The sixteenth day of April in the year 1889 had really been kind in giving this world, and later Hollywood, a prodigious actor and director, whose films have outshone every great film in getting messages across in simpler, emotional and humourous but effective manner. Charlie Chaplin not only proved that camera is the language of silent cinema but also gave cinema the beautiful art of mime.
The eminent Indian cartoonist R.K. Laxman, once said, “The instinct to laugh has survived all the wars, tragedies and sufferings that fill the history of our world.” This is why, perhaps, every film of Charlie Chaplin has observed a good-humoured approach to life. In almost all his films, Charlie Chaplin has shown some social affair or any political issue as a matter of laughter rather than for serious concern.
However, it would be a mistake to say that only humour has been the core of Chaplin’s films. In fact, every film of Chaplin has combined pathos and satire with tender humour. One such film is ‘The Immigrant.’ Released in 1917, this two-reel film not only made Chaplin internationally famous but also showed his great gift for being able to portray social satire on the silver screen.
Another film that showcased Chaplin as a legendary comic actor and director is ‘The Kid.’ ‘The Kid’ was the first feature length film directed by Chaplin in the year 1921. It portrays the story of a little tramp (Charlie Chaplin) and a kid (Jackie Coogan) whom the tramp finds on street as an infant. The story grows with the growing attachment between the two. The conflict situation arises when some people try to hand over the kid to an orphanage. In the end Chaplin manages to elope with the kid and the child is united with his mother.
'The Kid' projects many hilarious situations but at the same time, it is a satire on the conditions of asylums during the beginning of twentieth century. Moreover, in certain scenes ‘The Kid’ also generates pathos. The dream sequence in which, Chaplin is in poignant memories without the child, is the evident example.
It would not be preposterous to say that Chaplin’s work of art on silver screen got a glitz with ‘City Lights’ in 1931. He called the film, “A comedy romance in pantomime.” However, the film continued projecting the vein of social criticism in which the cause of the poor is defended against that of the rich. It is a sentimental film in which the unemployed tramp (Charlie Chaplin) falls in love with a blind flower girl and goes through a series of misadventures, including robbery and a jail term, to raise money for the operation which can restore her sight. ‘City Lights’ was just Chaplin’s another piece of masterwork featuring subtle comedy, spoof and pathos.
Chaplin’s brilliance was an actor and a mime. The exquisite art of mime can be seen in the last scene of ‘City Lights’ in which, the final shot freezes on Chaplin’s face with stem of a flower in his mouth. This is the scene when he finds the blind flower girl who can now see and recognizes him. Though he accomplishes what he had desired for, an overwhelmed expression on his face tickles a disturbed emotion somewhere within us. This is because perhaps it’s a moment of finding a treasure, which the unemployed tramp does not think himself worth possessing!
As a director, Chaplin produced great works of comic epic. It is said that it’s very tough to make audience laugh and even tougher to sustain the laughter. Undoubtedly, Chaplin’s films have this remarkable quality to sustain a comic situation. Be it the boxing scene in ‘City Lights’ or the scene of making a meal of a boot in ‘The Gold Rush’(1925), Chaplin’s humorous approach to matters have always made people laugh.
Chaplin’s handling of character was always according to the requirement of the story plot. For instance, portrayal of the child (Jackie Coogan) in ‘The kid’ is so identical with the way Chaplin acts, be it in walking or clowning around, it’s difficult to realize that he is not the real father of the kid.
Charlie Chaplin even evolved his image as “the little tramp,” wearing a bowler hat and carrying a cane, strongly. The brilliant characterization and costume of “the little tramp” has kept the spirit of Charlie Chaplin alive even today. This image is so much embedded into the psyche of audiences that even if we find the little clown; in his oversized shoes, baggy pants and an undersized coat; though quite rich at the end of his film ‘The gold Rush,’ it seems only a delusion.