The Circus

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I just loved Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. I’d never heard of this film, but recently saw that The Criterion Collection had just released it on DVD. In this 1928 film, The woebegone Tramp mistakenly gets caught up in a police chase for inadvertently taking a man’s wallet. The crazy chase that ensues leads to the Tramp bringing down the house as an accidental clown act at a circus.

This circus is run by a nasty, hothead Rimgmaster who continually abuses his lovely, innocent step-daughter. The Tramp soon falls for her and tries to be her savior, but she soon falls for a dapper tightrope walker.

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Throughout the film we’re treated to marvelous scenes including a chase through a house of mirrors, accidental clown acts that have the audience laughing in the aisles, a scary standoff with a lion and a death-defying tightrope scene.

According to the commentary Chaplin didn’t like this film much because it was made at a time when his life was at a low point. His wife was divorcing him for his affair with the female lead, his mother was terribly sick. a storm destroyed most of his set and the tabloids where having a heyday gossiping about Chaplin’s personal life.

Nonetheless, The Circus is hilarious and often poignant. It entertains from start to finish. I’d say it deserves a place beside any of Chaplin’s classics from Modern Times, City Lights or any of his other more popular films.

The Nights of Cabiria

I just loved this film! Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957) begins with a man who shoves Cabiria into a river and grabs her purse and runs off never to return. Cabiria’s furious, but this attack, like all the other misfortune that Cabiria encounters won’t stop her.

Played by Giulietta Masina, who’s clearly inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp, Cabiria is a streetwalker, usually picks up business in a park where her pals gather. On the surface, the gang seems happy-go-lucky, just as Cabiria is, but all of them lead vulnerable lives and have great needs.

Proud and unstoppable, Cabiria winds up in the upper crust’s part of town, where she’s invited into a movie star’s apartment. He’s just argued with his platinum blonde girlfriend. This is the first of several unexpected encounters Cabiria experiences. It’s not all fun and games. Time and again we see Cabiria getting ditched or used and brushing herself off time after time winning us over.

Cabiria’s Odyssey takes us from upscale night clubs with exotic dancers, to religious shrines where miracle cures are purported to occur, to a Vaudeville like theater where a hypnotist shows Cabrira’s sweetest side, to the edge of a cliff.

Yet the end surprises and makes us wonder what will happen to Cabiria. Is she really unsinkable? I’ve thought about this film every day for a week and this character is one who’ll always stick with me.

The Kid

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I wasn’t prepared for the pathos of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid. I didn’t expect the storyline either. In The Kid a single mother gets out of the charity hospital and doesn’t know what to do. Though it breaks her heart, she abandons her baby in an empty c ar in front of a wealthy home. It’s understandable since her love drops her photo in a fire and when he pulls it out, decides to toss it back to burn.

Yet comedy ensues and much as he doesn’t want the baby, Chaplin’s Tramp is stuck with it. The Tramp lives in a squalid apartment where just about every possession is broken or tattered. Yet he ingeniously manages to care for the baby. I loved how he rigged up a coffee pot to serve as a bottle.

Five years pass and the two are a family. They make money with a scam. The boy, who’s the epitome of a street urchin in looks, throws rocks through people’s windows. A couple minutes later the Tramp appears and he’s in the window glass business so he’ll repair the window right away. However, the local police are soon wise to them.

Meanwhile the boy’s mother has become a successful opera singer and his father, a famous artist. The two meet each other, but since the boy’s gone, there’s no reason for them to rekindle their love.

The story features so much clever slapstick and imaginative moments. It also plays on viewers heart strings big time, yet the film isn’t depressing. Chaplin and little Jackie Coogan are terrific and their story makes a commentary on how orphans and unwed mothers were treated.

Tidbits

  • There’s a 50 to 1 ratio between the footage Chaplin shot and what he used.
  • Chaplin discovered Jackie Coogan, when he saw Coogan on stage at a music hall with his father.
  • Chaplin had been suffering from writer’s block. Then his wife gave birth to a son, who died three days later. That incident sparked this story.
  • Chaplin himself spent time in an orphanage.

City Lights

The Tramp and the Blind Girl

I’d never watched Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, or perhaps any Chaplin film, before. I remember being shown some silent film as a child in some group setting and being bored to tears. That feeling ran deep, though the specifics – who was in the film, or what it was about faded fast. Since I’m half way through my year of watching one “old” i.e. pre 1960 movie a week, I thought it’s high time to watch Chaplin.

After seeing and loving Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last released by the Criterion Collection with the enriching commentary, I thought I could like City Lights. I was right. What a delightful, charming, poignant film! Chaplin plays his signature Tramp, who I think everyone in the West with a pulse has seen in some form. As the film opens some long winded politician is bloviating at a ceremony to unveil a statue about progress and prosperity. When the drape is removed, we see the Tramp asleep in one of the figure’s laps. He scrambles to get out of the way, always desiring not to bother anyone, but in so doing gets more entangled and almost loses his pants. It’s high comedy, but still works. What’s more Chaplin is definitely satirizing the politicians and society that honors these values while blind to those left behind or harmed by “progress” and whom “prosperity” has overlooked.

