The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History

By Lewis Jacobs | Go to book overview

XIII
CHARLES CHAPLIN: INDIVIDUALIST

TO think of Charlie Chaplin is to think of the movies. Yet this unique actor, director, and producer has added little to movie technique or movie form. He has been not a technician but a pantomimist, a commentator, a satirist, a social critic. His artistic problems have not been cinematic; they have been personal, always being solved by feeling. His importance lies not in what he has contributed to film art, but in what he has contributed to humanity. If he is negligible as a movie craftsman, if he has evolved no new formal aspects to enrich the medium, he has created many moments to enrich society. Chaplin will always be known for his social outlook, his insight into human nature, his pantomimic skill, his ingenious development of the incident, and his evocation of a mood. It is these qualities rather than any plastic contributions which have made him significant as a screen artist.

In the history of the American film no other single personality has so endeared himself to the world as Charlie Chaplin. His presence is as much alive as ever in the thousands of 16 mm. revivals of his work. Every generation takes him to its heart anew. As with all great characters, one sees in Chaplin what one brings to him. Children love him for his humor; adults are moved by deeper meanings, too. Every man recognizes in Chaplin's experiences his own dreams, illusions, problems, disappointments. This little tramp does what most of us would like to do and see ourselves as doing, but yet cannot bring ourselves to do. His frustrations are mankind's; his successes, universal triumphs. When he laughs, races and nations shout with him; when he is sad, a sorrowful wail encircles

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