A Salute to the Little Tramp – Charlie Chaplin Tribute by Conor Holt

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A Tribute to Charlie Chaplin
By Conor Holt

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April 16th marked the 125th birthday of Charlie Chaplin, and this year is the 100th anniversary of the 1st appearance of Chaplin’s Little Tramp character (in Mable’s Strange Predicament or Kid Auto Races at Venice, depending on who you ask). Chaplin was one of the first true superstars of cinema. During the peak of the silent film era in the 1920s, the Little Tramp was one of the most widely recognized images in the world, with Chaplin’s films playing to a global audience, before sound created international barriers we still haven’t broken.

Chaplin was the first director I was actively aware of. As children, we don’t think of films being created, or think about who created them. Outside of the Disney Animated films, each film I saw was individual, independent, created out of thin air. In my early teenageChaplinMutualComedies years, I saw the wonderful City Lights, and I was struck by how funny and touching it was – 70 years or so had not dated Chaplin’s perfectly choreographed slapstick (that boxing match is pure genius) or his sweet, romantic story. I wanted to see more of the Little Tramp.

That’s when I came across a box set of Chaplin’s Mutual Comedies at the library. Before Chaplin started making feature films, he made an incredible number of short films, first as an actor, and then as a writer/director/producer/composer AND actor. The Mutual Film Corporation hired Chaplin in 1916 – when he was only 26 years old – to direct two-reel short films, and paid him $670,00 a year. He was now one of the highest paid people in the world, with his own studio to film in – Chaplin had the chance to make exactly the films he wanted.

What the Mutual comedies represent is the evolution and development of both the character of the Little Tramp and the artistry of Chaplin. With each film, the storytelling becomes more refined, the jokes land harder, and Chaplin also first catches the whimsical, romantic heart that would bring depth to his later masterpieces.  Over the course of 18 months (before leaving for an even better filmmaking contract), Chaplin achieved the slapstick perfection of One AM and the rich, character driven humanism of The Immigrant. Later in live, Chaplin said, “Fulfilling my contract with Mutual was, I suppose, the happiest period of my life.”

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Chaplin in The Immigrant

And in the behind-the-scenes features of the box set, I learned about how Chaplin would experiment during filming, changing jokes if they weren’t working, switching out actors to get the right impact. The films were largely created on set, with no script, just Chaplin and his actors working out the story and the comedy until it worked. Not only was Chaplin evolving with each film, he was evolving within each film as well.

Chaplin carried this style into his feature films as well. Sometimes they would go over budget and over schedule, but knew he had to play with it until it was perfect. Chaplin famously struggled for months to figure out a way to make the blind flower girl think the Tramp is rich in City Lights. Finally it came to him: the blind girl hears a car door slam, and mistakenly thinks the Tramp got in a taxi. He sees this, and endeavors to maintain the illusion, helping her in any way he can, despite being even poorer than she is.

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Chaplin with Virginia Cherrill in City Lights

I think Chaplin’s style holds a lesson for all filmmakers, both young first-timers and experienced directors who still seek to grow. When facing a creative problem, Chaplin didn’t always find a solution right away, but he kept working at it until it was fixed. Chaplin didn’t burst onto the screen in a perfect first effort – he built his craft and talent over several years, improving with each effort. We may never make something as timeless as City Lights again, but at the very least we should strive towards doing our best work possible, no matter how long or how many retakes it requires.

Happy Birthday, Charlie – your legacy hasn’t aged a day.


Conor Holt is the writer, director, and producer of multiple short films. His most recent film, A Better Life, a science-fiction drama about marriage & control, which he directed & co-wrote, played at the 2013 Fargo Film Festival and the Twin Cities Film Fest, and recently won Best Editing & Visual Effects at the St. Cloud Film Festival. He is a graduate of the Minnesota State University Moorhead Film Studies program, and currently lives in Los Angeles, working odd jobs in the film industry and volunteering at film festivals.

For more information on A Better Life, check out the Facebook page at facebook.com/ABetterLifeShortFilm. Follow Conor on Twitter.


As a tribute to Mr. Chaplin, what is YOUR favorite film from the legendary actor?

Blogathon Relay: 10 Most Iconic Movie Characters

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Woo hoo! Nostra from My Film Views is at it again. I crowned him King of Blog Series a couple of years ago and clearly he deserves that title 😉 Here’s the gist of the Blogathon Relay:

A list of 10 iconic movie characters has been made. That list will be assigned to another blogger who can then change it by removing one character (describing why they think it should not be on the list) and replace it with another one (also with motivation) and hand over the baton to another blogger. Once assigned that blogger will have to put his/her post up within a week. If this is not the case the blogger who assigned it has to reassign it to another blogger. After you have posted your update leave the link in the comments here and I will make sure it gets added to the overview post.

Now, the first baton went to my friend Keith, one of my favorite bloggers whom I admire and respect. If you haven’t visited his awesome blog before, well you’re missing out big time! He had the arduous task of being the first to remove and replace one iconic movie character from the original 10, and I think he made a great choice! Check out the reasoning behind his decision in this post. I love this brilliant blogathon idea, but like Keith said, it’s a REALLY tough one! I’m up for the challenge though, so let’s take a look at the current Top Ten as it stands now, with Keith’s pick at the very end, followed by MY subtraction and addition:

Indiana Jones

Ellen Ripley

Terminator

Darth Vader

James Bond

The Tramp

Tony Montana

E.T.

Rocky Balboa

“Dirty” Harry Callahan

DIRTY HARRY


Who I’m removing: TONY MONTANA

RemovingTonyMontanaSorry Scarface fans, please don’t shoot me! Yes I know he’s got the highly-quotable ‘say hello to my little friend’ quip. At this point though, we’re arguing not whether he’s an iconic movie character, obviously he is but just how iconic is he compared to the other nine on this list.

When I think of ICONIC, I think of a character that needs no explanation, not only in the US but internationally. It’s the kind of character anyone from any continent in this world would instantly recognize, or at least which movie they’re from even if they don’t know that character’s name. I’m not sure that Al Pacino’s most famous role fits that category. Great and memorable yes, but I don’t know if he deserves to be in the Top 10 MOST iconic list. He might make my Top 20 though, but that’s not the assignment of this blogathon, folks. So after much deliberation, he’s the one I have to say goodbye to.

My addition: Princess Leia 

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Now, I know there’s already a character from Star Wars but there’s no rule we can’t add more than one character from a given film or franchise. Given that Star Wars is THE biggest and most enduring franchise in Hollywood history, we could probably make up half of this list just from that franchise alone!

Princess Leia is not just one of the coolest female movie characters but she’s a film AND pop culture icon. I mean, if you just draw a silhouette with her hair buns on each side of her head, I think people young and old would instantly know who that is. From the baby boomers all the way to Millennials, it’s interesting to see fans still dressing up as Princess Leia at Comic-con and various other conventions. I remember at SDCC 2012 my hubby taking pictures with a bunch of girls in Leia’s equally iconic teeny bikini, with little regard whether they look like Carrie Fisher circa 1977 or more like she is now in her mid 50s. I’m actually not a huge Star Wars fan, but I do get the appeal and why it remains so popular to this day. I’m glad George Lucas wrote such a strong female character who’s beautiful, witty and spunky. She’s a fiery rebel who’s able to hold her own amongst the rest of the mostly-male cast. We need more strong female icons like her in Hollywood!


Passing the baton to:

AFistfulOfFilmsBlog

I’ve been following Andrew‘s blog for some time now and I love his reviews and personal & passionate style in blogging. Do yourself a favor and check out A Fistful of Films Blog!


Well, what do you think of my decision? Agree/disagree, let’s hear it!

Musings on actors-turned-directors… who are your favorites?

Seems like every other week there’s news that another actor is trying their hand at directing. Just this past month alone, I read that James Franco is supposedly directing a Lindsay Lohan biopic (??) and Philip Seymour Hoffman seems ready to be back in the director’s chair (after Jack Goes Boating) with a Depression-era ghost story Ezekiel Moss. Dustin Hoffman—unrelated to Philip by the way, in case you’re wondering—just completed his first film Quartet, as I talked about in the TCFF lineup post.

This trend is hardly new though, after all as far back as Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier, many thespians have done work behind the camera, and some have become quite successful at it. I haven’t done my top ten list yet, I might do another collaborative effort with my pal Ted at some point, but I think Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Woody Allen and Ben Affleck would probably make my list. Affleck seems to flourish under his own direction, as he seems better in front of the camera when he’s also behind the camera, case in point: The Town and the upcoming ARGO which is getting rave reviews. In the case of Allen though, I much prefer that he stays behind the camera as I don’t like his neurotic style as an actor.

Why Do So Many Actors Want to Become Directors?

Do they just like the idea of being a multi-hyphenated artist?? I’m sure there’s a certain degree of pride that comes with being a double or triple threat (if they also write their own script) in the industry. But I’d think that for most, it’s about extending one’s creativity in the film-making business. Generally speaking, directors usually have the most creative control in making a film, though of course the studio often has a lot of input that often change the direction of the final piece. Some top actors might have a close connection with the director they’re working with, offering a lot of creative input to the film, but perhaps for some, that’s not enough.

Not every actor-turned-director is created equal obviously, but I’d think that seasoned actors have the filming experience behind them to help get a compelling performance out of fellow actors. They know what it’s like being in front of the lens, what the actors might be feeling, the challenges of getting a certain emotion across, etc. better than those who have never acted before. Perhaps it’s the ’empathy’ factor is what makes them become successful directors, and some actor have become more well-known as directors than actors (Allen, Howard, Reiner), though people like Eastwood have the talents to juggle both worlds equally.

Well, now I’d like to turn things over to you and ask you to vote your favorite actors-turned-directors. Cast your vote below!


Remember, you can pick up to three. Feel free to share your top five or top 10 in the comments, and tell me which movie(s) of theirs are your favorites.