On stage for the first time at five years old standing in for his mother when she was ill. From this experience, he discovered not just the way to earn a lifelong living, but the way to fame.
He was 20 years old when he created the “Little Tramp”, who first appeared in a short film in 1914, wearing his bowler hat, baggy trousers and tight coat with shoes three sizes too big and a cane.
The last time he worse these clothes was in 1936, for “Modern Times”, a film that maintains the vitality of its ideas and the magic of its gestures in this era of sound and special effects.
It has been 80 years since New York witnessed the great premiere of the film.
Yet those were times of crisis, a bitter chapter after the Great Depression and the film was met with criticism.
The film was not well regarded by the rich and although it did well at the American box office, it was better received in Europe.
He was a different tramp: poor and working. Although he changed his cane and hat and dressed himself in overalls, he continued to defend love and happiness with the same passion. Crazy but always friendly, he was like a modern Quijote who faced machines which devour almost ending up ground down by its gears.
For the first time in the history of his filmography, in “Modern times” Chaplin gave the Tramp a voice and sang after two decades of remaining silent.
True to his desire of expressing himself in a way that all could understand, he broke language barriers by abandoning song lyrics in favour of his own made-up musical gibberish, an exquisite linguistic nonsense.
Chaplin intended to include dialogues and some of the files with voice tests still exist: yet in the end, he remained unconvinced by the results and changed his mind.
When sound appeared as a novelty in the seventh art, he continued to favour intelligent gestures and mime. Even so, he did not eradicate voices and equipped machines to pick up speech and instructed workers.
Some believe that “Modern times” is a critique of the then emerging industrial society and the ‘American way of life’. Others see it as an optimistic piece in the face of the difficulties of that time.
They say that at the last moment, Chaplin changed the ending. He had thought of one that was much sadder, where Gamine and the unemployed Tramp –again, in a threadbare suit with a cane and bowler hat– did not end up together.
But the goodbye to the mythical character –who made cinemagoers around the world laugh and cry for 22 years– could not disappoint. Charles Chaplin grabs the hand of Paulette Godard and with his finger points to his mouth for a single request: a smile.
As the music Smile plays, another genius sound from the British icon, the camera rests on their backs as they walk away, perhaps towards eternity.
Chaplin, who was born 128 years ago, made 80 films and composed 500 of his own melodies which served as the soundtracks for his productions.
In 1917, Chaplin created his own studio where he filmed “The Gold Rush”, “Modern Times” and “The Great Dictator”, which surprised everyone when he finally gave voices to his characters.
Of his films made between 1914 and 1966, only five were spoken. “The Great Dictator” shocked above all, for its clear criticism of the Nazi regime.
Chaplin was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948, was knighted by Order of the British Empire in 1975 and was awarded a star with his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1970, yet he never won an Oscar in the performance category.
Following accusations of sympathising with communism, Charles Chaplin was expelled from the United States in 1952 and moved to his residence in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. While there, his health worsened little by little, until he died in his sleep on Christmas day in 1977 at 88 years old. (PL)
Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Sydney Sims – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)