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Monday, 16 May 2011

Silent Film Marathon: Film 9

Of all the Silent films I've seen, I think Charlie Chaplin's are by far the most accessible to modern audiences.
His comedic talent remains just as impressive despite the number of years that have gone by, it is still just as brilliant as when it was released.
Even for those unfamiliar with Silent films, even for those with little more than a fleeting interest in Cinema, Chaplin is something that will be enjoyed. 

So how could I possibly leave out some of his work from my Marathon ?
Even though I will only be reviewing two of his films, I think that will be a fitting enough tribute to one of Cinema's greats.

The first film is:

Before watching this I was already a fan of Chaplin's work, having seen a few of his most well known films, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and City Lights.

He was an undeniably talented comedian, his influence can still be seen many years afterwards, such as in the work of Woody Allen. In terms of physical comedy anyway, for that is what Chaplin excelled at and when watching Woody Allen's early films such as Love and Death one cannot help but notice that the handful of physical comedy scenes interspersed throughout are strongly reminiscent of Chaplin's work.

Anyway, The Gold Rush:
A starving Prospector takes a bite out of a candle.
A film Chaplin made when at the height of his international fame. Having made The Kid, one of his first feature length films a few years earlier and achieving great success with it, he went on to make The Gold Rush and then The Circus, City Lights, Modern Times and finally The Great Dictator.
Although he was a very prolific film maker, these six films make up the core of his work. They are the most widely known and the best films he made.

I think this film doesn't exactly achieve the greatness of City Lights and Modern Times, but definitely surpasses his later The Great Dictator. 
This film was not as perfectly paced and as charming as City Lights. In fact the pacing was one of the aspects that let it down somewhat. It did shift in tone quite brusquely and some scenes dragged a bit, especially those not containing comedic elements.
But the pace was still brisk enough to keep one interested throughout and even if the film is very predictable, it remains highly enjoyable.

This film tells the story of a Lone Prospector who is wandering the wastes of Alaska is search of gold.
He meets with little luck but eventually falls in with a considerably more lucky prospector. However they get separated and the Lone Prospector wanders into a small town where he meets and falls in love with Georgia. However he is met with more misfortune up until his past acquaintance wanders into town in need of assistance.
Finally his fortunes turn and the film ends happily.

The first shot of the film, an impressive shot of Chilkoot Pass featuring about 2500 vagrants as prospectors. After this great shot, the rest of the film was shot on set. I admit I was a bit let down by that as the opening shot promised so much! But then again, it was in a different time when films shot entirely in studio's were commonplace. So it can't really be criticised for that.

This film is announced as a Dramatic Comedy, and indeed it was. Many scenes took me by surprise at how dark they were, such as the murder of to lawmen by a criminal, the starvation fuelled attack Chaplin's character suffers at the hands of his partner and the cruel trick played on him by Georgia.
All this, and more, was definitely unexpected. I generally think of Chaplins films as rather charming and simple, and they are so when they are at their best, but this one was more violent and at times even tragic. But I'm not complaining, I love dark comedy.
But what Chaplin really excelled at was the slapstick, with the Great Dictator he showed that his dialogue would never be as hilarious as his physical comedy. And in this film that phsyical comedy is at it's most iconic, such as the scene in which he dances using two breads on forks:
Chaplin's work as a comedian, one could even say clown, has always overshadowed his work as a director. But the truth is, the success of his films does not solely hinge on his comedic talents, for without the ability to film this hilarious sequences, they would be meaningless.
He does a great job behind the camera, effortlessly composing a wide variety of sequences from hallucinations, to small scale disasters, to dancing scenes.
However the ability to shoot the comedy isn't in itself amusing, it presents the humour but needs some brilliant content to be hilarious. Thankfully Chaplin was one of the greatest comedians in Cinema, rivalled only by the likes of Monty Python, Buster Keaton, Woody Allen and a handful of others.
What is admirable about Chaplin's comedic style is that it transcends time, mainly due to the fact that he avoids parodying current (for his time) affairs, figures etc..., avoids references to the popular culture of his time and creates comedy that any one of any age can enjoy. These fact are rarer than you might think, even other greats have not entirely been successful in some of these regards, such as Woody Allen, who mainly aims his comedy at adults, Monty Python who parodies a wide variety of figures and themes and more recently the likes of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost whose comedy contains a vast amount of popular culture references which while absolutely hilarious, decrease the chances of making a timeless comedy.
So Charlie Chaplin truly was one of the all time best.

The Romance side, ever present in Chaplin's films, was slightly different from what I expected. For his love interest Georgia, does not actually share his feelings and finds his love for her amusing, it in only later when he is revealed to be a millionaire that she falls in love with him. This was more cynical that the usual overly sentimental romances featured in Chaplin's films. That doesn't mean it wasn't sentimental though, it was a bit to much at times in fact but I suppose it was crowd pleasing.
For that is ultimately the films main purpose, Charlie Chaplin was one of the very first international films stars and his name sold tickets. Which made this film the fifth highest grossing film of the Silent Era and the highest grossing Silent comedy.

This combination of romance, slapstick comedy, slightly darker comedy, original settings and highly memorable scenes makes for one of Chaplin's most interesting films in my opinion. Perhaps not his most consistently funny, but possibly one of is more balanced.

As always comments are appreciated and will be answered!

Next Up is Faust, a return to Murnau after this brief yet hilarious respite.

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