Saturday, June 18, 2022

Thoughts from an esteemed critic on "City Lights"

 In Film Comment, October 1972, the renowned critic Stanley Kauffmann gave his thoughts about Charlie's 1931 movie "City Lights." Here are some excerpts from that which I find interesting and thought-provoking.

Chaplin had a lot of trouble with Virginia Cherrill and tried to replace her during the lengthy shooting. This backstage story makes the results all the more astonishing. Chaplin got an extremely good performance from her. Without it, the last scene would have been impossible. When the (even more) ragged Tramp stares happily at her through the shop window, she says to her assistant, "I've made a conquest," with just the right touch of haughty pleasure, the slight air of cruelty in the formerly maimed person made whole. A moment later, when she takes his hand and recognizes him by touch, she becomes her former self, but larger. He says, "You can see now?" Her face -  on the reply, "Yes, I can see now" - is beautiful. The film has to end with a close-up of Charlie - we'd feel cheated otherwise - but, dramatically, the last scene is hers.

Chaplin did not always succeed as a director, or discoverer, of actresses. Merna Kennedy in "The Circus" is a dud, as is Marilyn Nash in "Monsieur Verdoux." But when he succeeded, as with Georgia Hale in "the Gold Rush" and Cherrill here, he transformed them into something they never touched again.

One more section of Kauffmann's article I want to include here:

Sentiment is the burden and the blessing of Chaplin's work.  The durability of the sentimental passages may be a chief secret of his survival. Of his one-time peers, only Keaton - who really is his peer - is still as affecting. ... In the beginning of "City Lights," when he discovers that the girl is blind, the film seems to stop for a moment. In the last scene, when he gazes at her so selflessly, so happily, he says more than in that whole last speech of "The Great Dictator."



Friday, February 11, 2022

A Hard Look at "The Kid"


The next film up in Film Comment, Sept-Oct 1972, is “The Kid.”

The author of the article is Gary Carey. I tried to find some information on him, but only came up with a rather long list of books he’s written, mostly about Hollywood stars and movies. I wanted to find out about him because he takes a strongly negative view of “The Kid,” one of the harshest assessments of the movie I’ve ever seen. Here are some excerpts from his contribution to the Chaplin legacy.


“Legend tells us that Chaplin first conceived the idea for “The Kid” when Jackie Coogan wink at him in a hotel lobby. Perhaps this encounter did give him the specific idea for the film, but Chaplin had for some time been considering a project to win the approbation of American motherhood. “The Kid” has occasionally been dismissed as a shameless ploy to achieve this end…The charge of sentimentality often leveled against “The Kid” could be dismissed were it not for the frame story, which drips off the screen with mawkishness”

He goes on to pretty much rip the entire film. After a description of several scenes, he lets loose with this:

“These scenes are further hampered by indifferent photography, awkward introduction of symbolic inserts, and the inadequacy of Miss Purviance. …”The Kid” also falls short of “A Woman of Paris” in story construction. (This was never Chaplin’s forte: In fact, A Woman of Paris: it arguably his best-constructed film.)”

Carey finds great fault in Chaplin’s inclusion of the “heaven” sequence. He calls the fantasy irrelevant to a plot and takes the idea too far. The article continues with some discussion of Jean Cocteau and how he used Chaplin’s heaven fantasy in one of his plays. Rather unsuccessfully.  Then he concludes with this:

“It’s hard to decide how much Chaplin consciously put into his films, and how much sprang from his unconscious - or our own. Cocteau, at least, believed Chaplin was in full control of his art.”

I’ll finish this blog with a few words which appear earlier in his article, and allows me to sign off on a more positive note, since I think “The Kid” is a gem and a promise of the Chaplin that lay ahead.

“Still, even the most antipathetic mother must have succumbed to Chaplin’s genuinely sweet relationship with Coogan - the first and best of the cherubs with dirty faces - and been touched by the pathos of the child’s and the Tramp’s temporary parting. These scenes are imbued with an honest sentiment, something of a rarity in the history of the American film”

If you know anything about the life/career/accomplishments of Gary Carey, please tell me about him. He seems to know what he’s talking about, has an impressive store of information on Hollywood, and isn’t afraid to criticize a Chaplin classic.