Soon the Tramp meets and falls in love with a girl who’s blind, who sells flowers on the street. She mistakes him for a millionaire and this is the main plot. After impressing the flower girl, the Tramp runs into a crazy, distraught millionaire whose life he saves. The friendship between the eccentric millionaire and the Tramp is mercurial. When the millionaire’s drunk, all’s well. When he sobers up, he rejects the Tramp, time and again.

The Tramp and the Millionaire

The film’s commentary helped me note a lot in the film that I would have overlooked. The political themes, the cast, and the history (how on average Chaplin did 38 takes for every scene in what he himself dubbed a “neurotic” quest for perfection).

The film came out in 1931 when sound had been around for awhile. Chaplin, the commentator states, didn’t think sound really added much to films and that it took away some of film’s subtleties. While there’s plenty of slapstick, I can see Chaplin’s point. By having to rely on pantomime, the actors have to do more with a look or action. Also, Chaplin’s films did well all over the world. He felt that if the audience heard his accent some wouldn’t like his work as much. It’s a valid point as when I watched, I projected an American accent on to the characters.

The film is delightful and succeeds in providing humor and pathos often right on top of each other.

the glee project: sexuality

This episode’s theme was sexuality and Naya Rivera (Santana) was the mentor. The gang sang a song I can’t remember and there was a lot of sultry looks and pumping and grinding. How I long for a bit more sophistication in our culture. I don’t blame the contestants they’re just seeing what’s out there and emulating. (Porpoise of Life’s blogger couldn’t remember the song either. Not a good sign. I did just watch the beginning again and the song was “I Wanna Sex You Up.” Ho hum.)

If you’ve seen the show you can pretty much predict how a lot of the contestants responded. Aylin was exuberant, but worried about what her parents thought. Yet she doesn’t really seem to care so it’s something of a non-issue. Tyler reminded us that his transgender transition makes this tough for him, yet when Robert announced the theme he was jubilant. I guess he just got caught up in the mob response.

Charlie won the homework competition and was on cloud 9 knowing that Naya considered him the success in the sexuality challenge. Yet this turned out to be a bit of a curse as it made him cocky the rest of the week.

The Star of the Week

Nellie interested me the most this week. She was honest and admitted this was a stretch since she hadn’t even seen a guy naked. I was glad someone had a different perspective. It’s interesting to watch someone who seems so real live through this fish bowl experiment.

The video for the week’s setting was a high school sex ed class in which a dowdy, non-sexy teacher assigns the class to write an essay on “What Sexuality Means to Me.” The Glee Project did get the banality and triviality that can pervade US classrooms right, but really this is an assignment that would result in parental outcry. Why should a teacher read and evaluate students’ sexuality? Is that their job? No teacher who’s right in the head would assign something that begs parents to call and complain.

Sexiness is in the eye of the beholder

In the studio, Michael stumbled over the lyrics as he sang with Mario. He just couldn’t get them right and in the end Nikki had to ask him to leave. Still over the moon from his homework win, Charlie was flirting with Aylin while recording which just made him look immature. He needs to wake up if he wants to stay.

Then during the video shoot, Charlie let his ADD and attitude get the best of him as he tried to direct Erik the Director, who was remarkably patient.

Tyler just got lost in the crowd. Lily vamped up her performance and shy Nellie got out of her shell and excelled in the shoot.

Tyler, Michael and Charlie had to do last chance performances. Charlie did a fun rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You,” which got Ryan and Co. to overlook Charlie’s lack of professionalism that week.

Michael sang and forgot the words to “Lucky.” I thought he was a goner. Tyler sang Charlie Chaplin‘s “Smile” which he mentioned he’d never heard although it was featured in Glee‘s first season. If I were going on The Glee Project, I’d watch all the Glee episodes again since they tend to pull TGP songs from the series since those have been cleared for legal rights. I thought Tyler did a poor job and I winced at times as he was off pitch at times.

Michael and Tyler both botched their performances. Tyler’s been in the final three regularly and always reminds his judges that he’s going through a major transition vis-a-vis his gender. It’s true and sincere, but should he constantly get excused and protected? Then blowing the lyrics twice is quite a blunder. In the end the judges decided that Tyler should go. While they liked him and sympathized with his challenges, as Zach told Charlie, “This is a job.”  Tough as it was to do, the judges sent Tyler home.

I think that was the right decision, hard as it may have been. I doubt Tyler could deal — all at once — with the physical, emotional and professional challenges he signed himself up for.