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‘Look, they’re crucifying Him! And nobody cares!’: When Charlie Chaplin met Igor Stravinsky


 
For a couple of years when I was a little kid—before I discovered rock music, so like 3rd and 4th grade—I collected Charlie Chaplin movies that I purchased on 8mm film from Blackhawk Films. Blackhawk sold newsreels of the Hindenburg disaster and WWII along with the public domain silent horror films of Lon Chaney and comedies by Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Blackhawk advertised in comic books, Famous Monsters of Filmland and in a nostalgia magazine my grandfather used to read (I wish I could recall the name of it, I’d buy every issue on eBay). I sent for their free catalog. The price of the Chaplin shorts ranged from like $7.98 to $14.98 which was an astronomical amount of money at that time, for someone who was eight years old, or otherwise. When I say “collected,” I probably had like seven Chaplin shorts that I got from Blackhawk. I’d tell my parents and grandparents just to give me money for Christmas and birthdays so I could order them. A $10 reward for a good report card meant another Chaplin film. I would screen them in my parents’ basement on a moldy-smelling Westinghouse 8mm projector my father had long ago lost any interest in.

I was really, really Chaplin obsessed. I still am to this day.

Charles Chaplin’s My Autobiography was published by Simon & Schuster in 1964, when the great man was then in his seventies and living a life of comfortable exile at Manoir de Ban, a 35-acre estate overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland, having been pushed out of Hollywood during the Red Scare. It’s one of the most extraordinary books that I’ve ever read. The first portion of the book describes, in brutal detail, the life of crushing Dickensian poverty that Chaplin and his brother Sydney were thrust into when their mother—who’d gone mad from syphilis and malnutrition—had to drop them off at the pauper’s workhouse, unable to care for herself, let alone them.

Chaplin’s remarkably beautiful prose is nothing short of heartbreaking. It’s not just the harsh Victorian circumstances he’s describing that are so excruciatingly Dickensian, it’s the quality of his writing as well. My Autobiography starts off exactly like a lost novel by Charles Dickens, and indeed there is probably no greater true life rags to riches story that has ever been told in the entire history of humankind. Chaplin went from being an innocent young boy who’d had his head shaved and painted with iodine for a lice treatment (there’s a group shot in the book that will hit you in the gut) in the lowest of circumstances to being the most famous man in the world just a few years later. It’s one of the best books that I’ve ever read and it’s one that will still be read long into the future as long as we don’t go the way of Planet of the Apes.
 

Stravinsky takes a spin on a hoop contraption that Chaplin had built at his Beverly Hills home.
 
And speaking of our puzzling new Bizarro World national reality, there’s an anecdote that happens later in Chaplin’s book (pages 395-397) where he writes about a meeting that he had with Russian composer Igor Stravinsky where he proposed a collaboration between them. It was sometime in 1937. War had yet to be declared, but something very dark was happening in the world.

I was thinking about this over the weekend, and how potent this imagery is in Donald Trump’s America:

While dining at my house, Igor Stravinsky suggested we should do a film together. I invented a story. It should be surrealistic, I said—a decadent night club with tables around the dance floor, at each table, greed, at another, hypocrisy, at another, ruthlessness. The floor show is the Passion play, and while the crucifixion of the Saviour is going on, groups at each table watch it indifferently, some ordering meals, others talking business, others showing little interest. The mob, the High Priests and the Pharisees are shaking their fists up at the Cross, shouting: “If Thou be the Son of God come down and save Thyself.” At a nearby table a group of businessmen are talking excitedly about a big deal. One draws nervously on his cigarette, looking up at the Saviour and blowing his smoke absent-mindedly in His direction.

At another table a businessman and his wife sit studying the menu. She looks up, then nervously moves her chair back from the floor. “I can’t understand why people come here,” she says uncomfortably. “It’s depressing.”

“It’s good entertainment,” says the businessman. “The place was bankrupt until they put on this show. Now they are out of the red.”

“I think it’s sacrilegious,” says his wife.

“It does a lot of good,” says the man. “People who have never been inside a church come here and get the story of Christianity.”

And the show progresses, a drunk, being under the influence of alcohol, is on a different plane; he is seated alone and begins to weep and shout loudly: “Look, they’re crucifying Him! And nobody cares!” He staggers to his feet and stretches his arms appealingly toward the Cross. The wife of a minister sitting nearby complains to the headwaiter, and the drunk is escorted out of the place still weeping and remonstrating, “Look, nobody cares! A fine lot of Christians you are!”

“You see,” I told Stravinsky, “they throw him out because he is upsetting the show.” I explained that putting a passion play on the dance floor of a nightclub was to show how cynical and conventional the world has become in professing Christianity.

The maestro’s face became very grave. “But that’s sacrilegious!” he said.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Did Charlie Chaplin really lose a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest?
06.29.2016
01:10 pm

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There are some ideas that are so irresistible that mind gravitates towards them whether they’re true or not. For instance, you’ve probably heard it said more than once that you can boil a frog by increasing the temperature slowly over a period of time, and the frog will not notice and neglect to jump out in time. It isn’t true, but that will do nothing to prevent you from hearing it several more times, I’ll wager. Similarly, the idea that Eskimos have some preposterous number of terms to describe snow is, at best, a highly contested one, but something that comes up a lot as well.