Monday, January 24, 2022

When Charlie Returned While Buster Was Fading

 I have this stack of magazines in the “Chaplin Section” of my office. They usually sit there, month after month, waiting to be opened, read, absorbed. The other day I was looking for an article in another magazine and came across Film Comment, Sept/Oct, 1972, with a special section on Chaplin. It contains 12 essays on Charlie and his films, by various writers and critics of that decade.

Here is the first one. Or at least some excerpts from it. The title: ”The Second Coming” by Charles Silver.

It starts off with a quote by Rollie Totheroh, Charlie’s cameraman.
“When his mother came to this country…they had her over on Ellis Island. When she went over there, they started to question her. And they said, ‘Are you the mother of Charles Chaplin? And she said, ‘I’m the mother of Jesus Christ’…she was ‘shell-shocked,” or supposed to be.”

Silver writes:
I knew Chaplin was coming back to America before there was a public announcement. As the word got out, and as I subsequently discussed the visit with my friends in the film world, I am afraid I astounded a great many people by saying, in effect, that this would be the preeminent event of our lifetime. For my adult interest and ultimately my career in films had begun with the 1964 Chaplin retrospective at the Plaza Theater in New York. Never before or since have I been so shaken by an artist and his art, and it is unlikely that I will ever quite recover my bearings.

Silver goes on for awhile about looking for Charlie at The Plaza Hotel in New York, mentioning that Chaplin had stayed there in 1916 while waiting to sign his contract with Mutual. Now, after 56 years, he had come back. After another page and a half, he quotes Andrew Sarris. “The difference between Keaton and Chaplin is the difference between man as machine and man as angel.” Then Silver continues, writing about these two great comics. Sarris prefers Keaton over Chaplin. 

Silver disagrees.

As a body, Keaton’s films lend themselves far more easily to critical analysis than Chaplin’s. Everything is visible on the surface and simple to describe. There is a vigor and glory in Keaton’s films, but they lack the profundity, development and wholeness of great art. More often than not, they reflect the fact that Buster was still a young, unsure artist experimenting, learning - not yet mature. Films like BATTLING BUTLER, SEVEN CHANCES, THE THREE AGES, and GO WEST are only sporadically inspired, having a good sequence here, a dull one there. The other works, especially THE GENERAL are better; they are as good as anything Chaplin did before THE GOLD RUSH.

And finally, and I find this quite touching…

The tragedy, the terrible pity of Keaton’s career can be seen in the collapse evident between the excellent THE CAMERAMAN and the quite bad SPITE MARRIAGE. Keaton was destroyed at thirty three, the age at which Chaplin had made nothing more formidable than THE KID. What Keaton might have accomplished had he been permitted to make his own films as a mature artist we will never know, and I mourn for those lost films as much as anyone. To consider him Chaplin’s equal on the basis of what actually exists, however, is wistful nonsense.

Other essays in the magazine cover THE CHAPLIN REVUE, THE KID, THE GOLD RUSH, among others. I’ll keep those in mind for future blogs on MY TIME WITH CHARLIE CHAPLIN.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Charlie, H.G. Wells, and the Russian Situation


Looking through some old books in my Chaplin collection, I came across "Six Men" by Alistair Cooke. In it, he profiles H. L. Mencken, Humphrey Bogart, Adlai Stevenson, Bertrand Russell, Edward VIII, and Charles Chaplin. So of course I had to re-read the Chaplin profile.
Russell mentions Charlie's conversations with H.G. Wells on the subject of Russia, and references Chaplin's autobiography. In Russell's words, "In his autobiography, Chaplin is frank enough to leave in the recollection of a conversation with H.G. Wells, whose fears of dictatorship and the suppression of civil liberties in Russia are dismissed by Chaplin as growing pains or tactical 'mistakes' not to be compared in grossness with the repudiation of foreign lands."

Given our times now, in 2022, of controversial political positions and conflicts, I thought it would be interesting to hear what Chaplin had to say about Russia in 1935, inspired by comments of Wells.
This is from Chaplin's "My Autobiography." Charlie had spent time with Wells in London in 1931, a trip for the opening of "City Lights." They maintained the friendship. This is an excerpt from Chaplin's book.
"When Wells visited visited me in 1935 in California, I took him to task about his criticism of Russia. I had read of his disparaging reports, so I wanted a firsthand account and was surprised to find him almost bitter about it.

'But is it not too early to judge?' I argued. 'They have had a difficult task, opposition and conspiracy from within and from without. Surely in time, good results should follow?'"

At that time Wells was enthusiastic about what Roosevelt had accomplished with the New Deal, and was of the opinion that a quasi-socialism in America would come out of a dying capitalism. He seemed especially critical of Stalin, whom he had interviewed, and said that under his rule Russia had become tyrannical dictatorship.
Charlie continues. "Of course Russia has made mistakes," I said, "and like other nations she will continue to do so. The biggest one, I think, was the repudiation of her foreign loans, Russian bonds, etcetera, and call them the Czar's debts after the Revolution."
Charlie has more to say, at least in his recollection of the conversation, some twenty years later. We all know that Chaplin became fascinated by world politics, especially events in Russia, which eventually caused him a great deal of trouble with Congress and the American public.
But there is one more quote I want to end this with. It's non-political, and is revealing about Chaplin. Again, from his Autobiography:
"Elsewhere I have said that sex will be mentioned but not stressed, as I can add nothing new to the subject. However, procreation is nature's principal occupation, and every man, whether he be young or old, when meeting any woman, measures the potentiality of sex between them. Thus is has always been with me.

"During work, women never interested me; it was only between pictures, when I had nothing to do, that I was vulnerable. As H.G. Wells said, 'There comes a moment in the day when you have written your pages in the morning, attended to your correspondence in the afternoon, and have nothing further to do. Then comes that hour when you are bored; that's the time for sex.'"
There you have it. A visit with Chaplin and Wells, and a wide ranging discussion on more than politics.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Charlie, Jason and Me: An Occurance of Synchronicity

      Charlie Chaplin appears at the most surprising times in the most unusual places.  No rhyme or reason, other than the unknown forces at work in our universe that occasionally reach out to tap us on the shoulder. "Hey, wake up. Take a look at this."

    Here's what I'm talking about. It begins in a Japanese restaurant on the main street of downtown Asheville, North Carolina. The main players are Jason Allin, Charlie Chaplin, and me. 

 Jason is The Chaplin Guy, totally immersed in the performance and personality of The Little Tramp. You see him in Jason's movies, videos, personal appearances and special events around the world. Jason is currently in the process of transforming my novel about Charlie into an audiobook. It requires a level of acting I had not imagined when I wrote it. So far, I've been blown away by what Jason has done.


        FYI: Title of the novel is "Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin." If             you would like to buy a copy, email me at The cost is             $20, plus $4 shipping.(End of commercial)

On this particular day, Jason sends me a link to a recent conversation he and I had about the audiobook, the process, and Charlie...and the many voices required. I have not yet opened the link when I sit down for lunch at a Japanese restaurant, Wasabi. My girl friend - code named Zelda - and I sit at an outside table on this busy street. I order a tempura appetizer and udon noodle soup with chicken, in case you're wondering.

    Charlie is a participant in this from a distance. Or so I think. The book is about him, the audiobook will bring him to life in words and sound, and Charlie Chaplin Days is taking place the following day by the Niles Silent Film Museum, in Niles, California. That's where Charlie had a studio, in his early days. And that's where he filmed "The Tramp." Bronco Billy also filmed many of his westerns here. My conversation with Jason is introduced in Niles as an on-line virtual event.    

        FYI: Here is a link to that incredibly enlightening conversation between Jason and me:      Scroll down to the "Shadow             and      Substance" book cover, and click on Play Video. It's easy. 


 While we are waiting for our lunch, during a break in our conversation, I glance across the street. No reason. Just "looking." On a brick wall I see - or think I see - a familiar face. "Over there," I say to Zelda. "Look at that drawing over there." She turns and looks. "It looks like Charlie," she says. We're both on a first-name basis with him. I just stare and wonder. Is it really a drawing of Chaplin?




