Am I the only one who is ambivalent about Charlie Chaplin?


Am I the only one who is ambivalent about Charlie Chaplin?

It is easy to be a fan of his wonderful early films, even easier to sympathize with his Dickensian childhood. Between 1914 and 1917, Chaplin was a phenom, a storm of genius. Let’s not forget that he also made $670,000 a year. He married 17-year-old Mildred Harris, then promptly claimed that marriage stunted his creativity.

I can believe in Chaplin through the classics of the 1920s (and I even like those of the 1930s). I can disregard the many marriages and philandering. But the advent of sound film in 1927 disoriented him, totally. He reminds me of the old codgers who refused to learn to use computers.

What we witness thereafter is the furious one-dimensionality of his art, an anger born from that impoverished childhood but transformed into paranoia, a freight train of bad personal decisions, and his credulous Stalinism.

In the 1950s and 60s, living at his chateau Manoir de Ban in Vevay, Switzerland, Chaplin issued ignorant opinions on world politics and lunched with Nikita Khrushchev. Seven million Ukrainian peasants had starved? He did not believe it. Of the United States he said “Whether I re-entered that unhappy country or not was of little consequence to me. I would like to have told them that the sooner I was rid of that hate-beleaguered atmosphere the better, that I was fed up of America’s insults and moral pomposity.”

He lived until 1977 and is buried in Vevay.

Some people like The Great Dictator (1940). For me, I’ll take The Gold Rush (1925) any day.

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