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tv   Charlie Chaplin  CSPAN  May 1, 2022 4:50pm-6:03pm EDT

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well, good evening. everybody. welcome to tonight's presentation on charlie chaplin who is known universally as an iconic comedian. what is not so generally known perhaps is the political impact of his humor. a subject about which we will learn more this evening. first let me thank our series sponsor davenport company not only for their support of
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tonight's lecture, but for the support they have provided for the program over the years. the davenport farm was our very first corporate sponsor and they have not only continued that support. but have been instrumental in securing additional benefactors as well. i cannot emphasize enough how much the generosity has meant to the development of our program? the university and its students as well as the larger fredericksburg community are deeply indebted to them for this. now speak of this evening, dr. steven j farnsworth received his ba in history from the university of missouri, kansas city and a ba in government from dartmouth. followed by both ma and phd degrees in government from georgetown university he worked for 10 years as a newspaper journalist, but before becoming a professor and has lectured widely on the news media the presidency and elections us and
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international audiences. a prolific scholar he has written seven books including presidential communication and character the nightly news nightmare spinner in chief and his most recent late night with trump political yearbook and the american presidency. is also the author or co-author of dozens of scholarly articles on the presidency the mass media us public opinion and virginia politics. his political commentary has appeared in a wide range of media outlets including the new york times, washington post. pbs news hour politico c-span and bbc world he is currently professor of political science and international affairs and director of the center for leadership and media studies at the university of mary, washington. he has taught courses and political science journalism and political communication at georgetown university mcgill university and george mason
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university. during his tenure at mary washington dr. fonzworth has earned the reputation of being an outstanding teacher. as evidenced by winning the universe is three most prestigious awards for excellence in teaching. they distinction further tested by his being. 2017 recipient of the virginia outstanding faculty award from the state council of higher education he'll be fun to recalled by great lies patrons for his five previous presentations on president's harry truman. then the johnson richard nixon and ronald reagan as well as on iconic entertainer johnny carson. it's a pleasure to welcome back to the great lives podium my good friend steve farnsworth.
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thank you so much bill. i'm delighted to be here and to talk to you about one of the really interesting people in the history of american film. now you may have heard a rags to riches story or two in your time, but few will ever compare to the bust to boom tale of charlie chaplin who went from being a destitute child in a victorian workhouse in london to the most famous man in the world in two decades. charlie chaplin the world's first and arguably largest global movie star was so effective at offering enigmatic political messages that we are still debating what he was trying to say more than a century after his first signature character appeared on the silver screen. the 81 films that chaplain was involved in as actor or author or director or composer or all of the above represent an unequaled body of work.
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george bernard shaw who knew a great deal about putting on a compelling presentation said that chaplain was the only genius in motion pictures wc fields said he was the most amazing ballet dancer who ever lived and marcel marceau said that he would never have become a mime if charlie chaplin hadn't been a movie star. now once you start looking for them you see references to chaplain's work just about everywhere. you look in popular culture there of course chaplains obvious comedic descendants people like the early -- van -- or the young chevy chase and even the manic comedic energy of mel brooks and jim carrey. but there are other impacts as well. chaplin was a compelling composer and his smile arrangement. this is the theme of the played in the background in the final scenes of modern times became a
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hit record single decades later for nat king cole and there have been some first rate interpretations of this song produced originally by chaplin, but now made famous by nat king cole and judy garland and barbara streisand. this was also michael jackson's favorites song and you can even look if you look closely at some of michael jackson's dance moves they recall the tramp as well chaplin. was such an inspiration to michael jackson that when on one of his trips to london michael jackson insisted on touring the neighborhood where chaplain grew up the workhouse where he lived for a while and he even dressed up as the tramp for a promotional photo shoot. he planned to produce a smile album of his own but he was taken from us too soon. as a whole chaplains work is particularly oriented towards political humanism a concern for
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all humanity particularly for those people facing acute hardship. champlin in his work routinely asks key questions about whether vulnerable people can survive. or even thrive in the face of the societal upheavals of modernization he says above all that the crisis of modernity is particularly acute when you consider it in the context of the growing power of business the greater vulnerability of workers and the factories that in jobs where life may be stressful dangerous and insecure. at this point five generations of filmgoers critics and scholars have now had a chance to dissect the iconoclastic controversial and tumultuous work of chaplain his biography provides an important backdrop for appreciating his legacy as one of history's most effective
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users of mass media to shape political and cultural messages one key point i think is important to make it the outset a person's selection as meriting great lives treatment does not necessarily mean that their personal lives are one that we should endeavor to emulate. chaplain had four marriages and a substantial enough record of extramarital activity that he provided lots of material for the divorce lawyers who were arrayed against him. um his first wife he married to young. his second wife a far younger co-star lita gray sought to actually to ruin chaplain in no holes bar divorce case another far younger co-star paulette gaddard the marriage fell apart because chaplain was so devoted to his work and so so in different in some cases to his his marriage. um in the end chaplain's fourth
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and final wife. una o'neill was much younger, but that was a marriage that lasted from 1943 until chaplain's death in 1977 at the age of 88. one of the most unusual features and this is quite uncommon for hollywood stars who had significant control over their own films. was that the tramp character usually did not get the girl in the end. now that may sound strange for for champlin, but it was in many ways the sadness of love that haunted him throughout his days. his first love was a woman named kelly an irish singer and dancer who charlie met when they were both working in the musical circuit in the london in london. she was 15. he was 19 and he said in his autobiography, although i met her but five times and scarcely any of our meetings had lasted longer than 20 minutes those brief encounters affected me for
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a long time. he had hoped to reconnect with her on a triumphant return to the uk in 1921. just after the war and after chaplin had become the biggest name in filmmaking. this was also shortly after his first marriage failed. but once he arrived in the uk, he discovered that the love of his teenage years died three years earlier in the spanish flu epidemic, but in many ways she lives on in characters in many of chaplain's films for people who study the autobiography of chaplain. you really can see the extent to which these life experiences replicate themselves in his work in one of the ways. i think that chaplains life is so extraordinary is because it gave him such material for such a range of treatments of the human condition. now to be sure the age differences between chaplain and some of his wives and some of his girlfriends were scandalous even by the indulgence standards of early, hollywood.
