2/4/09 - charlie chaplin

In today's excerpt - Charlie Chaplin, who started in film with Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios and went on to make movies such as The Little Tramp and Modern Times was by 1917 being paid $820,000 per year—$13 million in today's dollars—and had become the world's most popular entertainer. He had a very precise point of view on his craft and was the first director to make extensive use of multiple takes to assure himself of the best possible outcome. Here he describes his methods:

"Comedy [movies] were an instant success because most of them showed policemen falling down coal holes, slipping into buckets of whitewash, falling off patrol wagons, and getting into all sorts of trouble. Here were men representing the dignity of the law, often very pompous themselves being made ridiculous and undignified. The sight of their misfortunes at once struck the public funny bone twice as hard as if private citizens were going through like experience.

"Even funnier than the man who has been made ridiculous, however, is the man who, having had something funny happens to him, refuses to admit that anything out of the way has happened, and attempts to maintain his dignity. Perhaps the best example is the intoxicated man who, though his tongue and walk give him away, attempts in a dignified manner to convince you that he is quite sober.

"He is much funnier than the man who, wildly hilarious, is frankly drunk and doesn't care a whoop, who knows it. Intoxicated characters on the stage are almost always 'slightly tipsy' with an attempt at dignity, because theatrical managers have learned that this attempt at dignity is funny.

"For that reason, all my pictures are built around the idea of getting me into trouble and so giving me the chance to be desperately serious in my attempt to appear as a normal little gentleman. That is why, no matter how desperate the predicament is, I am always very much in earnest about clutching my cane, straightening my derby hat, and fixing my tie, even though I have just landed on my head. ...

"I not only plan for surprise in the general incidents of a picture, but I also try to vary my individual actions so that they, too, will come as a surprise. I always try to do the unexpected in a novel way. If I think an audience expects me to walk along the street while in a picture, I will suddenly jump on a car. If I want to attract a man's attention, instead of tapping him on the shoulder with my hand or calling to him, I hook my cane around his arm and gently pull him to me. ...

"I am often appalled at the amount of film I have to make in getting a single picture. I have taken as much as 60,000 feet in order to get the 2000 feet seen by the public. ... It would take about twenty hours to run off 60,000 feet on the screen! Yet that amount must be taken to present forty minutes of picture."


Charlie Chaplin


What People Laugh At


American Magazine


November 1918


34, 134-137
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