Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Day 27 - The Tramp Champ

Strangely, last night was all about getting drunk. Despite the fact I didn't have a drop.

It was because we watched Charlie Chaplin in "City Lights." I've never been a huge fan of Chaplin's until now. I thought his comedy was too broad and banal for my sophisticated 21st century sensibilities. Of course, I don't think I ever watched one of his movies in its entirely until last night so I'll just have to plead (enormous!) ignorance.

Chaplin was born in London on April 16, 1889. I find this entirely bizarre because yesterday - the first day I watched one of his movies from beginning to end - was his birthday (he would've been 123!). Both his parents were in show business and he started tap dancing and acting professionally as a young boy. By 1910, he was a vaudeville comedian and had moved to the U.S. where his genius ensconced him in the very upper echelons of Hollywood royalty. In 1999, 22 years after his death, the U.S. Film Institute ranked him the 10th greatest male screen legend of all time.

The high points I knew. But the intricacies of his talent were lost on me until yesterday. Because both my hubby and I are suffering from colds, we made it a day of couch-surfing, including taping whatever random old movies were on obscure channels we never watch. The hubs had recorded "City Lights," the 1931 film written, directed and starring Charlie Chaplin. It was a silent movie and my hopes weren't high when it began. But within a couple of minutes ... I was laughing. I mean, laughing-out-loud-laughing. Not just sort of "look at the funny old black-and-white people, honey, how quaint" laughing.

Chaplin was playing a down-on-his-luck hobo during the Depression who falls for a blind girl (who he helps gain her sight of course). During his misadventures, he meets (several times) a wealthy older man who seems to have a penchant for booze and wild parties (i.e. there were plenty flapper dresses flying, put it that way.)

Chaplin was hilarious, drinking and making merry with the old millionaire (who promptly forgot his new friend every time he sobered up). But what really got me was the universality of the drunk acting, especially Chaplin's. I couldn't believe that - almost a hundred years ago - Charlie Chaplin was pulling off a drunkard so well. The hiccups, the unsteadiness, the loss of focus, the volatility. One minute he'd be pulling off his jacket waiting to defend someone's honor and the next he'd be smiling and patting them on the back. I thought ... have drunk humans really looked the same ... always? There's no trendiness to being drunk? No fashion or "type" of drunkeness? It's all just ... zigging and zagging and stumbling and giggling? Cool. I guess it's why we human like it so much. :)

At any rate, I'm so delighted that Chaplin's oeuvre is now open to me. The subtleties of his expressions. The depth of humanity in his eyes. The tenderness in his smile. As I just learned, his father died at the age of 37, of alcoholism. Though the two of them had never been close, according to Charlie on the times they were together, he watched his father (as all young boys tend to watch their dads) "like a hawk." Maybe that's why Charles Jr. could play a drunk so well ... A cute drunk, sure, but a drunk just the same.

I'm definitely going to toast his career, his charisma and his comic brilliance when I can drink again ... which, thanks to cleansing, I'll be able to do in two short days. :)



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