Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin, 1940)

In Jean Renoir’s autobiography, there is a chapter on internal and external truth, in which Renoir describes a sailor played by Chaplin, his scenes filmed on a soundstage, as infinitely more real than one played by an experienced and dedicated actor striving for authenticity, his scenes filmed on location in an actual sailboat. The Great Dictator is one of the strongest cases for Renoir’s assessment of ‘realism’ in cinema, and it is also the film that greatest aligns with Renoir’s belief that, during the rise of Hitler, it was a filmmaker’s duty to use his art to combat fascism whatever the cost. Despite the grave nature of the subject matter, the almost awkward pantomime and slapstick in the face of dictatorial oppression and discrimination, the film is never unbelievable. Chaplin plays both a Jewish barber and dictator of Tomania, Adenoid Hynkel, and he commits to both roles so completely that the film’s credulity never suffers, and even in the midst of so much silliness, there is something indelibly true about the film. As Chaplin abandons all comedy at the end to speak right to the heart of the screen in a desperate, but in the fictional world of the film successful, plea for liberty and goodness, there is the unmistakable mark of sincerity, of rising to an occasion, and of abandoning all characteristic clumsiness to do what must be done. It is a similar kind of transcendent comedy to City Lights.

No comments:

Post a Comment