I excuse myself from the table. "I've got to take a closer look." I walk across the street. The wall is scarred and in disrepair, exposed brick and broken plaster. Still...

Other drawings are on the wall, but the one that stares at me is Charlie. On a busy street in downtown Asheville. Bold, simple, an iconic presence. I wonder, "Who. And why?" The building is closed. A poster in the window advertises an event for a comedy club.  


There I stand, on a busy street in Asheville, North Carolina, connected in some magical way to Charlie and Jason.

That night I dream Charlie visits me. He sits on a chair in the corner and says to me, in a soft, reassuring voice, "I liked your book. I like what Jason is doing with it." He stands up, prepares to leave, then turns and says, "Thank you."

No, I'm kidding. That dream never happened. But it sure makes for a nice ending. 


Thursday, April 15, 2021

"A Hero's Lesson" - An Original Poem for Charlie Chaplin

On April 16, 2013, a group of us gathered to celebrate Chaplin's birthday..

Pam Beahan wrote the following poem for the occasion.  

                    A Hero's Lesson

One of the many reasons that Charlie Chaplin is my hero

is because, by his example,

He taught us to insist on ourselves... matter the resistance.

We must use our passions

to persevere toward the perfection of

the essence of who we are.

Like Charlie, we must never quit -

no matter the obstacles -

until we achieve our goals.

Without Charlie, we might never have learned

that City Lights could mean

an inner vision,

a bright, emotional path

out of life's many darknesses,

And that we all can be

ever rich in spirit and attitude

if only we will insist on ourselves.

         # # # #

Monday, April 12, 2021

An Amazing Meeting of Talented Artists

 Granville Redmond, actor, painter, who worked with Charlie.

This article appeared in the New York Times, April 12, 2021.

This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

In the opening scene of the classic silent film “City Lights” (1931), Charlie Chaplin’s character, the Little Tramp, dangles comically from a statue while its sculptor watches in horror, raising his hand to his mouth in surprise and wiping his brow in distress.
The actor portraying the sculptor, Granville Redmond, appeared in seven Chaplin films, recognizable by his wild mane of hair. Redmond was deaf, and his performances were early examples of deaf representation in Hollywood. Some believe Redmond even taught Chaplin, famous as a pantomime, how to use sign language.
But Redmond was first and foremost a artist, one who inspired Chaplin with paintings of California’s natural beauty: quiet, brown tonal scenes; lonely rock monuments jutting off an island peninsula; tree-dotted meadows lit by a warm sun; blue nocturnal marshes under the dramatic glow of the moon. His paintings are considered today among the best examples of California Impressionism.

“California Poppy Field” — Redmond  was admired for his landscapes depicting golden poppies, the state’s official flower.
California School for the Deaf, Fremont, Gift of Edith Redmond

The Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier wrote in 1931 that Redmond was “unrivaled in the realistic depiction of California’s landscape.” Yet his style was never uniform: Some paintings left sections of the canvas exposed and chunky deposits of pigment, while others took on a smoother look.
Above all he was known for his paintings of golden poppies, the state’s official flower. His poppies accented his renditions of the rolling meadows of the San Gabriel Valley, often accompanied by purple lupines. Sometimes they complemented a coastal scene with bursts of yellow highlights.
“He painted them better than anyone else; I don’t think that can be argued,” said Scott A. Shields, who curated a show of Redmond’s work last year at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. “You can feel the seasons. You can feel when it’s spring, you can feel when it’s winter, and you can feel when it starts to become summer.”

His paintings of poppies became a popular keepsake for tourists, to Redmond’s chagrin; he preferred painting scenes of solitude.
“Alas, people will not buy them,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “They all seem to want poppies.”
Chaplin supported Redmond’s painting career, offering him a room to paint in the loft of an unused building on his studio lot. On breaks, Chaplin would visit Redmond there and quietly watch him work.
“Redmond paints solitude, and yet by some strange paradox the solitude is never loneliness,” Chaplin told Alice T. Terry in a 1920 article for The Jewish Deaf, a magazine.

