Interviewing Fans and Admirers – Part I

Interviewing Fans and Admirers – Part I

This month I have interviewed a group of four “typical” Charlie Chaplin fans/admirers for the newsletter. This will be one of two newsletters this year in which I interview the fans. I have always found it interesting to see how folks first become attracted to Charlie and then also why they stay attracted. So, let’s see how these particular admirers present themselves on these and other issues. This newsletter, we have

Describe your first encounter with a Chaplin film and why you think you connected with it.

AG: The first Chaplin movie I saw was The Great Dictator. I must say that the first part of the film, during the war, didn’t impress me very much. What I really liked was the first Dictator’s speech. Even today this film is one of my favorites. At the time I saw, however, it just brought me into contact with Charlie’s work and it wasn’t until some months later when I bought some Mutual shorts in DVD that I really felt for him. So maybe I should consider the movie One A.M., the first film that caused me to love Charlie’s clever comedy. I think I connected with it, and with most of the other Chaplin sketches, because I think his comic moments are timeless. You can apply them to people today and they are still funny, no matter the difference in costumes or car types. Also, I really like the way Chaplin could see situations. He could find that particular moment that made even the most tragic subjects, like poverty and war, seem humorous.Charlie Chaplin's letter to a fanCVR: My first encounter with Chaplin was when I saw the short film The Cure. Afterwards I got The Gold Rush and Modern Times. Then, when I watched Limelight, I became a Chaplin fan for life. When I discovered Chaplin, I was in a really bad period in my life and these films really helped me. I can’t emphasize this enough. When I watch a Chaplin film, I feel he understands me and shares my points of view. I identify with him. He is the poet of silence, the humanist, the pacifist, and the one who really cares about the poor. Chaplin is the romantic and the lover of beauty. He is the artist and the genius. All that is in his films and music.

LH: Very late one evening when flipping past Turner Classic Movies, I saw an older gentleman poised in a chair and, because he was delivering such an impassioned speech with that regal posture, I continued watching – eyes glued to the TV. The film, of course, was Limelight, and I was only 16. But even then I realized that, as far removed as I was from the pre-WWI setting of the film (and even farther from the music hall culture), the intensity and sincerity with which that gentleman reflected on life trapped my attention and has held it since. I guess I’m one of the few who has seen Charles the Gentleman before seeing Charlie the Tramp.

LJ: I recall seeing The Mutuals on television as a young child. Easy Street, The Pawnshop, The Cure, The Immigrant, and The Rink stick in my mind from those viewings. They were run at Christmas-time. I watched them with my father, with whom I often enjoyed watching classic comedies. I found the films very fast and very funny. I realized, at the time, that they must have been quite old, but that in no way affected my enjoyment of them. I liked the Tramp character – he was high energy, so lively.

As Chaplin’s films weren’t on television very often when I was growing up, I lost track of his work over the years. I focused more on comedians of the sound era whose output were TV staples (Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, and The Three Stooges, among others).

My more recent interest in Chaplin began about 7 years ago when AMC ran a raft of his feature films. As an adult, I was taken with his wit, his physical grace, and the richness and subtlety, amidst the slapstick, of the humor. I was also impressed by his direction of other actors, and the way his scores perfectly matched the emotional tone he established in each scene.

How has your attraction to Chaplin and his work affected your life—your entertainment choices? What is your favorite film and why?AG: What is my favorite film? This is the most difficult of all the questions. I like them all. Everyone has something special to be in competition for the first position. Maybe I like Limelight the least and also some of the very first shorts.

CVR: I’m more positive and for me it is now easier to deal with bad periods in my life. I discovered a lot of great music, thanks to him, like adagios, cello and so on and I have developed an interest in the circus. City Lights is maybe my favorite film. For me it is really hard to decide, but if I have to make a choice, let’s say City Lights, because it is probably the film where the poetry, beauty and romanticism are most potent. Anyway, I also love The Kid, The Gold Rush, The Circus, and Modern Times.