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one spousal age different though was more troubling than the others chaplain and his second wife lita gray. she was a teenage actress who worked with chaplain in one of his first big hits called the kid was they were discreetly married in mexico in 1924 following a surprise announcement of pregnancy. she was 16 and he was 35 which created the possibility that he could have been tried of under california law for misconduct with a minor. they divorced in 1927 over what she said were his numerous affairs and he was ordered to pay the equivalent of almost nine million dollars in alimony as well as one and a half million in current dollars for each of the two sons from the first from this marriage. there was this was the largest divorce settlement in at that up to that point in american history.
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he had eight children with this fourth wife the daughter of eugene o'neill. they wait a month after she turned 18 chaplin was 54 at the time and these and these age differences were a particularly powerful weapon in the hands of chaplain's critics particularly in the law enforcement community who viewed him as a dangerous immoral influence and one particularly threatening to the american culture given his high visibility. in one of law enforcement's efforts to drive chaplain from the movies. he was charged for his misconduct with young girls under the man act. this is a law that prohibited moving women across state lines for immoral purposes, but with with chaplain not only hollywood forgives him. but so too did america a jury for acquitted him and people continued to go to his movies chaplain had not a great deal of
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formal education. he was largely self-taught he toured with young actors starting at the age of 10. he was on the london stage as a teenager and before he was was even 20 years old. he was regularly traveling in a vaudeville company music hall gags, aerobatic stunts and the like both of his parents had been entertainers, but they achieved limited success because the father was undone by alcohol the mother suffered from mental illness and was machinely institutionalized which left young charlie really in a very precarious situation. he lived on the streets briefly. he ended ended up in workhouses and and as a result, he had a great interest in touring. as a performer even as a even as an age where someone won't be in fourth or fifth grade. now chaplain's early years on
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the stage. and what passed for an education for the boys of the workhouse did not generally create an intellectual. and so what he did to compensate throughout his adult life was read a great deal. he also loved talking with people and any political figure any cultural figure that came his way wanted to meet him. he was very interested in talking with them, but he said that the education of the streets the education of his childhood was a key factor in his success in telling a story other people wanted to see and eventually here. as he said in his autobiography. i did not have to read books to know that the theme of life is conflict and pain instinctively. my clowning is based on this my means of contriving a comedy plot is simple. it's the process of getting people in and out of trouble.
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chaplain and hollywood came together. as a result of a lucky break. chaplain was touring in the uk with the fred carno company which toured the uk theater and musical circuit. they did an extended tour of the united states. and some american producers saw chaplain's comedy on stage and encouraged him to come to work for american film. he was hired during this us tour by the keystone company. this is a series of films famous for the keystone cops series of rough and tumble action films during 1914 1915 chaplain appeared in 35 keystone films where he created the tramp which became a worldwide sensation
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almost immediately this character known to us all even now with his small size his his hat and his very distinct. look of big shoes big pants and a tiny coat inspired games toys and dolls and that made chaplain's character the first multimedia product. he went in the words we use today viral like nothing else of its day. by the time chaplain was 26. he had jumped to a series of different studios and at this point signed for an annual contract of 16 million dollars in today's money. this made him one of the highest paid people in the world at the age of 29 in 1919. he co-founded united artists where he had complete control of his films this served his purposes both for making money, but also having great control over his work.
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this was of course. by this point chaplain's tramp was the dominant character of global popular culture years later chaplain admitted that the tramp was created almost by accident. he was about to go on stage and he needed a trip to the wardrobe room to outfit a new character. this is what chaplain said about the tram. i had no idea about this character, but from the moment, i was dressed the clothes and the make makeup made me feel the person he was i began to know him and by the time i walked onto the stage, he was fully born. you know, this fellow is a minnesot many sided person a gentleman a tramp a poet a dreamer a lonely fellow always hopeful of romance and adventure. now chaplain doesn't talk all that much about the evolution of the tramp in his in his film and in this quote he suggests that the character was largely fully formed, but the tramp did
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undergo an adjustment as the years went by the early tramp was much more violent and combative than the than the later tramp in order to connect more with the audiences the tramp evolved a bit to be a more humanistic more sympathetic a character and that helped build his appeal. now when we think about the political messages of champlin, it's important to remember that it's not doctrine air chaplin's work conveyed a mixture of conservative and liberal themes and i would argue that his ideological fluidity in terms of his messages help explain his widespread and enduring mass appeal. the fact that chaplain did always side with the vulnerable rather than the powerful endeared the tramp to a movie going public after all if you're trying to appeal it to a mass audience a character who connects more with the
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experiences of lower middle class and lower class people will have more of an opportunity to sell tickets than one that connects with the elite. now it's worth knowing of course that chaplains political messages when they did occur generally were not strident or intense so they didn't really have the likelihood of driving his viewers away. there's one exception though, and that is of course the toughest nails parity of adolf hitler in the great dictator. this is a film of course famous for the scene in which there's a a balloon painted globe that chaplain is tossing up into the air during the film. that would be the one exception and i'll talk a little bit more about that film in a moment. now chaplain repeatedly was warned by his half-brother. sid who was also his business manager not to go too far in
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attacks upon american politics and culture in an early film the immigrant his brother urge charlie to delete a scene that juxtaposes a shot of the statue of liberty seen by people on a boat coming to the united states and then followed almost immediately with immigrants who were corralled with rope. like livestock to keep them from getting off the boat. and said was also concerned years later about his brother's contemplated hitler satire the film that becomes the great dictator because of the us being neutral at that point of visa v the war in europe the immigrant image by the way of a moment ago the rope and the cattle reference that becomes that state in the film and it became the most iconic moment of that film. in the course the the treatment
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of hitler was an extraordinary commercial success, although of course, it was banned in germany. it was and also a great political success the the reality is that that winston churchill who was a chaplain fan was excited by this film. he thought it was extraordinary and really helped galvanize the british public against hitler. and fdr in the united states thought that chaplain's speech. it's at the end of the great dictator where chaplain himself is talking really more than the character that he plays is a is a key moment in terms of thinking about a better world and during his 1941 inauguration. this was for his third term fdr wanted that speech as part of the inauguration day festivities. and so chaplain repeated it. the political orientation of
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chaplain like the travels of the little tramp. we're often more about the journey than the destination. efforts by scholars by film critics and even by fbi director j edgar hoover to place chaplain into an intellectual box. we're never all that convincing. opposition to what was seen as the communist messaging of chaplain and his immoral personal lifestyle were relatively widespread among conservative americans in the years after world war two. hoover of course had a vendetta against champlin who had never liked. and went to various friendly media outlets to try to encourage them to write a great deal about the controversial at least lifestyle of chaplain as well as these issues of his potentially problematic messaging. a mississippi congressman speaking from the floor of the house of representatives described chaplain in 1945 at the end of the war as a
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perverted subject of great britain who became famous for his forcible seduction of white girls. the american legion boycotted his film miss universe do for its anti-capitalist message. this was in 1947 and then they also boycotted his film limelight which had very little in the way of political messaging content. it was perhaps other than the message that the world belongs to the young and one's own youth fades very quickly, which of course had an autobiographical dimension for chaplain at this point who himself was over 60 at the time. this film was made. but apart from the conservative activists who were never going to see his good side. the tramp character could pretty much always squirm free of trouble. and squirm free as well of efforts to define and confine him. in many ways this character
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seemed still partially a child. and that small size chaplain was about five foot four allowed him to be overpowered by authorities and created public sympathy for the quote little guy. boost up against powerful authorities and chaplain of course made much of that by choosing co-stars who are quite a bit taller than average many of them over six feet so they could really tower over chaplain to create the intimidating culture of power that chaplain was rebelling and resisting in his work. now some critics criticize chaplin for offering a child like character. but chaplain particularly in his early years cared a great deal about being funny and about being entertaining and about producing profitable work. and so it was a message that worked even if it might have
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been a controversial one. he had a range of friends that spoke to the range of political and cultural interests that he had his friends ranged from john steinbeck the radical author of the grapes of wrath max eastman editor of the fan of the marxist publication the masses to lord mountbatten a member of the british royal family the last viceroy of india, and of course winston churchill churchill wrote glowingly about chaplain's early work as a young entertainer during churchill's own early days as journalist. churchill in fact was a frequent flyer in the chaplain orbit visiting him in hollywood and meeting with him during chaplain's various trips back to the uk. but conservatives beyond churchill could have found more to like about chaplain had they been looking more carefully for things to like about his work. in many of his films chaplain's character is a striving
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capitalist figure trying with all his might to find and keep a job in difficult circumstances. in many of the tramps films chaplain's character is trying very hard to escape poverty by his wits and to find a way to settle down in a conventional marriage with a secure one might even say a suburban dream of financial security in modern times of 1936, which has my vote for the most interesting film to consider in this conversation about chaplain's politics the little tramp runs off to apply for a job every time that he hears a factory is hiring and he even pushes his way to the front of the line to make sure that he gets one of the few jobs on offer he is willing to wait tables. he is willing to sing in a restaurant for a paycheck whatever and whenever work is offered the tramp takes it in fact, he even works so hard in the factory turning bolts that he has a mental breakdown.
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so chaplain's character if you will particularly in this film modern times. he not only pulls himself up by his bootstraps he as the saying goes he does it over and over again in this film. now champlin and paulette gaddard that the half wild orphan who becomes trump's love interest in this film as well as wife number three after the film is released dream together of one day about having a suburban lifestyle with the latest appliances in the kitchen a steak cooking on the grill a generous front yard and even fresh milk at the ready. or at least they dream of this future until a policeman comes by telling them to move along from their spots on the curb outside this lovely suburban home. the modern times ends up with the two of them walking off together to what they imagine will be a brighter more
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economically secure future that they make for themselves this by the way is one of the few times that the tramp ends up getting the girl at the end of the picture. well, this film certainly makes the argument that modern industrial labor is dehumanizing and potentially even soul-killing. you also have in this story a vision of a working class white couple dreaming a very conservative traditional future for themselves. as one of chaplain's sons michael chaplin chaplin by this younger chapel michael chapson chaplain starred as a 10 year old with his father in a film the king of new york noted that his father could be quite bourgeois in his values. but of course conservatives could also find much to dislike in the tramp who is an anti-authoritary. character and anti-authority character above all and of course in chaplain's personal life as we discussed a moment ago. in his film of course in his films trampoline the champs get
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out of poverty schemes often involve less than honorable pursuits. in his 1921 film the kid one of champlin's schemes to put some money in his pocket involves having a youthful accomplice throw rocks at windows and then as the residents of these locations are wondering what to do next chaplain suddenly arrives on the scene with a mobile glass replacement kit on his back ready to take care of the newly broken windows for a very modest fee. post-tramp in his 1947 film miss universidadu chaplain's character romance is and kills wealthy women for their riches, but he does so chaplain makes clear. because he had been a successful banker before the depression. he had been let go by his company and he could not obtain work year after year worked by the way, that would help him support his wife who was in a wheelchair and a very young child.
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now miss your video was actually one of the films that was used by critics of chaplain to portray him as a communist or at least a communist sympathizer given the argument here that capitalism can make a good but discarded man. desperate enough to turn into a killer now although many of the characters in his films do dream of getting wealthy or at least having enough to pay for a room over their head the people who are wealthy in chaplain's films tend not to be treated all that. well the swells the relatively small number of people who are affluent in the 1923 film woman of paris and the millionaire character in city lights. they seem incredibly miserable despite all the comfort that they have the millionaire character in city lights for example, routinely drinks too much drinks too oblivion and then consider suicide even though he has more money than he
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could possibly use. but even on this point that money isn't necessarily the panacea. there is still a bit of creative tension regarding this message consider chaplain's film the gold rush one of his early comedic successes. the prospectors are so cold and so hungry that they that chaplain cooks a boot soup. and eats the boot chaplain starving companion even imagines chaplain as a chicken ready for supper now once they find gold and leave alaska on a luxury steam liner money seems to have solved their problems. they have plenty to eat. and trump tramp actually wins the girl who didn't think much of him back when he was poor
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starving in alaska. now as i think i've have demonstrated if we look at the biography of chaplain chaplin was clearly no socialist in his private life from the start of his career. he concentrated on getting steadily better paid and he becomes of course one of the highest paid people in the country by the end of the 19 teens, he and his brother were very demanding in business negotiations and often insisted on three sometimes more counteroffers. before agreeing to a deal he made up for the poverty of his childhood with every film with every promotion with every new contract. he also by the way had the good financial sense to get out of the stock market in 1928. of suggesting the financial savvy that many people did not possess a year before the biggest crash of 1929. for chaplain though filmmaking
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was never just about the money. even early in his career he pushed for higher quality work from himself and his coworkers then had been the or the norm in those early days of shoot and release filmmaking. he created his own firm. united artists so that he and his other top drawer celebrities of hollywood could produce their own films and have complete control over their film product. they enjoyed the prophets of the production as well as the creative control that owning their own film studio allowed chaplain often shot 10 times the amount of film that he needed. he often would do 20 takes of a problematic scene sometimes more with the cameras running if that's what it took since it was on his dime. he could do as he pleased. chaplin himself asked about the ideological content of his films really didn't see himself as
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really all that doctrine air. i'm an individualist. i believe in liberty. he said at one point. and another point he said if you really need a word to describe my politics. call me a peacemonger. he had great contempt, of course for the people who created the problems for the people. and he blamed it largely on political authorities who abused their power and sought to rule by intensifying the fear and hatred of one group against another. this is of course the anti-immigrant question of the immigrant the anti-poverty question of modern times and it is the the jewish characters in the film the great dictator being victimized by the hitler like figure in that film. so we sincerely see clearly see that chaplain was committed to this issue of the people as opposed to the authorities, but there's no evidence that he was
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all that political in his own personal life. despite his focus on all these social and political themes in his films. there was no record that chaplain ever voted in his native britain nor did he ever seek to become a us citizen during nearly four decades of residents in california? chaplain in many ways did it all? he was the first at this he was the first at that one of the other things that he was the first at doing was creating the first war comedy film ever produced. shoulder arms of 1917 champlin offered a send-up of military life as the tramp struggles to march properly and viral weapon and he follows what seems to be absurd orders like dressing up as a tree to spy on the enemy. veterans love the film when they came back from the war. they thought he really understood the terror and the
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absurdity of military life and by the way, watch shoulder arms if you haven't seen it in the context of its true film descendant. mash now in his personal life of course chaplain was criticized by some for not serving in the war himself. but chaplain had failed to pass a british army physical he did register for the draft in the united states, but he was not called to serve. in part that's because chaplain was so good at raising money for the war effort. chaplain routinely raised millions of dollars at public appearances for war bonds through films promotional materials and public appearances. his supporters and the us and uk government's grateful for his help in financing. the war said champlin did far more for the war as a fundraiser than he could have ever done in
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the trenches in terms of his age. he would have been in the mid 20s when the war started in europe so clearly within the realm of draft age. now chaplain did once used the word anarchist to describe himself. but he wasn't consistently hostile to all authority either. clearly chaplain was covered was was clearly troubled by expansive government power. particularly the nazi movement but also mccarthyism and also the police. but he also enthusiastically backed the new deal one of the biggest economic interventions ever by the us government to counter the great depression and during world war two like many liberals in the us chaplain pressured for a rapid opening of a second front in europe to help speed the defeat of hitler. he did so more than a year before the normandy invasion of 1944 and in the years after world war two chaplain saw the adam as a wonderful source for peaceful energy that governments
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could use to do extraordinarily good things for so many people particularly in countries, that did not have high levels of health and safety standards, but and criticize the governments of the day for focusing on nuclear weapons, not nuclear energy. um as i mentioned before chaplin had this intense curiosity and he was always asking questions and talking to political leaders scientists and cultural figures who would come across his path and because of his fame many people would come across his path. once he settled for the remainder of his life after the difficulty with the mccarthy ear in the united states. he has left for neutral switzerland. chaplin received had a conversation had conversations with communist leaders like joe and lie and leonid frenchev. now chaplain's critics thought the old man might not have been aware that he was being used by the top figures of the ussr and red china, but i think they have
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it exactly backwards. chaplin was interested in lessening the tensions of the cold war and understood much like the cold warrior and chief richard nixon. did that talking was much better than not talking. to me though. i think we could we need to come back to the basic question of who chaplain was and how important his biography was to the narrative of his films. as i see it no matter how rich chaplain became in his own personal life. he still remembered the poor kid who spent time in orphanage. who spent time in foster homes? because of the unfortunate circumstances over which a child would have no control at all. the intense pain of losing a father to drink and a mother to mental illness never left him no matter how popular or loved he became. he lived in fear in his life.
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even as he became extremely secure that he would be undone. by alcohol, perhaps or mental illness perhaps and as you look at the range of chaplain's work you see an extraordinary sympathy for the plight of children. and the kid and in the king of new york and for women who are facing tough times, perhaps because his own as a result of his own deeply challenging youth. chaplin believed that the family must be to kept together at all costs no matter how poor the family was if they could stay together somehow they could get by. if you can keep the kids out of the orphanage call it a win. that's a very conservative message. and the many of the scholars who've looked at chaplain have really emphasized more the liberal messages, but there are very powerful conservative messages in this work as well. and to me that's much more a
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mark of his genius the range of messages that he conveyed and i think that also is the reason for the extraordinarily successful way that nearly all of his films were treated by the film going public regardless of what was going on in the larger political environment in times of war and peace in time. so plenty and want champlain's films generated immense success at the box office. i want to draw your attention to an interesting contrast between chaplain's personal life and the narrative of one of the signature things about his films chaplain's films particularly when compared to other films of the day. you are struck by the fact that many of the women in his films are treated with extraordinary. high levels of respect now critics, of course have noted that this was quite different from how chaplain treated many of the women in his personal life. but in the films they were
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treated extraordinarily well in the circus for example, one of the funniest of chaplains films. the tramp gives a beautiful young horse rider is only breakfast egg. and later insists that she ignore him and instead mary the conventionally handsome high-wire acrobat who also stars in the service in city lights. which some people consider trump's are tramps bad the best work of the tram. he buys a whole basket of flowers from a woman who is blind. and even though he himself is struggling to get by. other women in his films our pet played as tough as nails. much more so than other characters in other films at this era. i'll draw your attention in particular to pollock onard and modern times. she possesses an independence and an ability to survive that mirrored the tramps own capacity
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for overcoming adversity. i think it's important as we put together this conversation about chaplain and his political messages to think a few minutes about what makes political humor so popular and so appealing across time. what jokes provide above all is a way to lighten the burdens of the day? and they provide the means of addressing the challenges of human collective existence as long as we have lived together. there have been public desires to poke fun at our leaders. mocking authority can ease the burden and dissatisfaction and frustrations of daily life. it's almost as if there is a human need to laugh at oneself. and even perhaps even more so at others. aristophanes made fun of the elites of ancient greece 2000 years before chaplain made fun
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of the police in america and europe as chaplain himself said humor heightens our sense of survival and preserves our sanity. and i do think that that is a key aspect to political humor generally and chaplain's messaging and specific humor is a key coping mechanism in a world. that's run by others people who claim or at least presume to be the betters of oneself. jokes and mockery are common responses to the arrogance of elites? the tramp occupies what we might describe as a space of play that allows comics to say or in the early films of chaplain to do to pan through pantomime, taboo things. that might be too critical or too controversial to be expressed by more conventional figures in film or in life many of the things that the tramp does would be treated much more
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harshly where they not on the silver screen. remember the tramp in his early films is accrued in violent figure though. he did of course soften as the years went by but the authorities in chaplain's film were pretty consistently unpleasant. sometimes even sinister the police were not around to help ordinary people in his films rather. they were authorities that seem to focus on protecting the owners of the factories. not the workers. and the wealthy not the people who are struggling to get by. in such an environment where hope is at a minimum as it was during the depression. a joke even a sharp one. can reduce the creeping authoritarianism if you will. the that is it potential risk in any centralized powerful modern government. even nations with democratic institutions and sentiment are
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not immune to arrogant leaders who need to be brought down a peg or two now. for chaplain, no political figure was more irritating than hitler. as he described hitler in his autobiography has appearance his appearance. he described hitler's face as obscenely comic a bad imitation of me with its absurd mustache. it's unruly stringy here and disgusting thin little mouth. i could not take hitler seriously. and of course, he did not take hitler seriously as a chaplain's comic portrayal in the great dictator reminds us one key way to defeat a dictator is to make them ridiculous. decades later mel brooks made the same point by the way in the producers. with their famous play within a film of springtime for hitler and by the way the play within a film format is one of the things that are you can find in
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commonly in chaplain's own work. but comedy is more than just making fun of the people who seem to have it better than you do. it's also at its core an expression of optimism the conviction that the future can be brighter than the past. that the optimism of chaplain's work. the happy endings or even the not so happy endings at least the happy surviving. of being able to fight another day being able to wake up with a new opportunity tomorrow. that's something the world really needed to hear during the depression and during world war two. it's something that people needed to hear during the financial panics that marked the early 20th century. now i've written a book about
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late night comedy and how television has made fun of political figures and if you look here and there you can see examples of the mockery in the imitations the larger than life qualities of individuals that become the staple of late-night comedy chaplain, of course, did this decades earlier with his treatment of hitler in the great dictator now, not everyone loved this film. although the afi places it in the top 100 films ever made. and critics generally did like this film in the last few minutes perhaps where chaplain himself exhorts people to work together towards building a better world seems a little preachy to some and it does seem like kind of an ill-fitting part of the film. but by the start and by the start of the 1950s that end of
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film speech that chaplain makes more or less as himself becomes a weapon. against him used by the mccarthy movement. um, the filmmakers critics argued this speech now seemed to represent in the context of the 1950s a communist called arms this very same speech that churchill and fdr love so much in 1940 had become a weapon against chaplain 10 years later. now the nazis of course hated the great dictator. they banned chaplain's work. they said that he was jewish. now chaplain was a mixture of british irish and french, but he was not jewish when he died. he requested an anglican service for his funeral. but in the 1930s chaplain didn't really want to deny the nazi claims that he was jewish because of concerns that it might exacerbate anti-semitism if he said that he was not jewish and in fact chaplain plays in the great dictator a
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jewish character who becomes a hitler-like character in in a case of mistaken identity. paulette goddard wife number three the female lead in this film and in modern times was half jewish. so this dynamic of anti-semitism was something that chaplain took very very seriously. but i do think that the most interesting film. is modern times from the point of view of political messages and it comes from chaplain's own experiences in the world in the years leading up to this production. champlin of course had become a star during the days of silent film but by 1930 films were being made with sound. and champlin really hesitated to produce films that contained sound. in the silent films the tramp
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could be so much more active so much more movement and energy than would be possible in scenes that featured dialogue. those would be more static visually. um as chaplain himself wrote for years i have specialized in one type of comedy pantomime. i have been able to establish exact principles to govern its reactions to audiences. it has a certain pace a certain tempo. dialogue to my way of thinking always slows action because action must wait on words. chaplain the populist of course always loved silent films because of their universal appeal. talking pictures chaplin thought seems somewhat dehumanizing and someone elitist because the immigrants or the people who didn't speak english would get so much more out of silent films. then would they would of a films that involved dialogue. now chaplain decided in 1936
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that his film modern times would be the last film starring the tramp. because it would be the last film that he could possibly make without dialogue. so chaplains travels in the early 30s during the height of the depression he was on a promotional tour to promote city lights, which was also a silent film that he made and he was worried that it wouldn't be commercially successful because in many ways it was old fashioned. as talking films came to the fore. and he spent more than a year in europe in asia talking with top political and cultural figures but also going back to his old haunts in the industrial cities of britain's north and the poor neighborhoods of london and meeting with gandhi where they had an extended conversation about technology and modernity.
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the key theme of course of modern times david robinson who wrote a first rate biography of chaplain and describes the links between chaplain's travels and the film that does become modern times in far greater detail than i have time to explain here but above all let me make a an effort on the point here of the dimensions of modern times. above all chaplain argues that technology can be devastating to human beings. that that it would in fact be fatal to the tramp. as technology advances the tramp of course is chewed up in the machinery in the famous film image of this of modern times, but it's also the tramp himself has to be given a voice and once he be is given a voice he then stops the being the character that made champlin same famous and successful beyond beyond others of his contemporary.
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the most famous scene is being pushed through the gears of the machine? probably the second most famous scene is the one right before that where he is desperately trying to keep up with an assembly line job by rapidly turning bolts as they pass by him on an assembly line lucille ball, by the way. made an homage to that scene in her famous but short-lived job at the kandri candy factory where she worked on a conveyor belt and was stuffing her face with chocolates in the vein. hope of keeping up with the rapidly moving assembly line. now the first and only words that the tramp spoke. on screen in this film was a gibberish song that contained nonsensical words from a variety of languages. if chaplain had to make a talkie. if you had to respond to the
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changes of technology, he would only do so very reluctantly and after a series of delays in the run-up to what turned out to be a nonsense song. now in the 1950s sociologists started writing about what they called the lonely crowd the idea that modernity was alienating. people left their rural communities where they had multi-generational links and move to the city where there may be many people around but one was still alone in that crowd. this idea of course had a revival in the scholarship of the 1990s where people talked about communities that had declined and where people were bowling alone chaplain. however, got there ahead of the scholars. in modern times and in several other films before that we get the message that urban life can be really damaging to individuals the boom and bus cycles of capitalism lead to
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unemployment and insecurity perhaps even starvation for those who are at best. just getting by when the times are good. in fact when they are on the job workers are almost forced to become part of the machine. there is another scene in modern times where the tramp is locked into this automatic feeding machine that misfires and ends up trying to push bolts into his mouth. and that sort of brings the machine. and humanity into one piece and that's not good for the people as we see we can't very well digest bolts as the tramp learns pretty quickly. even though this experience was so bad for the tram to be on this assembly line and it put him in hospital. he's in a great hurry to go back to the factory as soon as he cans. what choice does he have? now this film is an artistic triumph because it offers both a
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return to the playful era of the early tramp as well as the comedic sophistication of the gold rush another outstanding. work by chaplain but not only i would argue. is this the most interesting film to consider in the context of chaplain's politics, but it's also both his best and most important work in in my view. let me say a few things about summing up this immense body of work before we open things up for questions. i think chaplain's main goal. was a sympathy for the underclass. that receives a very different interpretation in the 1950s during the days of j edgar hoover then it received in the 1930s and the 1940s. in all of his films chaplain sympathies are with those struggling. and the more they are struggling the more empathetic he could be over his years as the tram the
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character evolved from an energetic and opportunistic cad. to a protector of the most vulnerable like the young child in the kid the gamine in modern times and the discouraged to dancer in limelight. the truly desperate could always count on the tram. to share whatever little food he had. and do whatever he could to make sure there was food for the next meal. which was often uncertain but never out of mind. as many scholars have noted. chaplin never forgot his own experiences during what was a lonely hungry and anxious childhood. and the tramp and other champlin characters did what they could to make sure other vulnerable people never had to suffer as that young chaplain himself had done. now chaplain could be. an angry populist prone in his
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films to kick and abusive police officer in the backside when he wasn't looking and to ridicule the clueless rich person. but chaplains comic and sometimes bitter criticisms of the excesses of unregulated capitalism and excessive government authority. we're not really anti-american subversive messages, but hoover thought otherwise agents started monitoring chaplain shortly after the end of world war one just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on one of america's most visible non-citizens when chaplain left the us for a european promotional tour during the depths of the mccarthy era the us government revoked as us visa and thereby blocked his return rather than challenge that decision which was made without any hearing or due process chaplain. just moved to switzerland and left the america behind. but not forever. in his battles with the j edgar hoovers of this world.
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chaplain had the last laugh. he returned briefly to hollywood him triumph in 1972 to receive a lifetime achievement oscar and to receive what still stands as the longest standing ovation in the history of the academy awards. as he received his oscar tribute champlin was credited with believing that man's humanity to man was greater than man's inhumanity to man. now chaplain's oldest films are being seen by the great great grandchildren of their original viewers. is extraordinary mixture of politics social comedy and slapstick humor? keep us thinking about politics and laughing about those with money and power to this day. as chaplain once wrote and this is an excellent coda to the discussion of one of the great lives of political film. we think too much we feel too little. more than machinery we need humanity more than cleverness.
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we need kindness and gentleness. without those qualities life will be violent. and all will be lost. thank you. thank you very much, dr. farmer. very enjoyable. i have some questions to represent for the group and hello to our viewers at home. i'm ali heber and i work with the great lives team. and tonight i'm wondering even though he was recognized in 1972 with all of those wards in the academy and the accolades are there areas of his professional life that you think. where he was underrated? well, i think that the the true underrated genius of charlie chaplin comes from the fact he could do so many things. so well he when you look at people who tried to recreate champlin on stage or in screen the imitators of chaplain including, you know, the
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excellent film of now what 20 years ago of robert downey jr. you have a great appreciation for the entire package the the expressions the movement the writing of the story the images that are being presented in the in the film, but the part i think that chaplain doesn't receive as much credit as he might as he might otherwise deserve is his work as a composer. chaplain had a very great sense of how to integrate music with film particularly his own films and he would create extraordinary connections between the music and the emotional experiences that that one can see. and here through film because of course his work was primarily in his early days silent film. there was an accompanying soundtrack that was used to convey not only sound effects but also the mood of the moment in the film and so when you
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think about chaplain's work and you know, particularly as i was putting together, you know this presentation. it is really striking how much of the music is chaplain's own creation, you know in a world in which many people struggle to master one instrument. he mastered three and that i think speaks to the capacity. of chaplain as a as not only a filmmaker but an extraordinary composer in terms of connecting the music. to the films that he produced. i think i think you're right that he actually used his music as dialogue when i've watched clips of it. you can tell how the story is moving with his composer. you know. he certainly showed the view of the american industrial workplace and he was certainly driven and a passionate. worker what do you think? it was like to work for him at his studio where he's obsessed with perfection?
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well it depends. for some people chaplain was extraordinary general extraordinarily generous during the days when he had his own studio, he would pay people even between films so it wasn't as if they would be off the payroll while chaplain was traveling to europe or thinking about what the next project would be. he made sure that people were paid consistently and in in some of his early film co-stars. he paid them salaries for life, even if they didn't appear in movies in the last 30 years of their lives. they still had a chaplain pension. so in that sense it was a very generous place to to but not for everybody. um the last film that chaplain directed countess from hong kong in 1967 start marlon brando who
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really did not get along with chaplain. chaplain style is a director often involved playing all the different characters and so he would tell many of the co-stars i want you to do this scene this way to emphasize this dialogue to make these motions and for someone with the talent and ability of marlon brando. this was simply not the way that he wanted to be directed. he described chaplain as an egotistical tyrant and a penny-pincher. he harassed people when they were late and he scolded them on mercifully to work faster. no doubt about it. chaplain was a difficult taskmaster and so how well or how poorly you were treated. in chaplain's workplace had a lot to do with whether you were there at the beginning and whether you took direction well. you know. the situation of him being
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called a communist and the mccarthy era and having his visa revoked. it does make you wonder why after living in the united states for 30 or 40 years. i'm not sure exactly how long why he didn't ever pursue citizenship or if you was married to the young fourth wife. why he wouldn't be eligible to return because he was married to a us citizen. what his wife actually joined him in switzerland. she actually gave up her us citizenship in exchange for the uk citizenship that she could obtain as the wife of charlie chaplin. so so that couple made the decision that the united states of the 1950s was a very unpleasant place to be particularly for someone being harassed by the fbi. and so they had little interest in living in the united states at that point earlier though in his career chaplain might have been more willing to become an american citizen. but even then, you know, he's still thought of the uk is home. he regularly went back right to have extended visits in the uk.
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he really still saw himself as connected to the london of his youth and his style as a filmmaker as a as a comedian. it had echoes of that 19th century victorian music hall that that the vaudeville style. that was really kind of the signature vision of the early chaplain work. so, how did you become so connected, you know were these films something that we're presented to you earlier in your life because they would have been way before your time what drew you to explore chaplain's life. well when i was in in graduate school. i was a teaching assistant to a professor who was very interested in political film. found it. really very interesting now i went on to to teach a political film class at mary, washington. and and chaplain always struck
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me as a particularly crucial figure in the development of the american vision of film and particularly of the range of political messages that you could see now some filmmakers were much more didactic than chaplain again because i think perhaps he hadn't been like as doctrine error or as ideologically rigid in his thinking he had a openness to a range of ideas and his films reflected that and that was part of their appeal. but also as i started writing about political humor and studying the lives of the early comics of late night television many of them made reference to chaplain many of the things that came up involved the conversation about where sort of the first principles came from. and so as i was developing the book that became late night with trump political humor in the
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american presidency. i started thinking i really need to consider more about where we came from. to get to where we are because make no mistake about it political humor now is an important part of our political culture. it is an important part of how presidents are evaluated an important part of how young people find the politics interesting if they do and so as a result of this wide range of impact of political humor on our contemporary politics, it made a lot of sense to me to go back and see where we can think about political humor as getting its star and chaplain in many ways is the godfather of all that comes later mel brooks and johnny carson and so many others lucille ball and so many others that you know is is part of it. there's also one other thing when i think about a great lives presentations, i'm also
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interested in people who i can think about for a length of time who are interesting and they have enough complications in their approach to the world that make them interesting in terms of not only political figures and cultural figures but also as as human beings and and chaplain was never boring never boring so as a follow-up to tonight if i were to go home and look up. chaplain you think that's on netflix. i'm not sure but i'm sure we could find chaplin movies. what would be your recommendation? well if you were to think about the most important things to see of chaplain's work. a lot of it depends on the mood that you're in. um, i would say that if you have not seen the two sort of iconic full-length films of chaplain's political conversation the great dictator and modern times you could start there. the shorter early chaplain can
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be very very compelling too if you're in the mood more for the the slapstick humor of of the gold rush i think is a compelling story. i'm if you're interested in the sort of more vision of chaplain's vision of what it's like to be a street urchin and struggling as a kid, then the film the kid would be a compelling choice. there are a lot of opportunities here and if you just want the, you know, truly silly work, i would recommend this circus, okay. he is the clown and so circus might be the winner. thank you. again dr. farnsworth for an exciting lecture on charlie chaplin and i feel like i know the tramp now. thank you.
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