He had such an appreciation for Redmond’s paintings that he took down the photographs of film celebrities from his walls so as not to detract from the Redmond work that he placed over his mantel.
“You know, something puzzles me about Redmond’s pictures,” Chaplin was quoted as saying in 1925 in The Silent Worker, a newspaper for the deaf community. “There’s a wonderful joyousness about them all.”
“Look at the gladness in that sky, the riot of color in those flowers,” he continued. “Sometimes I think that the silence in which he lives has developed in him some sense, some great capacity for happiness in which we others are lacking.”
Grenville Richard Seymour Redmond was born in Philadelphia, Pa., on March 9, 1871, the oldest of five children of Charles and Elizabeth (Buck) Redmond. (He changed the spelling of his name to Granville in 1898 to differentiate himself from an uncle.) His father was a Civil War veteran in the Union Army and a laborer who worked across several trades.
Redmond lost his ability to hear when he was 2, after coming down with scarlet fever. The next year his family moved to San Jose, Calif., to live near a family member who owned a ranch.

In 1879, he enrolled in the California Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, and the Blind (now the California School for the Deaf) in Berkeley. It was there Redmond found an affinity for drawing under the instruction of another deaf artist, Theophilus Hope d’Estrella, who introduced him to a Saturday art class at the California School of Design. He went on to enroll in the school. In 1893, he was selected by the faculty to create a drawing for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Redmond communicated through sign language and writing, but because of his focus on art he never mastered written English, a gap in his education that he came to regret. “In my early days in school I was always drawing, drawing,” he wrote.
After graduation, he studied in Paris at the Académie Julian. In 1895, his painting “Matin d’Hiver” (“Winter Morning”), depicting a barge on a bank of the Seine, was admitted to the Paris Salon, a high honor for an artist at the time. He painted in France for a few more years, hoping to enter another painting at the Salon and win a medal, but he struggled financially and returned to California, depressed, in 1898.
He married Carrie Ann Jean, who was from Indiana and also deaf, in 1899, and they had three children.

Redmond’s paintings of poppies became popular among tourists — much to his chagrin. He preferred painting scenes of solitude. “Alas, people will not buy them,” he said. “They all seem to want poppies.”
Collection of Thomas Gianetto
Redmond’s early works were Tonalist in nature, a nod to his training in San Francisco as well as to the artists of the 19th-century Barbizon school, whose landscape paintings he had come to know in France. Many of his paintings are scenes from Terminal Island, Catalina Island and Laguna Beach in Southern California. He returned to Northern California in 1908, living and painting in Monterey, San Mateo and Marin Counties.
“A lot of newspapers would write that he could see more than the average person because his sense of vision was heightened,” Shields, the Crocker museum curator, said in a phone interview. “Redmond kind of believed that himself.”
Redmond’s work was well received, but a lack of funds — partly because of an economic downturn at the beginning of World War I — led him to move back to Los Angeles and try his hand at acting.
In the silent-movie era Redmond’s disability, coupled with his artistic inclination, worked to his advantage. Chaplin saw him as a natural for small parts in his films because Redmond expressed himself through gestures, Shields said. The two men communicated on the set by signing to each other.

Sometimes Redmond’s deafness worked its way into plotlines. In Arthur Rosson’s “You’d Be Surprised” (1926), Redmond played a coroner pretending to be a deaf valet. Only viewers who knew sign language could follow the conversation.
The movies also provided him with a new market for his art; buyers included the Hollywood elite, like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
Redmond died of complications of a heart condition on May 24, 1935. He was 64. (Chaplin died at 88 in 1977.)
Alice Terry, the writer for The Jewish Deaf magazine, saw artistic commonalities in the two friends.
“For more than two years now, these two have worked side by side,” she wrote in 1920, “Chaplin, silently and dramatically, by his ingenious trivialities, creating mirth and sunshine for millions of tired people; and Redmond, silently and none the less effectively, brightening the lives of all, by his radiant, appealing pictures on canvas.”