Friday, April 15, 2011

For Charlie Chaplin's 122nd Birthday reminded me that today would have been Charlie Chaplin's 122nd birthday. I am both a silent film fan and a Chaplin fan (I have all his movies.)

He was, of course, the iconic comedic genius. He made his mark as "The Tramp" character around 1915 when he was working for Mutual. Many of his Mutual Shorts can be seen in their entirety here. If you have never seen any, they are quite hysterically funny.

Most people don't know the musical side of him, however. He was more than a silent film comedian; he was quite the musician in his own right. In fact, he composed quite a bit of his own film scores as well. In fact, he was a pioneer in the realm of matching the musical score with the action being depicted in the given film. Heretofore in silent films, either music was provided live by a Wurlitzer organ which could vary from theatre to theatre, or there would be some canned music played from a phonograph contraption, largely of a symphony or some piece of music having nothing to do with the film.

For instance, watch the following famous clip:

Notice how the music matches the choreography of the boxing. While most of the music in the above clip is derivative of other works, Chaplin did compile the score for this boxing bit after it was filmed to match the music with the motion. He really was quite brilliant at it.

Chaplin was also one of the first people to realize the madness of Adolf Hitler, a public position that made him extremely unpopular right before World War II. He was not afraid to parody Hitler's thirst for both violence against Jews and world conquest. Largely funding the film The Great Dictator (his first "talking" picture) at his own expense and risking his career and reputation (major Hollywood companies wouldn't touch the film project), Chaplin would film the following brilliant political satire about "Adenoid Hynkel", Dictator of Tomainia, in late 1939 and early 1940:

Perhaps most amazingly, he makes this following amazing appeal at the very end of this film. Remember, this hit theaters (the ones that didn't ban it) in mid-1940 at the height of American Isolationism and just prior to the Blitz of London:

Even though he was largely an atheist and of Jewish descent, notice how he invokes the Gospel of Luke in the hopes that Christians would not simply write him off.

Oh, that we would have listened...

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