Jul 25, 2010


Limelight (1952)

Directed by Charles Chaplin. Starring Charles Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Nigel Bruce, Sydney Chaplin.

Long story short: Calvero is a once-great comedian, whose fame has faded with his youth. By accident he befriends with a with a young, depressed ballet dancer Thereza. They support each other, and together try to achieve what Calvero once had, and Thereza hasn't yet had a taste of.

It's impossible not to see the autobiographical aspect of Limelight. Chaplin was 60 years old at the time, still a liked and recognized face, but clearly approaching the end of his career. This was indeed his last film produced in America - around the film's release he was exiled from the US. Limelight obviously reflects some of Chaplin's own experiences and feelings, but how much of himself did he really put on Calvero? Who knows. Calvero is a washed-up clown - hunted by the thought that he can't make people laugh like he did before, and hungering for that one more moment to shine, one more moment in the limelight. It's sad to think these ideas might've floated around Chaplin's head, too. 

Limelight is not the usual Chaplin. It's a drama with comedic elements, rather that a comedy with dramatic ones. I did chuckle a few times - for example there was a funny scene where Calvero talks to his grumpy landlady like they had some steamy love affair going on. Haha. There are also some vaudeville numbers, and Chaplin gets to show there's still some fire in those old bones. One of Calvero's acts was called "Tramp Comedian" - a great nod to the legendary character Chaplin created.

There are many lenghty, amazing dance and comedy numbers. The music is the fruit of lots and lots of hard work. Chaplin won his one and only Oscar for Limelight (not counting the Honorary Oscar), the music specifically. No wonder. (Well, that the Oscar was his one and only is more than a wonder.)

This was also the first time I heard Chaplin speak in a film and  first it felt SO WEIRD. But he was a wonderful actor - slapstick might have been his strong point, but his dramatic acting is really worth mentioning, too. His performance seems effortless and natural, as if he wasn't acting, but merely being himself. Which might not be too far from the truth. Calvero is a charming, witty old gentleman, and so was Chaplin. Claire Bloom is a bit melodramatic at times, but holds her head high next to her veteran co-star. Charlie's son Sydney also plays a role of a romantic pianist.

There's a lot of talk in Limelight, some of it's very philosophical, almost to the point of being pretentious. But though I still prefer him conveying the joys and sorrows of life through slapstick, he moves and touches this way, too. He was a thoughtful, intelligent man, and the dialougue of the film is skilled and just wonderful, discussing life, love, fame, aging, optimism, the will and unwillingness to live...

My mistake was I saw Limelight too early. I should have watched more of Chaplin's earlier films first, like The Kid, Gold Rush and The Great Dictator, and then finally see this film that reflects the late years of the comedian behind masterpieces, the man who made people laugh for a living. I will have to rewatch the film after some time, because there's really a lot to learn about its maker between the lines.

(And I'm intentionally saving The Kid for the last, because I know I'll love it.)

"Life can be wonderful if you're not afraid of it."

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