A Dreamer Walking

Charlie Chaplin – An Observation – The Outsider

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series 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.

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.