Jun 29, 2010

"A day without laughter is a day wasted." - Charlie Chaplin

I dare say that Charlie Chaplin is one of those people, who are known and recognized all over the world, still decades after they've passed away. And if not Chaplin himself, then at least his most famous character, the Tramp. People might not know much about the actor himself, but they can easily associate the character with lauhgter and comedy and black-and-white silent films. Admittedly, I didn't know much about this fellow, until some months ago I watched a film about his life. And now, inspired by the film, I'm reading his autobiography and I feel like I'm almost personally getting to know the legendary Chaplin. He had some talent, that man.

So why am I reading this book again? Thanks to Robert Downey Jr.! Kind of. I watched Chaplin because of RDJ, and I became interested in this book because of the film. So. I guess you could give all the credit to RDJ? Sure.

I was happy to find the book at my local library - in Finnish, though, couldn't find it in English, which is a bit of a shame. I might order it in the original language some day. You know, it feels very weird to read something in Finnish! It's been a while since the last time. Anyway, I kind of love this book! Or like it very much, at least.

At he moment I'm half way through the 450-page book, and Chaplin is now 28 years old and already a successful film maker and star, an amazing, long career still ahead of him. He also began and ended his first marriage some pages ago. Did you know that he was once close to quitting acting and becoming a pig farmer? Or that a fortune teller predicted his future success when he was about 20? The book is so interesting and full of information and yet somehow it's very light to read. It's been a while since I've been so hooked on a book. Which is a bit surprising, but awesome all the same!

Chaplin was a very talented writer (in addition to being a very talented actor, director, screenwriter, you name it...). He managed to put a thousand small memories, minor and major events and random pieces of dialogue together, making it a smooth, coherent story. He wrote a book when he was 75. I can only wish I'll be so witty and capable if I ever reach 75. (And even if some holes in his memory were probably filled with imagination, I don't really care.)

This is what I've learned about Charlie Chaplin (during that first half of the book): he was born to be a legend. (Wow, that sounded corny. Anyway. He was, wasn't he?) He was always adventurous, always eager to see and do and learn and be more. He was intelligent, brave, ambitious and cheeky enough to handle himself in movie business - which at the time was controlled by stubborn movie bosses, who wanted to keep doing films the way they had always been done. He was passionate - if not always about acting, at least about entertaining people and making them laugh. He was just as prone to feelings of loneliness, inadequency and self-pity as the rest of us, and sometimes surprisingly shy. Oh and he was a genious. A persistent and hard-working genious.

Yesterday I watched my first Chaplin film ever. It was a twelve minute MESS with the Tramp in a bar, once in a while cut to another scene with the Tramp painting a portait of a lady, and I wasn't quite sure what was going on. And yet... I found myself laughing aloud at people falling down, stumbling at their feet, kicking each other in bottoms and the Tramp making funny faces and trying to hit on ladies. Who knew slapstick comedy can actually be so much fun? I really was surprised. And then watched two more short films.

What also is very charming about the films is their hopelessly bad quality ('bad' as seen through the eyes of the Avatar generation, that is): the blurry, shaking, black-and-white images, the simple, cheerful "elevator music", that every now and then stops to start again from the beginning, and the fact that sometimes the camera cuts half of the characters' heads off. It's a big part of the charm.

(It's funny that people don't know what Chaplin really looks like, without the mask and costume, I mean. Hell, I wouldn't know the picture above is the Charlie Chaplin I'm writing about. I'm just trusting Google.)

Chaplin received an Honorary Oscar in 1971. (Until that he'd won only one Oscar as a composer. NEVER one for acting or directing. Hmm.) Click here to see it happen. (Here you can also hear Chaplin's own description about the Tramp: "A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow always hopeful of romance and adventure. He would have you believe he is a scientist, a musician, a duke, a polo player. However, he’s not above picking up a cigarette butt or robbing a baby of his candy." And then something about kicking ladies in the "rear", but only in extreme anger. Haha. Excellent.)

Moments like that can easily feel melodramatic or corny, but I think that's a wonderful moment and he's sincerely moved and honoured. I am SO looking forward to that part of the book. I will probably write another post then, after I finish the book. So, more praise coming up! And all deserved. Also, I'm planning on watching some of Chaplin's full-length features, too. (Any recomendations?) Until then... a few wise words. I kind of love this man.

"A man's true character comes out when he's drunk."

"Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself."   

"Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot." 

"The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury." 

"What do you want a meaning for? Life is a desire, not a meaning." 

"Words are cheap. The biggest thing you can say is 'elephant'."


Anonymous said...

a wonderful post!

Eeva said...

Thanks! :)