Another such idea is that Charlie Chaplin failed to win a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest. I’ve been hearing this one for many years—I think it was actually featured on a Trivial Pursuit card back in the ‘80s—but I’ve always wondered what the truth was.

What’s for certain is that the necessary ingredients for such a tale did exist. In other words, Chaplin’s first movie successes around 1914 sparked a worldwide phenomenon called “Chaplinitis,” in which audiences simply could not get enough of his winsome Little Tramp character. For later generations the obvious comparison is the Beatlemania that hit in 1963 and 1964. It seems incontestable that Chaplin was the first authentic mass media phenomenon, quite possibly the one against which all others must be judged.

The power of Chaplin rested in part on the ability of the newish technology of motion pictures to resonate instantly among mass audiences—there was no barrier to entry whatsoever. As Charles Silver writes in his MoMA monograph Charles Chaplin: An Appreciation, “No particular level of sophistication or even literacy was necessary ... to see that he was special; you only had to see.”
 
Much more after the jump…....
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Charlie Chaplin on the set of ‘The Great Dictator’
01.19.2016
10:18 am

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Even in these so-called enlightened times it’s not so unthinkable that some slobbering buffoon could be elected the leader of a great country to the detriment of its people, and indeed the entire world. In politics the unthinkable is always possible—and unfortunately such dangerous men often stand for election. You can recognize them by their speeches that play on fears and grievances and creates division thru trumped up accusations against anyone who disagrees with them—I’m sure you know the Trump type.

Charlie Chaplin was all too aware of the dangers of some twit being elected on a racist, xenophobic and downright nasty manifesto when he poked fun at Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator. Though Chaplin was criticized by various countries (Germany, Britain) for being irresponsible while making his fascist satire, he was soon vindicated by the actions of Herr Hitler and the Second World War—though the great comedian and director later said he felt some regret about making the movie:

Had I known of the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator; I could not have made fun of the homicidal insanity of the Nazis.

On its release in 1940 The Great Dictator was an enormous success in the Allied countries—though not at all in Nazi Germany… The film was a rallying point for those who wanted to defeat the evils of Nazism. It helped people to laugh at the Nazis while at same time being made aware of the insidious dangers of voting a madman into power—a point still highly relevant today.

In the film, a Jewish barber is mistaken for the dictator Adenoid Hynkel and by chance ends up taking his place. At the end of the film, the barber addresses Hynkel’s army of followers with a speech about hope and humanity:

I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an Emperor – that’s not my business – I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible, Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another, human beings are like that.

We all want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls – has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed….

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let’s use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfill their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Now that’s the kind of manifesto I’d vote for.
 
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More photos of Chaplin as ‘The Great Dictator’ plus color footage, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Charlie Chaplin: Color photographs on set as the Little Tramp, 1917-18
12.18.2014
10:55 am

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Charlie Chaplin made his first appearance as the “Little Tramp” one hundred years ago when he co-starred with Mabel Normand in the short Mack Sennett silent film Mabel’s Strange Predicament. But as it turned out the public’s first sight of Chaplin’s comic creation was in his second outing Kid Auto Races at Venice, which was made after Mabel’s Strange Predicament but released two days before it. Chaplin later explained how the Tramp came about—he had been asked by Sennett to put on some “funny make-up” for his appearance in Mabel’s Strange Predicament:

I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression.

My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul—a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking romance, but his feet won’t let him.

These Autochrome color portraits of Chaplin as the Tramp were taken by photographer Charles C. Zoller (1854 – 1934) between takes on the set of one of Chaplin’s films circa 1917-18.
 
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Chaplin out of character.
 
Via Shooting Film.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Great Dictator’ speech set to contemporary imagery


 
Ironic that a man not known much for speaking should have given one of the greatest speeches in history. Here’s Charlie Chaplin’s moving oration from The Great Dictator set to contemporary imagery.

I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an Emperor – that’s not my business – I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible, Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another, human beings are like that.

We all want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls – has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.

We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in: machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little: More than machinery we need humanity; More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me I say “Do not despair”.

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress: the hate of men will pass and dictators die and the power they took from the people, will return to the people and so long as men die [now] liberty will never perish…

Soldiers – don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you – who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder.

Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate – only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers – don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty.

In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written ” the kingdom of God is within man ” – not one man, nor a group of men – but in all men – in you, the people.

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let’s use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfill their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

 

 
Via Nerdcore

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Charlie Chaplin on cocaine
08.06.2011
06:01 am

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Charlie toots at least a half gram but still has an appetite. It must’ve been that low-grade prison blow.

Charlie, you’re not supposed to put the spoon in your ear.
 

 
Via Biblioklept

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Charlie Chaplin’s Tron
12.01.2010
02:53 pm

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Modern Times Tronified by Nick Tierce.

Via Kottke.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Charlie Chaplin in Color
08.22.2009
09:55 pm

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image

 

Rare color photograph of Charlie Chaplin standing outside his studio on La Brea Ave in Los Angeles, circa 1917-18. From the George Eastman House Collection in Rochester, NY.

Here’s another one.

Via Dark Roasted Blend

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment