Tag Archives: Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin: What Was He Thinking?!

Have you ever seen a Charlie Chaplin film projected, with an audience? I’m always surprised to find out how few have. It’s magical, a communal experience with everyone bonding via laughter. Not only will you enjoy yourself, I guarantee that at some point during the screening you’ll make a mental list of loved ones you wish could be there with you. It’s the most amazing side effect, craving to share your joy with others. My God, what could be a better feeling to have when seeing a film?

Currently, the Film Forum in NYC is having a Chaplin festival, through August 5. Screenings include Modern Times, The Kid, The Chaplin Revue (a shorts collection) and a collection of his Mutual Shorts from 1917, which will have live piano accompaniment (the inventive and indefatigable Steve Sterner). Naturally, they’re showing (arguably) his masterpiece, The Gold Rush (1925), which is screening tonight. Even though Chaplin calls this film, “The picture I want to be remembered by,” I can’t in good conscience suggest this screening. To know why, we must turn back the clock…

In 1942, Charlie Chaplin, 52, was caving to artistic insecurity. Virtually a Luddite when it came to talking pictures, his three features made during the Sound Era were either completely or mostly silent (he composed music but there was very little synchronized sound for the dialog). Like any performer who made a cultural impact, he feared two kinds of mortality: his own death and the death of his body of work. In an effort to keep up with the times, he modernized The Gold Rush for contemporary audiences. Drastically.

Obviously, Chaplin added music (again, his own compositions) and sound effects and seized the opportunity to tighten the plot some, removing a subplot. So far, so good. Logical. Also, he changed the film’s ending, which I think was a big mistake. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that he altered the film’s conclusion to be something more chaste but less satisfying.

However, it’s the narration that does the real damage to The Gold Rush. Chaplin himself provides it, complete with his native British accent. Here’s a before-and-after sample which will state my case…

Did you cringe? I did the first time I saw the 1942 version (I was already familiar with the silent version). I looked around me as if someone in the audience were rudely speaking. Chaplin’s voice and demeanor is, frankly, condescending (“The Little Fellow”!) and clashes with the action on the screen. He sounds like a loud mime.1  His insecurities as an aging artist get the best of him and he spoon-feeds us set-ups and occasionally punchlines. Likewise, his music spells out every gag (his music is an acquired taste, to say the least).

Here’s another example, in this case one of the film’s most famous gags. The Tramp and his cohort (Mack Swain) are trapped and starving in a cabin, his delirious friend hallucinating that Chaplin is a chicken…

I feel like yelling at the screen, “Hey, Dude! I’m sittin’ right here! I can see what’s going on! Give it a rest!”

The obvious comparison is George Lucas’s infamous alterations to the first three Star Wars films, when he “spiced up” his films for a contemporary audience. And it’s a perfect way to defend Chaplin’s actions since they bear little resemblance to Lucas’s. For starters, Chaplin was a relic from the Silent Era and had become fearful that the bulk of his work would be forgotten completely. Film preservation wasn’t in style at the time (it wouldn’t be for decades), and he had seen the work of his peers literally disappear. (If Lucas seriously thinks his films will disappear or become obsolete, he’s an idiot.) And so Chaplin approached The Gold Rush with the logical notion not to preserve but to allow rediscovery. Unfortunately, he doubted the new audience’s ability to comprehend his brilliant mimicry, which is truly sad.

I guess when you add Ego, Age, Insecurity and Power, you get, well, the Loudest Silent Film Ever.

This is a part of the reissue's opening credits, the writing on the wall, so to speak.

To this day, the 1942 version is the one most readily available, at least the best- looking one. (In fact, to many of you reading, that may be the only version you know.) In 1953, the original version fell into the public domain in the US, so copies of that could be had on film and video, but always in less-than-reputable versions. Finally, in 2003, a 2-disc set was released which included both versions, though the 1942 version is the one presented front-and-center.

Sadly, for reasons that I’m sure are buried deep in one of Chaplin’s contracts, the new 35mm print at Film Forum is the 1942 version of the film, which makes me wonder when (or if) a new print of the original version of the film will be available. Like his other films from the Silent Era, The Gold Rush should be seen projected, with an adoring and receptive audience. It’s magical. But what’s screening tonight is a drag.

