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.

The Sympathy Factor!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on November 28, 2010

I watched the movie The Shawshank Redemption last night and was amazed how much sympathy the film was able to create for the main character Andy Dufresne .

Sympathy is one of the greatest leverages a filmmaker has. I do not think it is a good idea to create a completely sympathetic main character right from the start of your movie. The key in The Shawshank Redemption, was how cold and sort of shallow Andy seemed at the beginning of the film. There is nothing audiences like more then a redemption story.

We first meet Andy and immediately think of him as being a lifeless banker who has just killed his wife. However, from that point on we start to understand Andy better and get pulled onto his side.  Our views on Andy do not change quickly, in fact the whole movie is about the redemption of Andy Dufresne.  That is why you do not want to be completely sympathetic towards your main character from the very get-go, it is a process that usually takes the length of the movie to see to completion.  At the end of The Shawshank Redemption we find ourselves completely on Andy’s side, rooting for him to get out of the prison and find the dream home by the beach that he has always wanted.

It is not crucial to make your character out to be completely innocent at the end of the film. Showing that our characters have imperfections and flaws is a good thing, it gives us a way to relate to them. However, sympathy usually comes from the arc that the character goes through from the beginning to the end of the film. With Andy we saw true growth. Andy was a sort of cold character at the beginning of the film but through out the story he was able to find life and change himself  from the inside out. The unfair things that happen to Andy only built onto the empathy we already had for him.

The Sympathy factor in film is crucial. Just make sure your character’s earn the audience’s sympathy. Our sympathy must be built from the love for who the character is on the inside. The unfair stuff is just icing on the cake.