Charlie Chaplin in THE KIDLH: I’ve adopted as my mantra Chaplin’s quote, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” I try to see life now as that comedy. The tragedy will always be there, but if Chaplin, who led a life filled with despair, could find the humor and the relevance in it, then I feel I can attempt to see it that way also.

On the entertainment side of things, being interested in Chaplin’s career has motivated me to watch silent films, which I never would have done before watching City Lights or Modern Times – two of my Chaplin favorites. City Lights has that timeless love story quality, and the humor encased in that shell remains amusing. Do we not still make buffoons out of ourselves when falling in love? And wouldn’t we all love the chance to be our lover’s hero and provide them with a chance to see his or her life’s vision?

If City Lights appeals to my sense of romanticism, Modern Times appeals to the Victorian scholar in me. The mechanization Chaplin portrays in his cog factory was also seen as a serious threat to humanity by many Victorian intellectuals. Walter Benjamin — who wrote The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, which was published the same year that MT was released – comments that mechanical reproduction of art changes the masses’ reaction toward art. “The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie.” I’m aware that Chaplin saw his film-making as an art form, but I wonder if he didn’t feel similarly to Benjamin. That is, could the intellectual aesthete in Chaplin have been commenting in MT on the inability of the masses to see his precious work as the masterpieces they were? Or did Chaplin occasionally feel like a cog lost in the machine of the film industry posing for photos, attending opening nights, keeping up with running a studio, etc.? And, of course, there’s the obvious critique that mechanization costs jobs and can destroy spirits. Plus, the musical score is just brilliant. MT is, in my opinion, a much more cerebral film than, say, Monsieur Verdoux or Limelight.

LJ: My interest in Chaplin has certainly changed the way I spend my leisure time. In addition to collecting his films, I enjoy researching his life and work, and posting this information online. It’s become a rather active hobby. I check through books, articles, news stories (new and archival), and search the Web. I am particularly fond of locating Chaplin information in unusual places, i.e. a mention in another celebrity’s diary from long ago, as well as newly published books not specifically about Chaplin. And, of course, I enjoy interacting with other Chaplin aficionados on the Net.

My favorite Chaplin film is Modern Times. I see the things he railed against still prevalent in the world – poverty, loss of human dignity, homelessness, inhumanity in the workplace, the misuse of technology. I find his work heartfelt and deeply moving, in addition to being very funny.

In terms of entertainment choices, my interest in Chaplin has led me to seek out other silent comedians. I’ve enjoyed Buster Keaton’s work for many years, and, more recently, have sought out the films of Roscoe Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, and many others from that era.

What in particular motivates you to continue your devotion to Chaplin and his work? What would you like to see happen in the future in terms of commemorating Chaplin’s work, making it accessible, etc.? AG: I think what motivates me is the curiosity to find something new I didn’t know about him. Even the smallest particularity would be a joy for me. For the future, I hope to see him more frequently on the television or, even better, on the big screen.

CVR: My identification with him and all of his work–above all the Little Tramp. Chaplin cannot be defined by place and time. I’d like to see and listen to a live orchestra playing all the Chaplin music. To have film festivals and conferences, exhibitions about his life and work…but I’d like them to be shown in all possible countries.

LH: Chaplin was a fascinating person; his personality had so many facets that it’s intriguing to discover the bits and pieces that motivated him and see those appear in his films. I occasionally feel left out – a little like the Tramp – simply because his life didn’t overlap with my own. But the pathos he created in his films through his expressions and gestures draws me to him. His films transcend time, and who better to have an interest in than a dynamic, vivacious, passionate, and understanding individual that time will never forget?

Those films, in order to transcend time though, must be shown! TCM does a great job, and MK2 has made all Chaplin fans happier, but why not screen silents at modern cinemas once a year? And maybe someone could turn the Summit Drive house into a Chaplin museum? Pretty please?
LJ: I am very touched and intrigued by his story – how he overcame all the negatives of his childhood, and used those experiences to express something so artistically positive. I’m fascinated by his genius – how it was expressed in his films, and how it impacted on his private life, positively and negatively. Chaplin’s massive fame and how he dealt with it also interests me. I think Chaplin, like certain other artists – Mozart, Gershwin, The Beatles – created works that are timeless. They may be “of” their era, but also transcend it. And that makes these creative efforts forever new and fresh for those fortunate enough to discover them.

I hope that, someday, Chaplin’s feature films are “downloadable,” so anyone can sample them. Having shown the films to friends who initially had no interest in them, I’m always amazed at how taken people are with Chaplin’s work, if they give him a chance. The online availability of the films would make that “taste testing” much more convenient. In the meantime, I am pleased that the films are frequently shown on TCM, so I can relay viewing times to friends who I think might enjoy them.

In terms of commemorating Chaplin, I hope there will be more official Chaplin events in the US, i.e. the touring photographic exhibit now in Europe. It would enable those interested in his films to learn more about him and further their appreciation of him.

Charlie Chaplin autographing for fans Have you ever attended a Chaplin event—live performance, film festival, fan club event or conference? If so, what was your experience and what would motivate you to attend such an event in the future?

AG: I was present at the projection of A King in New York last July in Bologna. In addition to the fact that I like this film very much and I was pleased to see it on the big screen, I also appreciated the hundreds of people who were present that evening. I liked to hear them laugh and see them seated on the ground when all the seats were taken.

CVR: Unfortunately I’ve not attended any, because they are always very far from me. Madrid would be the best place for me to attend one.

LH: No, but if I ever dig myself out of the Southeast where nothing happens, I’d head straight for any of the above events!

LJ: Unfortunately, I haven’t attended any of those types of events, but would very much like to, especially if they took place at a venue relatively easy for me to reach. I did see a screening of Modern Times with an audience. I very much enjoyed seeing Chaplin on the big screen, and hearing the reaction of the crowd.

Reader Comments

The funny thing is he really did change my life! I first discovered him about 3 or 4 years ago–just stumbled across a film on TCM. Within a matter of minutes I was intrigued. When that piece ended, I quickly checked the guide and found out that TCM was just ending a Chaplin film festival.

Appetite whetted, I went to my local library, checked out everything they had–went online, joined a Chaplin group on yahoo, bought DVDs…as time went by, I bought books on Charlie and other silent film comedians. And THEN I sought other silent films, an art form that I had hitherto never even thought of– but now I find silent film to be one of the most beautiful of art forms. I have now seen “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Metropolis,” Louise Brooks’ “Diary of a Lost Girl,” Mary Pickford’s “Sparrows,” and needless to say, virtually everything Chaplin ever made.

What is about Charlie and his films that appeals to me? The grace, the beauty, the pathos. I laugh, yes, but unlike almost any other comedian, when Charlie makes me laugh there’s an added layer of delight and appreciation that is rather hard to explain…although not to a fellow Chaplin fan!

A final note, I saw “The Kid” at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles a year or two ago, and it was one of the highlights of my life. To be surrounded by a packed house, roaring with laughter, is just an experience I would wish for every Chaplin lover.

Laura, United States

Chaplin had a multi-talent which I think never will be passed by any other. He arrived at the Keystone Studios without any knowledge about cameras or film in general, and within a couple of years he revolutionized the industry throughout. Watch The Bank from 1915. We laugh of the surprising humor in the opening scene, when Charlie walks into the bank and, in a serious tune with much dignity, opens a mighty vault — just to pick up a scrubbing pail and a swab. A few minutes later, the film changes attitude when Charlie’s sweet-heart tears his love letter to pieces. Chaplin’s mimic is unsurpassed. How much empathy do we feel toward, say, Roscoe Arbuckle when we view one of his 1915-flicks? They’re funny, but what make us laugh is rather a number of insane dolls than human beings. The Kid is one of the most brilliant examples. Gee, how that movie makes me cry.

Chaplin knew what was touching, sad, pathetic and heroic — he knew how to tap the emotions of his audiences to arouse them, and he had an intuitive knowledge of the workings of the human personality. Through his movies, he made the world realize social injustice while he, at the very same time, made us laugh — until we cried. The speech at the end of The Great Dictator is amazing. He is My Master.

Speak Your Mind