How I Came to Appreciate Charlie Chaplin

17 Apr

A brief moment to confess, which is good for the soul. I am disgracefully late in writing this contribution to “The Charlie Chaplin Blogathon.” My own blogathon, no less! Life became more hectic than I expected and I decided that I would rather read all your contributions than write my own. And in truth, I am glad that I did so, because my topic was on how I came to appreciate Charlie Chaplin and reading the many wonderful contributions has served to increase my appreciation far more than any writing I could have done. Once again, I want to thank you all for your participation and thank Domi for inviting me to co-host! It was a pleasure.

So, how did I come to appreciate the artistry of Charlie Chaplin? As a child, I used to watch Charlie Chaplin short films. I was so young, that I could not read and would nudge my siblings for an interpretation every time there was an intertitle.

But, in truth, I don’t recall having much difficulty following the plots and what stayed with me were images. The moment Chaplin cooks his shoe and then proceeds to eat the laces as if they were spaghetti. The moment in “The Vagabond” when Edna Purviance comes back to get the violin-playing tramp at the end, who has rescued her from gypsies. The time she dressed up as a boy in “Behind the Screen,” which I somehow conflated in my mind with “The Vagabond.” The time he takes a bite out of a child’s hotdog. These were the moments that stayed with me, and I experienced a profound sense of deja vu when I went back as an adult and saw all these films. The moment of recognition, the realization of where these scenes had originated, was sweet. I was extremely excited when I found that the hot dog scene was from Circus.

But after my youth, I largely left Chaplin behind. I knew who he was; I had fond memories of watching him, but that was all. Then I watched The Great Dictator and was oddly not impressed (I was still young and the speech at the end was all I recalled). Some years later, I tried Modern Times and was still oddly not impressed. I began to watch Buster Keaton films and came to the conclusion that I didn’t like Chaplin so much.

What changed it all was watching Keystone Comedies and an increased interest in silent films. I saw Chaplin in a few Keystone films, then watched him through his Essanay and Mutual films. I watched “The Pilgim” and “Shoulder Arms” and “A Dog’s Life.” I next watched The Kid and then The Gold Rush. It seemed so obvious why he was so great, how he transformed silent comedy and led the way, how brilliant his gags were (for example, the gag with the clock that he takes apart in “The Pawnshop,” which he treats as if he were a dentist, a doctor, a jeweler, as though it were a can he was opening and so on; his inventiveness was a delight). And after watching Keystone films, as interesting as they were, I appreciated the way Chaplin had developed as a storyteller, how his gags became a part of his story.

But what really impressed me was how he used comedy to take on some truly awful topics. Starvation in The Gold Rush? Turn it into comedy. Drug use in “Easy Street?” Hilarious! Poverty in The Kid, his most Dickensian film? He even took on Hitler. He made us care, made us aware, and made us laugh. Remarkable achievement. Right up there with Charles Dickens in that respect.

And at the same time, he was important in moving forward silent comedy, and silent cinema in general. I think understanding his place in cinema history helped me appreciate even his comedy, if that makes any sense.

Perhaps it’s been a slow journey to full appreciation. Because he was always talked about in near reverent terms, I wanted to be a rebel and not appreciate the one everyone else appreciated. But sometimes when someone is so often called great, it is because they truly are great.


For more posts about Chaplin, click here.

“All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S. Charles Chaplin and the Little Tramp are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Inc. S.A. and/or Roy Export”


Posted by on April 17, 2018 in Movies


Tags: , , , , ,

18 responses to “How I Came to Appreciate Charlie Chaplin

  1. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman)

    April 17, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    I am so glad you wrote your appreciation. We are so fortunate to live at this time, the time when we are able to enjoy the entirety of an artists’ work/career. We can watch his growth and return to his work at different times in our life when we need it, and when we can understand it, and when we can appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 17, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      Yes, so true! You have said it beautifully. I’ve heard people say they live at the wrong time…but then we would not have the access that we do to films and music and books. It seems like truly a blessed time in that respect. 🙂


  2. stephencwinter

    April 17, 2018 at 11:34 pm

    I really like your comparison of Chaplin to Dickens. I had not thought of that before but it really works for me. Chaplin seems to embody the world that Dickens brings to us in the pages of his books. Chaplin’s character of the tramp is one of the greatest icons of his age and shows how far we have travelled that we do not instinctively see him as “one of us”. Perhaps he is closer to the experience of the millions of people walking across the world to escape poverty and war.

