Thursday, August 13, 2015

Smile Though Your Heart is Aching

by Melissa Uhrin
I look around me and everywhere I look I see the word (and its variations) LAUGH.

For years now, every Christmas and birthday I receive mugs, frames, signs and the odd assortment of knick-knacks bearing the word. (Imagine Daryl's luck; he gets a loud wife with a ton of fun dust collectors!) I find any reason to laugh, mostly at myself (the dumb runs strong in my family), because I'M FUNNY! Not just listen-to-the-words-I-say funny, but big gestures, faces and sounds funny. There's a reason why our parents tell us to not make faces when we are young; not only will our faces freeze that way, but having an overly expressive face leaves behind traces of awesomeness in the form of “expression wrinkles.” Mine are never to be called AGE LINES.

Who else could say it all with a gesture and a wink? The man who was pivotal in turning an industry into an art, was an inspiration to generations and brought laughter to millions, the Little Tramp: Charlie Chaplin.

I have been giving much thought as of late to which films I could proudly proclaim are my favourites of all time. This has lead to much re-watching with a new perspective, and with it being damn near 15 years since I last popped in a Chaplin flick, I opted to watch as many as I could get my hands on.

The Kid (1921)
What I love most about Chaplin is that he put so much of himself into everything he did. His first feature length film (written, directed by and starring), The Kid is thought to not only have been influenced by his childhood, but inspired by Chaplin suffering the loss of his first child. We are given a funny, sentimental and heartwarming tale in which our beloved Tramp is a caretaker of a young boy (played by Jackie Coogan). One of the first films to combine drama and comedy (we are looking back NINETY FOUR YEARS people), The Kid had me transfixed from start to finish. The film was marketed as “This is the great film he has been working on for a year,” an almost unheard of length of time when it was typically the norm to churn out one short a week.

The Gold Rush (1925)
Chaplin himself stated that this was the film that he wanted to be remembered by and it is immediately apparent why this would be. Always the master of comedic timing, his carefully constructed gags and slapstick have stood the test of time. Have you ever jammed a couple forks into buns and recreated the dance of the dinner rolls? I am proud to say that I have! And it is something I am eagerly awaiting to pass on to any little ones that may need some “How to Play with your Food at Supper-time” influence. (I totally should have been a kindergarten teacher, the young minds of tomorrow would be forever changed!) I LOVE this movie. From the heartwarming love story to the cooking and eating of the boots to the tilting cabin scene on a precipice, The Gold Rush is, in my opinion, not only one of the best comedies in existence, but one of Chaplin's best films.

The Circus (1928)
This was a first-time viewing for me, and I think the only one of the bunch that was new to me this time around. From what I have discovered in reading about the film, this is one of his most underrated films, and I struggle to understand why. His comedic timing is perfection, particularly in the mirror scene, and it is moments like that that make a good movie into a great one. The simple story, interwoven with Chaplin's incredible slapstick routines, brings about laughter as well as a sense of melancholy, particularly in the closing scene. Underrated? BAH! With so many great films of Chaplin's to choose from, people are merely comparing shiny gold nuggets with a different shade of shiny gold nuggets. They're all gold to me!

City Lights (1931)
Hailed as Charlie Chaplin's personal favourite of all the films he created, it was also the first he made during the sound era. Refusing to conform to the motion picture industry standards of creating a “talkie,” he stuck with his trademark pantomimic style. Ever the perfectionist, the initial meeting of the Tramp's character and the blind flower girl was shot well over 300 times until Chaplin's vision was finally captured. Complain as people involved in the movie may have, his was a genius that is for the most part incomparable, and the results prove to be timeless. The chemistry between the Tramp and his love interest (despite the behind-the-camera tensions between Chaplin and his female co-star Virginia Cherrill) is beautiful and it's too easy to fall in love with their characters. I feel like I am ending each little write up with I LOVE THIS MOVIE, but I truly do LOVE THIS MOVIE. F This Movie! is all about Movie Love for Movie Lovers. And I LOVE THIS MOVIE!

Modern Times (1936)
Modern Times was my introduction to Charlie Chaplin in my mid-teens and, as I rewatched it this time around, I found so many of the scenes were ingrained in my memory. The movie finds our beloved Tramp struggling to live in a modern industrial society, along-side his “partner in crime,” a young homeless woman (Chaplin's then wife, Paulette Goddard). Chaplin had intended for this to be the Tramp's first “talkie” but changed his mind during rehearsals, and instead used only a couple scenes with characters that spoke. (The film is as defiant of the machine age as Chaplin was of the new sound era.) Ever the visual performer, this silent performance is among one of his best -- particularly the rollerskating scene, as he weaves yet another artistic talent into what I can best describe as a "visual emotion." (Does that make sense? It moves me so, yet I struggle to properly put into words how it has moved me.) Modern Times marked the last official film to feature the iconic Tramp character (a “tramp-like” character is featured in The Great Dictator), and as is the case with most of his later films, a social commentary, which is in fact so very relevant to our own current “Modern Times.” If you only ever have the chance to see one of Chaplin's films then this would be it. ...And City Lights. ...And The Gold Rush. ...Dammit, watch them ALL!

The Great Dictator (1940)
At last I conclude with what I believe to be my favourite of all his films, largely in part to my obsession with history, particularly surrounding WWII (you are not alone in your nerdy history love Doug!), The Great Dictator. Wow oh wow, I loved this movie more this time around than any other. His first foray into the sound era and his most bold political statement to date, Chaplin’s supposed inspirations for making this satirical political comedy/drama film are numerous… Was the film made in retaliation to Nazi propaganda claiming Chaplin being of Jewish decent? Did viewing the 1935 Nazi propaganda movie Triumph Of The Will inspire elements of The Great Dictator? It would certainly explain how he learned to mimic Hitler’s mannerisms so perfectly. Regardless of the reasoning behind it’s creation, The Great Dictator is a work of art and addresses the repression of the Jewish people during the 1930s (while most of the world was turning a blind eye to events in Germany) in Chaplin’s perfect blend of comedy and all too realistic drama. And true to his stylistic roots, a couple of the film’s most memorable moments include “Hynkel’s” silent ballet with his balloon world and the Jewish barber’s eating of the pudding containing the coin. The last few minutes of the film are believed to be another reason behind the films creation, as the Jewish barber takes the stage, looks directly into the camera and with a stripped-down honesty that could have only come from Chaplin himself, speaks out against the terrors of fascism and intolerance in general. Through a perfect equation of humour and heart, the issues addressed are still current in our culture.

As I come to the end of my mini Chaplin Marathon, I find it even more difficult to choose which would be my favourite of his films. Each one affects me in a different way, so how do I pick which feeling I like most? Answer is: I don’t. This is why when it comes to making decisions I am best placed in front of a buffet. I can pick and choose all of my favourite things and have a little bit of everything.

Funny is what it is today, largely in part to the comedic genius of a man who chose to create lasting art that will continue to withstand the test of time and influence countless generations of people.

“A day without laughter is a day wasted” - Charlie Chaplin.

We could all stand to be a little quirky. Who cares how many expression lines our faces grow?


  1. Beautifully written. I will watch the Gold Rush this weekend as I like a good comedy, so many films I need to see

  2. What are your feelings about the shorts? They're not nearly as sentimental as the features. What's your take on Chaplin when he's all about the funny?

  3. I just watched The Great Dictator with my dad on my 10ft Projector a couple weeks ago an it was fucking amazing, when hes doing his barber thing shaving the guy with the music playing is just classic Chapin, great movie!!! Going to be watching The Circus next, but The Gold Rush is definently a favorite.