Outtakes Columns

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin.  

WHO is he?

Iconic Hollywood film director, actor, producer, screenwriter, music composer and editor who directed over 60 feature and short length films and acted in several more between the early 1910s and the mid-sixties. Chaplin had a most extraordinary life, having his childhood truncated before time, migrating to the U.S., achieving international renown and finally being persecuted and forced to leave America.

WHAT are his films about?


Chaplin is most associated with the legendary tramp character he created. Clumsily dressed, the tramp is a misfit in every sense of the word. He functions in a rhythm that is at odds with that of the world and this mismatch is what both marginalises and ennobles him. Mute and maladroit, the tramp came to represent entire humankind facing off with the bureaucratic machinery. Chaplin’s films became increasingly political and, so to speak, vocal, as though asserting that the world the tramp inhabits could no longer be neutrally gazed at.


The bulk of Chaplin’s cinema is silent. The comedy in his earliest films is purely slapstick, involving much physical movement played out against an unchanging set piece. Chaplin’s aesthetic refined itself progressively, with his feature length ventures pushing the boundaries of expression in silent cinema. There is barely any lyricism of camera movement in his films, but it is more than compensated by the poetry of action, which is typically structured around repeated gestures, gymnastic endeavours and, of course, the tramp’s own unforgettable physical eccentricity.

WHY is he of interest?

Perhaps the greatest artist cinema has produced, Chaplin is to film what Mozart was to music and Shakespeare was to English literature. A name known in even the most remote corners of the planet, Chaplin, it seemed, was loved by all. Even the fiercest cultural critics like Theodore Adorno and Walter Benjamin acknowledged his genius. The tramp remains one of the most recognisable and influential figures of the 20th century.

WHERE to discover him?

The Gold Rush (1925) follows a pair of lone prospectors out in the snowy mountains in search of gold who get more than what they signed up for. Chaplin’s film consists of one indelible sequence after another — the shoe meal, the dinner table dance and, of course, the memorable climax with the seesawing cabin — and has been endlessly imitated in movies around the world.

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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 2:53:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-columns/charlie-chaplin/article6969414.ece

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