So, let’s call this post a PSA. If The Gold Rush is ever screening in your neighborhood, be sure to find out what version it is, or else you’ll find yourself yelling, “Shhhhh!” at the screen.

The reissue's poster. Notice the tell-tale caption: "With Music and Words."

__________________________________________________

BACK TO POST 1 In the early 70s when Albert Brooks was doing stand up comedy, he did a bit on The Tonight Show as a French mime who spoke during his act: “Now I am walking against zee wind!…Now I am climbing zee rope!” That’s what I think of when I watch the 1942 version of The Gold Rush. And when you’re watching Chaplin, you don’t think of another comic. Sacrilege!

Advertisements

17 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Film, Gripes

Kim Cattrall Pulls a Goddard

Before I begin today’s post, I want to tell you what happened to me yesterday: while I was editing the clips below, I received a Copyright Infringement e-mail from YouTube, who, on behalf of Paramount Pictures, blocked a clip from my Henry Fonda post. Moreover, they warned me that this was my second infraction (I didn’t even know there was a first!) and if there was one more, then YouTube would be shutting me down. Since my posts are clip-driven (to put it mildly), I panicked. I mourned the inevitable demise of this blog; I napped the way depressed people do; I sighed a lot; and, always one for multi-tasking, I even found time for some moping.

Ultimately, my baby did something I didn’t: she Googled “fair use blog video clips”!

She found a treasure trove of bloggers and journalists who have received similar e-mails (or worse). Turns out YouTube has gotten friendly to the notion of Fair Use and makes it easy for a Little Guy like me to retaliate against the Paramounts of the world. Here’s some informative links:

        -A very recent article on ZDnet.com “YouTube’s Fair Use tool addresses disputes over copyright violation claims.”

        -A 2009 article by Kevin B. Lee, the journalist who took a HUGE hit because of quote-unquote Copyright Infringement. He’s very generous with this “It happened to me, but it doesn’t have to happen to you” piece.

        -Matt Zoller Seitz’s 2009 article defending Fair Use for the sake of film criticism and education.

Thanks for watching my back, Debbie!

(Y’know, sometimes my jump-cut to doom-and-gloom reactions really piss me off. Thank God for my wife. It reminds me of a story comedian Lenny Bruce tells in his autobiography How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. He and his wife Honey were leaving their apartment and discover their car was missing. Lenny immediately panics and, fearing the worst, thinks the car’s been stolen. His ever-sensible wife, however, suggests they go to the car pound, pointing out that he had parked the car “the wrong way on a one-way street on the no-parking side in front of a fireplug during a rush hour.”

Let’s hear it for the clear-headed spouses!)

And now back to the blog-at-hand…

All this damn Sex & the City 2 talk nowadays got me to thinking about Kim Cattrall in Mannequin, her 1987 cult-favorite with Andrew McCarthy, the one were she’s a mannequin that comes to life.1   Then I read Edward Copeland’s blog post about the long-overlooked actress Paulette Goddard and it made me think about Mannequin, too. (But not about Mannequin 2; that would be ridiculous.)

You see, Ms. Goddard was once married to Charlie Chaplin and she appeared with him in his 1936 film Modern Times. And the last place I’d expect an obscure Charlie Chaplin reference is in the slight Mannequin, however, it’s in there if you know where to look.

Here are the clips back-to-back and then together. For context: in Modern Times, Charlie’s character is working as a night security guard in a department store; he’s let his sidekick Paulette Goddard in and they proceed to run amok. In Mannequin, Cattrall and McCarthy also run amok in an after hours department store, this time to Alisha’s “Do You Dream About Me.”

(I especially like that both Chaplin and McCarthy have cigarettes.)

Something tells me the average 1987 movie-goer—at least the ones attracted to Andrew McCarthy comedies—missed this shout-out, which is why God invented blogs.

And for those who just can’t get enough of the young Samantha Jones, here’s the whole Alisha song, which I like to call “I’ve Got Those Fair Use Blues, Baby.”


BACK TO POST 1 Unless you’re really old, in which case you might of thought of Cattrall in that 1978 Columbo episode.

4 Comments

Filed under Film