Chaplin (1992)

  • Reading the cast list for this movie makes me almost giddy – Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks, Diane Lane as Paulette Goddard, Dan Aykroyd as Mack Sennett? I am so excited to see what these parts look like!
  • Two important disclaimers, though:

1. I really don’t like Charlie Chaplin films. Not short ones, not feature-length ones – none of them. There are good scenes that are worth watching in THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) and THE GOLD RUSH (1925), and as a whole, I like MODERN TIMES (1936) the best of them all – but really, generally speaking, I simply do not like Charlie Chaplin.

2. I don’t anticipate liking this movie all that much, because I’ve read Roger Ebert’s review of it, and he did not enjoy it (and his reasons for that seem extremely sound & justified). One thing he was impressed by was Robert Downey Jr.’s performance – which I’ve always heard great things about, from many different sources – and that is why I’ve ultimately decided to have a go at this movie. I’m hoping RDJ is so impressive in this role that he annoys me – because that’ll be proof that he really did nail his embodiment of good ole Trampy. (Weird hope, I know – but that’s the reality of the situation.)

[End of pre-movie disclaimers.]

  • Charlie Chaplin had only been dead 15 years when they made this. Weird, right?!
  • Already I can see the problems with the film “filling in the blanks” of Chaplin’s autobiography as it does, which was one of Ebert’s primary complaints. Chaplin’s autobiography was apparently one of those, shall we say, very well-crafted versions of one’s life – meaning that there are plenty of subjects deliberately trimmed down and/or completely avoided. The film is aware of this, and tries to counter these informational gaps by having an ongoing narrative interview with Chaplin about said gaps, while simultaneously & speculatively filling them in with the footage they’ve created to ‘expand’ Chaplin’s story. To Ebert (and to me) this decision is a highly questionable one. Hmph. Moving on, though.
  • Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie’s real life daughter) is excellent as Hannah Chaplin (Charlie’s mother). It helps that she really looks like her dad. Wow.
  • I like the way they chose to intersperse the black & white with the color footage. That’s a nice touch. As are the goofy-as-shit screen transitions (which are so annoying, yet so thematically fitting for a Chaplin film).
  • David Duchovny! Marisa Tomei (as Mabel Normand)! All the stars!
  • Oooooh. RDJ just nails the hell out of the Tramp walk the first time he does it. Like…dang, y’all. It was almost too perfect for me to handle.
  • (By the way, I like how the interviewer (played by Anthony Hopkins, of all people) calls bullshit on the Chaplin version of the ‘Creating the Tramp’ tale.)
  • Goddamn, RDJ is good at Little Tramping. Holy. Shit. My mind is breaking.
  • We just met Edna Purviance (played by Penelope Ann Miller). I had forgotten that A WOMAN OF PARIS (1923) was Chaplin’s! (It starred Purviance & Adolphe Menjou, & I recall liking it. I now also recall that the fact that Chaplin didn’t act in it – just wrote & directed it – is largely responsible for this fact.)
  • Baha! DF! DF is sword-fighting! (Or rather, Kevin Kline as DF is sword-fighting.) Gloriously introduced!
  • NO!!! Not the bread roll feet! That wasn’t Chaplin’s! It was Keaton & Arbuckle’s! Goddamn it. Excuse me while I avert my eyes for the duration of this “origin” scene.
  • All of the J. Edgar Hoover scenes are really fucking goofy and I do not buy their authenticity.
  • I don’t love Diane Lane as Paulette Goddard. I want to – but I don’t.
  • Weird decision to have Moira Kelly be both Hetty Kelly (Chaplin’s earliest love interest) and Oona O’Neill. It feels very gimmicky & I’m not a fan of it at all.
  • Good call on the ending, though (the Little Tramp clip montage at the 1972 Oscars). That was pretty great.
  • Also really liked the post-film, pre-credit inclusion of information about all of the main “characters” in real life, and where they ended up.
  • So…in conclusion: I would probably never watch the full film again – but doing it this once was totally worth it just for the RDJ-as-the-Little-Tramp scenes. Those scenes were (are?) magical.

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