Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Dictator. A


When the year has come to an end and I look back at my greatest discoveries, Charlie Chaplin will be at the top of my list. Of course I'd known about him for a long time, but I hadn't experienced his masterful whimsy until this summer when I sat down to City Lights. I loved that movie for its complete virtuosity, its slew of gags and ultimate dramatic finish. It's probably Chaplin's most complete movie. The Gold Rush I cherish for more personal reasons, mainly my inexplicable fascination with gold mining, and The Great Dictator, which I just saw, for sheer audacity. The latter is a biting satire of Hitler's regime, and more importantly, an answer to the central frictions between nations. Chaplin, in his first picture with sound, attempts unprecedented greatness by attacking Hitler through some of his finest comedic tricks ever. It's as if he were saving them for this. The movie is mostly a comedy, but it ends with Chaplin's personal peroration concerning the fall of evil and the rise of strong, courageous men fighting for what is right. Going into the film, I was slightly worried that Chaplin wouldn't pull of his usual brilliance because he had a voice (literally, of course). But it turns out that Chaplin is every bit as good when he speaks, mainly because he can pull off so many different tones and moods. In the movie he has a double role, one as the obnoxious German dictator, Hynkel and the other as a sensitive Jewish barber. As Hynkel, Chaplin is hilarious in an over-the-top performance, but as the barber, he is quiet and reserved and in love. The movie could have worked as a silent picture, but with sound, Chaplin is given the freedom to fully criticize Hitler. When I think about why I love Chaplin, I don't think about his clever comedy routines. They're brilliant for sure, but what really leaves a lasting impression is the care and sensitivity of his stories and the characters in them. To laugh is one thing, but to be moved is another. Chaplin managed to bring these emotions into his films time and time again and that's why they stick around.

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