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Friday, June 22, 2012


Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…

#331: Chaplin (1992).  This is a biopic, and really, I don’t want to give you a history lesson here, so this will be a slightly different style of posting.  Let’s get down to it:

The Players:

Charlie Chaplin: Played by Robert Downey, Jr. He’s Charlie Fucking Chaplin.  *Sigh* ok, I get that some of you are all “who?”, since there were a couple of teenagers I work with who didn’t know who Judy Garland was, so quickly: Charlie Chaplin was a silent movie star who pretty much invented slapstick style comedy and political satire in film.  He was also extremely complex, had issues galore, and was a bit of a man-whore. 

Hetty Kelly/Oona O’Neill: Played by Moira Kelly.  Hetty Kelly was Charlie’s first love, and an inspiration for many of his leading ladies.  In the film, she is nicely bookended with Oona, who was Charlie’s final wife (he had a few) and had her played by the same actress.  Well done.

Hannah Chaplin: Played by Geraldine Chaplin.  Yes, Charlie Chaplin’s mother was played by his daughter.  Awesome.  Hannah was batshit crazy, and Charlie spent the better part of his life trying to help her, even though he didn't know how to deal with her most of the time.

Sydney Chaplin: Played by Paul Rhys.  Sydney is Charlie’s half brother, is  half Jewish (which explains the support Charlie had for the Jews and why he was so against the Nazis before most Americans realized Hitler was truly evil) and is his manager/business partner.  He is a grounding presence throughout the film.

Douglas Fairbanks: Played by Kevin Klein.  Again, a lot of you are probably all “who?!” so, ok… Fairbanks was the biggest action star of early Hollywood.  He was married to America’s sweetheart Mary Pickford, and along with Chaplin and a couple of others helped to form United Artists.  I am not explaining anymore.  Google it or something… anyway, Fairbanks was Chaplin’s best friend, and had a profound influence on him.


George Hayden: Played by Anthony Hopkins.  He is a completely fictional character.  He’s the editor working with Chaplin on his autobiography, so he’s probably not so much fiction as an amalgam of various editors he worked with.  He is the person to whom Charlie is telling his story throughout the film, so he’s kind of important.

There are a bunch of other people (Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Thomei, and others) who pop up as important people to Chaplin and to the film industry as well.  Including all his wives. 

So, this is a really well-done movie.  There are theatrical/fictional elements to it, but then again the same could be said for Chaplin’s life.  Even the main book it is based on, My Autobiography by Chaplin himself has been proven to contain a lot of exaggerated truths and outright fiction.  So, it works.  Because no matter how much of an expert on the man anyone claims to be, no one, not even his closest friends and lovers, really knew who the hell Chaplin was. 

The best thing truly about this movie is Robert Downey, Jr.  So many comedic actors were considered for the role, but thankfully the powers that be realized that this was not a movie about being funny, it was looking at the man behind the tramp.  The opening scene is of a grown Chaplin washing away his famous Little Tramp makeup, revealing the man underneath it, stating that this movie is not about his hilarious on-screen persona, but the complex man behind him. 

Now, obviously Downey can handle the comedy as witnessed here:

But he truly excels at playing him as a real person, and the cinematic innovator he was.  Chaplin understood so much about his persona, that he pushed his brother to find a different way to use sound without the Tramp talking.  Great scene:

Chaplin was a workhorse, and it was what killed his otherwise solid relationship with third wife Paulette Goddard.  Again, portrayed brilliantly by Downey.  He was totally robbed of an Oscar that year, but then again he was up against Pacino, was in the middle of his drug-addict years, and apparently pissed off the Academy with some choice words that year. 

There are a few little moments that he does so well, one of them being when he first falls in love with movies.  He wanders into a little tent in Butte, Montana, which is where the Vaudeville show he works for was playing.  There’s a silly little slapstick comedy playing, and he stops and looks at the projector with wonder.  Then he sits down, and it cuts to him being the only one there, asking the projeciotnist to play the movies over and over.  I know that feeling.  And it is played very understated and with joy by Downey here. 

This is a well-done biopic.  It’s long, but you hardly notice it, as it goes along at a pretty good pace.  All of the performances are great, and it really makes you appreciate all of the hard work and effort that Chaplin put into his movies.  He really did set a lot of Hollywood standards, and even some of his work today holds up beautifully.  Seriously, there is so much on YouTube, you really need to check it out!

It is beautifully shot, and the score is stunning.  Truly.  John Barry did an outstanding job here. 

This is a nice little history lesson, but don’t believe everything you see, especially about Chaplin’s personal life.  But it is a wonderful glimpse into early Hollywood, so if that interests you, check it out!

 And as an added treat, I give you Robert Downey, jr. singing that famous song written by Chaplin, "Smile":

That’s a Wrap!  Tomorrow: It’s my birthday!  So, a little Disney is in order!

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