Monday, March 19, 2012
The Final Curtain
Although Charlie Chaplin is most famous for his great work in silent cinema, he also managed to make many talking pictures before finally being forced out of not only America but movie making altogether. Limelight exists as both a tragic and yet lovely commentary on his entire career, which is remarkable considering that by 1952 he had been making movies for over 30 years. Many artists share the sentiment that they are "Sad Clowns," people making others laugh while dying and crying on the inside, and Chaplin was no different. His once great clown, languishing away from booze and witnessed the times pass him bye, is oddly revived by a fragile beauty who for reasons unknown is suicidal.
Their slowly blossoming friendship forms the movie's delicate center, with Chaplin once again mixing drama and comedy together quite well, something he did throughout his entire career. People forget that his most famous films, such as The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times, all had a good amount of drama in them, despite largely being comedies of one sort or another. Too many people forget that comedy is rather difficult, which is why Chaplin's old clown's inability to make his more modern audience laugh at his old jokes illustrates the reason for his decline. Still the ballet dancer that Chaplin liberated from despair and thoughts of killing herself gives Charplin's clown a new leash on life, only to watch as he rejects her mercy at first.
Interestingly enough this film is as much about the end of Chaplin's long career as it is also about his entire time in the film business. Using the sad old clown who champions a younger starlet and enables her to become someone is a plot device that is now ancient, but at the time was rather fresh and new. The scenes with Chaplin and Buster Keaton are even more particularly noticeable in a considerable light due to both stars having been once far more famous, and how it was even more so Chaplin's bleak commentary on both of them having seen far better days. Especially with Chaplin choosing at one point in the film to actively go back to his old ways, unable to fully deal with a world that no longer recognizes the genius of his comedy or cares about his own thoughts on the human condition.
Without revealing anything, the final act is both funny and rather touching. Chaplin managed to make several other movies after this one, yet it was Limelight that best offered the final word on his illustrious career in the movies. How Chaplin's career ended was quite depressing and also a warning to anyone who dare challenges America's particularly strong brand of conformity to both politics and also fear of the other. Yet the film's message of perseverance and striving to overcome great odds is a rather strong brand of positivity that most people can easily get behind. 95