One of Charlie Chaplin’s last films, and his penultimate starring vehicle, “Limelight” is emotionally impactful and immensely enjoyable. It is not a good movie to use as your Chaplin cherry-popping, since it is quite distinct from his more comedic films from the United Artists era (1923-1947). That said, I liked it as much or more than all of his six previous films, even though it’s a different type of viewing experience. It may not be his best film, but for me it is the crowning jewel in his canon.
Chaplin essentially plays a less famous version of himself. Historians have noted that the movie can be seen as biographical of his own father, or of another famous British comedian in the early twentieth century. Ignorant of this, I had the strong impression while viewing that the movie was autobiographical of Chaplin himself: an aging comedian coming to grips with the end of his career and life. The pathos Chaplin portrays at various points – as he realizes that he has lost his gift of laughter – is deeply touching. Indeed, the first half of the film is very philosophical and at times even mystical as Chaplin ruminates with a sick girl about the meaning of life.
The plot of the movie eventually kicks into gear and we watch as Chaplin´s Calvero tries unsuccessfully to revive his career, eventually gaining a bit part in a ballet thanks to his grateful recovered patient. It’s preparation for the finale, where Chaplin appears for the first time on screen with Buster Keaton in a laugh-out-loud routine involving a piano, violin, and baggy pants. A must-see if only for these few minutes.
The following goes for all Chaplin films that will appear here. I am ashamed that it took me as long as it did to begin watching his films and appreciate him as an artist. The first movies of his that I viewed, I literally sat slack-jawed as I watched. Nothing I had seen of modern entertainers prepared me for the virtuosity of this one man. Nothing we have nowadays even approaches the level of talent that he (and IMO to a lesser extent Buster Keaton) displayed. He was an artist in the true sense of the word. Just think: the amount of talent necessary to write, direct, choreograph, invent, compose music for, and act in all of these productions staggers the imagination. Just look at the list in that last sentence. HE DID ALL OF THOSE THINGS BY HIMSELF, FOR LIKE 30 YEARS, WITH MORE THAN 20 MOVIES! I consider him on the same level as Shakespeare, Mozart and Dante for what he has done with the arts. Who living even approaches the shadow that Chaplin cast in terms of all-around entertainment value? I defy you to name even one person.
It pisses me off that he’s not better appreciated nowadays.
17 March 2010
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