    Liked by 2 people

    • christinawehner

      April 18, 2018 at 10:51 am

      Yes, sometimes I wonder if Chaplin’s films are more Dickensian than some film and TV adaptations of Dickens work! That is a great point about his closeness to most people, perhaps, in the world. It reminds me of a writer who commented that during the 1920s, Harold Lloyd seemed most contemporary, but as soon as the depression hit in 1929, suddenly Chaplin seemed as relevant as ever and it was Lloyd who no longer reflected reality. Perhaps that distance you speak of his why I had trouble identifying with him initially.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Movie Movie Blog Blog

    April 18, 2018 at 1:30 am

    Nice summation! I watched all of Chaplin’s films in chronological order a few years ago. When I got to THE VAGABOND, I was startled at how real and moving it was, like “He’s not kidding around this time.” He can go from comedy to pathos in a heartbeat. Like The Beatles in music, he’s really a genre unto his own.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 18, 2018 at 10:53 am

      That’s true; I hadn’t thought of that before about a genre of his own. I think I know what you mean about “The Vagabond.” The other film that did that for me was “The Tramp.” It seemed like he added a whole no depth to his films that hadn’t been seen in silent comedy before.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Little Bits of Classics

    April 18, 2018 at 7:19 am

    I enjoyed reading your article, it proves that Chaplin was such a many-sided artist and also that one’s taste constantly changes over time. I love that the Keystone movies were those that grasped you for the first time because they receive so much undue criticism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 18, 2018 at 10:55 am

      Thanks! Yes, that’s very true what you write about what a many-sided artist he is. I wonder if there are some artists that cannot be fully appreciated until one has experienced at least most of their work. I had that with Humphrey Bogart. I’d seen his famous films, but only when I saw all the films that he wasn’t as famous for did I realize what a great actor he was.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Little Bits of Classics

        April 18, 2018 at 1:52 pm

        That means I still have a lot to catch up with in terms of Humphrey Bogart. Though I’ve loved Chaplin ever since I saw him for the first time, my first experience – as you say – wasn’t one of his famous masterpieces, but The Bank. Yet it somehow spoke to me and I just wanted to see more and more!

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          April 18, 2018 at 3:29 pm

          That is a great appreciation story! Perhaps if I’d seen the bank first.. I actually enjoyed that one a lot and was impressed with it when I was going through his short films; definitely one of his most impressive Essanay films, I thought. He totally had me going with the dream sequence, so that I was believing in it until the end. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Little Bits of Classics

            April 19, 2018 at 11:27 am

            That’s right. I love the fact that you’ve watched them all in order. I’ve tried to do that once but stopped at the end of his Keystone period. Did you do this, by the way, before the Keystones were restored?

            Liked by 1 person

            • christinawehner

              April 19, 2018 at 3:38 pm

              I actually have not seen all his keystone films, yet. I saw some of them from various silent slapstick collections, but I did see the Essanay and Mutuals in order. It would be cool to see all his keystone ones, though.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Le Magalhaes

    April 18, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    Everyone has a journey. Here, it is common to screen Modern Times in middle school, and that was my first contact with Chaplin. I’d only see him again in my senior year of high school, and a new viewing of Modern Times made me happy. But I wasn’t fully in love until City Lights – a film I’ve watched many times. And it was great to be able to discover Chaplin’s tricks by watching the Unknown Chaplin documentary.
    Thanks for hosting this great event!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 18, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks for sharing your journey, too! You have made me very curious to see the Unknown Chaplin!

      You make a great point about a journey. Perhaps it’s like love. For some, it’s love at first sight, and for others they have to get to know an artist a bit, first.


  6. Silver Screenings

    April 18, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Great essay, Christina. Loved your comparison of Chaplin to Dickens, which never would have occurred to me. (I always learn something when I come here.)

    I know what you mean when someone is so revered, it almost puts you off. How can anybody be that great? But, somehow, Chaplin lives up to the hype.

    Thanks for organizing this blogathon. I’m a bit late to the party, but I know that after I read the entries, I’ll have a greater appreciation for Chaplin, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 18, 2018 at 9:05 pm

      Never too late!! I know what you mean about greater appreciation; I thought I knew a reasonable amount about Chaplin, but there was so much I never knew or never thought about before.

      Maybe a great artist has to be rediscovered sometimes; get a little overlooked so people can feel like they are discovering him or her again. I wonder if that feeling about Chaplin’s hype is why there is this debate about whether Keaton or Chaplin was better.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Megan

    April 19, 2019 at 3:44 am

    To tell you the truth, I watched only a few films with Charlie Chaplin. I was so young at the time that I do not remember their titles or even the plot. I recall laughing a lot though.



What Are Your Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: