IT’S been 100 years since the release of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, but film critic Mark Naglazas says Chaplin’s movies and social commentary are more relevant than ever.
To mark the film’s centenary, it has undergone a 4K restoration and will be re-released in select cinemas across the globe.
The silent classic introduced the masses to the now-iconic Chaplin character “The Tramp”, who discovers a little orphan and brings him up, but is left desolate when the orphanage reclaims him.
Chaplin directed, produced and starred in The Kid as well as composed the score.
Naglazas says Chaplin’s popularity has ebbed and flowed over the past 100 years.
“While Chaplin was a giant of world culture during the early part of the 20th century – the image of The Tramp became synonymous with the movies – from the 1970s onward he fell out favour,” he says.
“His films came to be regarded as sentimental and mawkish and did not stand up well against his madcap silent-era rival Buster Keaton.
“However, as the cultural focus shifts from the mainstream to the margins, from the rich and powerful to the battlers, Chaplin will be re-embraced, which is no doubt why The Kid, Goldrush, The Great Dictator and others have been restored and re-released.
“The little guy making a mockery of his masters chimes with current social and political attitudes. It’s not hard to image Chaplin teaming with fellow Brit Alfred Hitchcock and making the Korean Oscar-winner Parasite.”
The Kid is just one of many Chaplin classics restored in 4K or 2K for The Charlie Chaplin Collection, a wide-ranging retrospective that includes many of his lesser-known ‘talkies’ from the 1940s and 1950s, when his star began to fade.
They include Limelight, a poignant look at an ageing Music Hall star, A King in New York where a European monarch seeks refuge in the Big Apple in the 1950s, and the decidedly dark comedy Monsieur Verdoux, inspired by notorious French serial killer Landru.
“It’s incredibly rare that we have such a comprehensive season of one of the major figures in film history,” Naglazas says.
“It will also give Perth audiences a chance to see the non-sentimental side of Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux, in which he plays the seducer and murderer of rich women.”
But perhaps his most famous talkie is The Great Dictator, a satire on Adolf Hitler and the rise of fascism in the 1930s, which deeply troubled Chaplin.
Released in 1940 before America joined World War II, The Great Dictator was a big hit, but Chaplin’s overtly political speech at the end of the movie contributed to his decline in popularity.
“We tend to think of Hollywood’s silent era and its Golden Age as a machine for creating glamour and escapism,” Naglazas says.
“But Hollywood was also a magnet for left-leaning writers and artists and, during the lead-up to World War II, refugees from nazism.
“What makes Chaplin so remarkable is that he took the social commentary of his early comedies that made him the most beloved performer of the silent era and evolved it into the full-blown anti-fascism and pacifism of The Great Dictator.
“It was a huge hit but the five-minute speech at the end, in which Chaplin stepped out of character and addressed the audience directly, forever making him a left-wing figure and a target for those seeking to purge the US of communism.
“Once again his direct mode of speaking, which shocked many at the time, is very much in keeping with contemporary attitudes.
“I have noticed many people sharing that speech on Facebook. I sense Chaplin is ripe for a comeback.”
The Charlie Chaplin Collection at the Windsor Cinema in Nedlands begins with a screening of The Kid tomorrow (Sunday July 18) to July 23.
For tix see lunapalace.com.au.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK