Silent Feature Sunday: The Gold Rush (1925)

When I first posted this series part of the idea was to get to watching more silent films. However, that has yet to pan out (yet?). And rather than skipping an opportunity to post one such that its easily accessible where it may not be expected simply because it’d be “Yet another Chaplin film” I posted, I decided to share it.

I keep the spiel simple here. Lost in the debating that film enthusiasts have about Chaplin’s place (read ranking) in film history is the fact that he wrote, directed and even scored many of his films. However, this is not meant to draw another comparison, but rather just something that needs to be noted. The appeal of The Gold Rush is fairly apparent. Enjoy!

The film can be seen at the following link The Gold Rush (1925).

Silent Feature Sunday: The Kid (1921)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

As this series progresses I fully intend to discover new silents through it. However, as I get it started I figure what better way to do so than to start with ones that I know best, and have known for the longest. As a long-time fan of Charles Chaplin it’s hard to say if this is my favorite. I may be more inclined to lean towards Modern Times or, dare I be so blasphemous as to say, The Great Dictator (seeing how it is his capitulation to talkies), but what I can say about The Kid is that it does perhaps do the best of combining Chaplin’s comedic skill, dramatic sensibilities and whimsy. Enjoy!

Comparative Analysis: The Dictator (2012) and The Great Dictator (1940)

I have often said that I do not enjoy indulging in comparative analysis when writing a standard review. Sometimes it does come up by I try not to focus on that aspect. However, there will be the rare occasion where the comparative analysis angle is far more intriguing than a standard review, so I have taken it here. I hope you enjoy it and welcome comments.

After having seen The Dictator a thought occurred to me that would invariably shift the tone and direction of the piece I wrote regarding it and it would thus not be a traditional review. The thought was as follows: The Dictator is like Sacha Baron Cohen’s own take on The Great Dictator. Now before proceeding with this line of reasoning allow me to state unequivocally that I am not for a second equating Cohen to Chaplin. What I am saying is that the parallels that this film shares with the one made 72 years ago are rather hard to ignore.

Frankly, I could also write a little more on this topic and explaining why this film does work to the extent that it does and find that this is a much more interesting dialogue than “How funny is this?” as that’s quite the subjective question, and “How does this rank in Cohen’s canon thus far?,” ibid.

Now, this might seem a rather facile allusion at first but what most intrigued me about this thought was the absolutely refractory nature that this tale has and that it makes The Dictator not only true to its time but as true to the artistic force driving it as The Great Dictator was.

The first confluence that the two films share is that there is a rather overt political message being delivered in the film. Each fits the tone of the actor and the film perfectly aside from being a necessary oration for the political climate in which it was spoken. Chaplin, the silent star, who resisted the advent of sound with fervor eventually, slowly gave in. The Great Dictator was his grudging embrace of the new form. That’s not to say Chaplin didn’t make it a visual venture, as this film features the iconic playing with the globe scene but it does also have the memorable speech, one of the most brilliant pieces of acting ever committed to celluloid. The silent star has a stump speech wherein he not only wears his heart on his sleeve but belies the fact that he is a double for the dictator.

The Dictator does have its own double aspect, however, as the title indicates, it focuses on the dictator rather than the double, and the speech here is given by the dictator not the double. The speech, as opposed to being heartfelt, goes from being tongue-in-cheek to sarcastic to the near equivalent of a bit from The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, the 21st Century replacement of the political cartoon. Chaplin’s speech was made during the darkest moments of the 20th century and was a message of hope, whereas Cohen is speaking in a world that alternates between great apathy and great fervency, where there is much conviction with little to no information despite the ready availability thereof. In the end, his is a rather even slam of both sides showing the warts totalitarianism and capitalism have.

While Cohen’s tale creates a fictitious nation meant to capture the foibles of as many leaders of Aladeen’s ilk as possible, Chaplin’s is clearly a caricature of Adolf Hitler, and has the additional layer of being a personal statement by Chaplin on his own behalf, who had for years been a presumed Communist by Hoover’s FBI.

While the cinematic quality of either is never going to be confused, I will reiterate that each reflects their lead perfectly. Chaplin was every bit the dramatist, the sensitive artist as he was a comedian, he’s cinema’s crying clown, only he’s unlikely to frighten small children. Cohen is broad, crude and if he’s left a member of his audience un-offended he feels he’s failed in his mission. His style is a perfect reflect of the excess and vapidity of the global political scene in this day and age. This is not to say that decisions of today’s world leaders do not carry weight, but while the world is always in the balance we’ve rarely come so close to the brink of global devastation as we did in World War II. Therefore, the tone of events allow for greatly contrasting tones in the films.

Cohen’s film taking place in a world that is not completely and totally at war allows there to be more societal commentary here, namely in the person of Zoey (Anna Faris). It’s not subtle and it doesn’t always work perfectly but she is the personification of what I referenced above: much conviction with not enough information.

The insanity of World War II also lead to the creation of the United Nations, what was essentially supposed to be a more effective solution than the prior League of Nations. In some ways it has been, in others not as much, this is also a notion that this film toys with quite a bit. Whereas The Great Dictator tackles the Nazi notion of Aryan superiority foremost, then the major players of the Nazi party and then the party’s constructs. The tertiary commentaries of The Dictator vary from totalitarian mindset, to post-9/11 paranoia, the year of protest and more.

While very different tonally, in terms of comedic and dramatic effect it would be fascinating to see these two films as a double feature and further compare and contrast them, but there are some of the most apparent parallels that I found upon one viewing of the newer film.

For the record, there is a bit of inconsistency in The Dictator for my liking. The laughs stop long enough so you notice some of the sillier plot points so the most I can give it is a 7/10. Having said that, I clearly found method to Cohen’s madness such that I took up this tangential association as the most interesting way I could find to discuss it. No film is perfect but there are few films in this day and age that even have something to say, and no matter how crass the method of delivery or how silly the context that does mean a great deal, and I definitely appreciated that.