Actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin had the soul of a poet and the heart of a clown. He lived by his own moral code and sometimes his common decency led to his downfall. He made true enemies when he refused to play quietly; and his comic genius led him to places he didn’t know existed.
His character, the Tramp, was a man who could find true love; who went to the ends of the earth to win over the girl. He taught us all to fall in love at first sight, and to follow our hearts.
In The Great Dictator (1940) he reclaimed his trademark moustache from Hitler. He spoke, clearly and precisely and hit the heart of a devastated world embroiled in World War II. He took a stand, in no uncertain terms, to give humour back to a bleak world. We sure could have used someone like that after September 11, 2001.
Why the US government perceived this man a threat is still beyond understanding. As Allan Ginsberg put it, “Why was he driven from the shores with a rose in his teeth?”
In The Gold Rush (1925) he told the tale of the lost prospector in the Klondike, waiting out hallucinations caused by starvation in a land where even the Tramp couldn’t escape the barrel of a gun. The movie has a classic scene where the Tramp entertains Big Jim with a Thanksgiving feast of candle wax with a pinch of salt for an appetizer, and the entree is shoelace spaghetti served with shoe steak.
Just as the hallucinations begin to prompt cannibalistic instincts, a bear enters the cabin.
After the Tramp shoots the bear he displays some phenomenal knife sharpening skills as they feast before heading out to seek their riches.
According to its prelude, Modern Times (1936) is “a story of industry, of individual enterprise — humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness.”
Chaplin’s humour is exemplified in the opening scene where he shows sheep being herded, juxtaposed against men running off to a day of fruitful labour at the factory. Meanwhile, the day starts with the boss-man sitting down to view security cameras, making sure the workers keep working.
Companies look to enhance profits at any cost to the worker. The great invention in Chaplin’s movie is called The Billows Feeding Machine.
“Increase your production and decrease your overhead,” is its motto.
It features an auto-cooled soup dispenser, a food pusher, and a rotating corn holder that only needs the tip of a tongue to tell it to switch speeds.
To top it all off, they have a padded napkin to wipe off any excess food debris.
At least the boss has the decency to declare this invention “just not practical.”
In short, Chaplin’s legacy encourages one to take time for the good things in life: to laugh, to do things that create laughter, and to love — even if one has to go to the restaurant at the end of the universe to do so. And finally, to refrain from taking life too seriously.
As Chaplin said, “Schopenhauer said happiness is a negative state — but I disagree.”