by a stampede of carts. These gags are all the more humorous and emotional to us because we know who Wall-E is and how much he wants Eva’s affection.

Humor can be such a powerful tool for the filmmaker. Make humor be more then this insecure need to make the audience laugh. Make it be about connection and development. We need a reason for the humor we express on screen. The laugh can be used to demean and hurt our views of the people around us or it can be used to strengthen our understanding and love towards others. Everything depends on the quality of the humor and how you use it.