Monday, February 27, 2006

The Great "Tick"tator-- Chaplin

Of the movies that I watched lately, "The Great dictator" left an indelible mark on my memory. Featuring the incomparable Charlie Chaplin, playing a double role, the movie is one of the fewest of Chaplin's which is not "silent".

The Great Dictator is "tightly" based on who else, but Adolf Hitler. Chaplin plays Hitler with a lot of verve, trying to get into the dictator's shoes and trying to own his misgivings, his fears, his megalomania and of course, the result is that, Chaplin succeeds! I wouldn't want to go on a review of this movie, you can find ample info from imdb.com. My endeavor would be to try to link up Chaplin's efforts in this movie with his political views.

I always thought that Joseph McCarthy was a loony who saw red everywhere, where he saw his hate. And thats why when I first read about Chaplin's boycott in the US, I thought he merely was one more of McCarthy's "red herrings" set for a "red" judicial hearing. But when I see Chaplin's movies, be it, "The Modern Times" or "The Great Dictator", I sense the reason why McCarthy saw red in Chaplin's motives.

Chaplin was after all making a statement. A statement against the Fordist mode of production in Capitalism in "The Modern Times". He makes a burlesque of fascism in the Great Dictator, and I am told (I am yet to see the movie), he waxes philosophic in "Monsieur Verdaux" too. Of course, how?

In most of the movies, Chaplin plays the Tramp, a happy go lucky bum who endears all with his antics, and who appears nameless throughout, even silent, full of gaucherie and clumsiness. He is after all, in my opinion, representing the proletariat, the working class of yesteryear, earning bread by the day and living the life of a unnamed, unpropertied individual.

Chaplin in "The Great Dictator" plays the same role as the Jewish Barber. He seems silly, yet he has a heart, he has no desires, except to enjoy the fruits of his work and the work of his dint, he in essence represents the common European man. Chaplin as Hynckel (Hitler) is the denouement of the vagaries of the capitalist establishment. His megalomania is fuelled by his un-stirred belief of his racial superiority. He is supported by the capitalists of his time, who see great scope for expanding profits through disciplined industry, expanded work force and zero liberties. Notice how Chaplin tries to transgress his racism by trying to get funds from a Jewish capitalist in this movie.

In Modern Times, Chaplin attacks the system of the Fordist Assembly Line mode of production and the alienation it begets onto the ordinary worker. He combines pathos and comedy in a nuantic mixture, which tastes comical but when chewed on longer, attracts the grey cell to think about the system.

In essence, Chaplin was not merely among the greatest movie stalwarts ever, but also one of the leading intellectuals of the movie world. In his movies, lay a criticism of capitalism, of course, deep within peals of laughter and mirth, but a steady critique indeed.

Hats off to the Tramp!

7 comments:

arvindh said...

I agree with you. There is a lot to think about when you watch his movies. Have you watched "Chaplin" by Richard Attenborough? You will find it very interesting.

Srini said...

Thanks for the reference, Arvindh. No I haven't watched it yet, but I shall do it whenever I get the chance.

Btw.. Your sketches are super-splendid. I see a R.K.Laxman in you. Your sketches remind me uncannily of Laxman's Malgudi Days sketches. Wishing you the best of the future.

arvindh said...

Thank you very much! I actually came to know about you blog through your old friends from your engineering college days. I respect you for your switch to political science. You have very thoughtful interesting posts in your blog. Keep it up!

Dust-Biter said...

That was almost a review, a good one..."The Kid" is great movie too, from Chaplin...

to me, Chaplin still remains one of the greatest film-makers...I read a biography of Chaplin in college-days and I think the poverty and hardships in his childhood always made him focus on films that centered around suffering men...

As an aside, one should not try looking for shades of communism or capitalism in such great works...I think Chaplin would have been more of a humanist rather than a straight-jacketed capitalist or communist...

Cheers
Varahasimhan.

Srini said...

I accept your assessment of Chaplin as being a "humanist". Yes, indeed. At the same time, I feel that hidden in his movies is a critique of Capitalism that's not merely poignant or satirical but political too. That again, doesn't make him a communist, of course. But it was probably enough "evidence" for loonies such as McCarthy to dub Chaplin so.

indiacorporatewatch said...

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Anonymous Economist said...

The scene that I really love in the "Great Dictator" is where the barber and his woman friend fight the Nazi thugs together. It is wonderful how Chaplin does not give any leeway to machismo even while mobilizing for the fight against fascism.

However, the final speech was too sentimental for my taste.