Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Spotlight on Chaplin

One of the earliest cinematic memories I have is of watching a Charlie Chaplin film. My parents recall taking me to a Chaplin special series at a local theater when I was between 3-5 years old. Even though they remember me as being very fond of the movies, I don't remember anything except two images which are still clear in my memory -- the first is of Chaplin eating a shoe and the second is him struggling to stay to on his feet while the house around him moved like a see-saw. But as I grew up, I forgot all about Chaplin's films and never saw anything else by him. So in order to finally rectify my cinematic lapse, I decided to visit some films from a film-maker whose work I was introduced to even before I could formulate a complete sentence!! I picked four films at random and as it turns out, the fourth film from my choice ended up being the one from my childhood memories :)

Poverty, homelessness & dream sequences:

The Kid (1921): Rating 8.5/10

Chaplin's Tramp character comes across a small baby left on the street side.

He takes care of the baby and the child grows up in Tramp's spitting image, complete with similar antics and dress sense.

The two create havoc on the streets. But with the Tramp, the police are never far behind. In this picture, he is flirting with a woman. But as it turns out she is the wife of the police chief who is after Chaplin. The chief reaches out for Chaplin who is busy laughing. Little does he know...

Despite all the problems, we eventually get a sweet and tender happy ending. But before the ending, we are treated to some slapstick comedy, a dream dance sequence and some emotional moments.

Modern Times (1936): Rating 10/10

Right from the film's opening moments upto the finale, we are treated to a very rich and enjoyable story!

The opening two shots of the film perfectly convey the master-slave motif that the story tries to portray. The first picture is of sheep being herded, which is followed by...

a picture of men rushed through a subway en route to the pains of a daily working life.

The working life means no time for a break or even a smoke -- work, work, work!!. In the following picture, the Tramp can't even enjoy a break in the bathroom because the giant tv screen allows the boss to see what everyone is upto! (Note: the movie was made in 1936, 13 years before Orwell crafted his big brother 1984).

In order to improve efficiency, the boss even entertains the idea of a machine which feeds lunch to employees so that they can get back quicker to work!

Ofcourse, working with machines is a perfect opportunity for the Tramp to get into trouble. In the next two pictures, he finds himself trapped in the giant internals of the machine.

Eventually, despite all his adventures and troubles with law, the Tramp finds true love with a Gamin. In this picture, she comes to greet him after his latest release from jail.

Both are poor but as they say, home is where the heart is. And this simple shaft is called "Paradise" by the Tramp.

The Tramp is content in love but he soon finds out that love can't buy food. So he is determined to find a job to provide for a better life for the two of them. He lands a job at a local club and is willing to do anything to please his bosses, even if that means singing!

The next pictures are when the Tramp sings the "nonsense song", a gibberish mixture of Spanish, French and Italian sounding words which make no sense. Nonetheless, the catchy music along with his dialogue delivery and expressive antics make for a very enjoyable song!! Je La Tu La Ti La Twa

But the long arm of the law catches up with the two of them and they are on the run again. Despite all their problems, the Tramp tells the Gamin to see the bright side of life. Smile :)

A very sweet and romantic walk into the sunset!! Perfection!!

City Lights (1931): Rating 7.5/10

This time the big complicated city forms the background for the Tramp's latest adventures. After the tramp saves a rich man from committing suicide, he is awarded with plenty of money and even a car. But with all these additional riches come more complications. And his love for a blind girl only increases his needs. Like his previous films, the Tramp is willing to work only for the benefit of others around him. Otherwise, he is content with his wandering ways. The film is a bit thinner on story and uses slapstick comedy to strech the movie along.

The Gold Rush (1925): Rating 8/10

The following image on the DVD menu indicated that this might be the movie from my childhood:

As it turns out, this was indeed the film that I saw when I was less than 5 years old. I can see why I liked this movie as it is mostly slapstick with the Tramp trying his best to stay out of trouble.

Even though the title might lead one to imagine an adventure in a hot countryside, the film is set in the freezing mountain locales. The two most essential requirements in these conditions are to stay warm and get adequate food to eat. The tramp eventually finds a shelter to stay in but food is the problem. And this is where the famous scene from my childhood memories comes into play.

With no food around, the tramp decides to eat a piece of wood.
He finds that the wood tastes better with a little salt!

And when there is nothing around, he decides to try his luck with a tasty boiled leather shoe.

Next, the shoelaces must be treated like they are noodles.

Bon Appétit!

After finding it difficult to use a knife to tear into the shoe,

he decides to bite into the leather sole.

The other scene from my memory takes place near the film's end when the house is pushed to the edge of a cliff.

Once the house falls over the cliff, a pile of gold is found where the house once used to be. The Tramp becomes rich and eventually gets his woman.

Cue happy ending!!!!

Memories & Influences:

What memories! The Chaplin films have influenced countless imitations in the cinematic world from Hollywood to Bollywood. Raj Kapoor's masterpiece Shree 420 owes plenty to the Tramp character. Even the wonderful song "Mera Joota hai Japani" has shades of the Tramp's attire & wandering ways.

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