Film History

Silent film comedy is a film genre that entails the use of visual and physical movements to tell stories in a humorous way in order to entertain the viewers. This style of film was particularly popular in the 1900-1920s era where the technology was not yet developed to include sound tracks in videos. The first silent film to be created was about a garden and a hose. The film ran for 49 seconds. It was first introduced to the public on 10th July 1895. The majority of the silent films are in black and white because the color film technology was not yet invented by that time. Actors in the silent films converse with each using body language and mouthing. They address the issues facing the community and nation or narrate about a particular problem through the means of critics. Silent comedy was enjoyed by the majority of the population in the past and is stilled preferred in the modern world of cinematography and media. It has had a lot of influences on the current film and mass media industry because films draw creativity from it. This article focuses on the director who created a lot of silent films in order to understand the context of silent film better. Charlie Chaplin is the selected figure that the paper uses to conduct an analysis on the silent films. The paper investigates the following key areas in order to profoundly analyze the silent film. Chaplin’s early life, marriage, the works that Chaplin did and the later years before his unfortunate death which occurred on 25th December, 1997.

Charlie Spencer Chaplin was born on 16th April, 1889 in London, England. Charlie’s father was known as Charles Chaplin Sr. He was a versatile vocalist and actor married to Hannah (Chaplin’s mother) but the family life was not long and the couple separated when the boy was around one year old. Because of this separation, Charlie knew little about his father. The only time that Charlie spent with him was when his mother was admitted to hospital and by then he was twelve years old. Charles Chaplin Sr, like many other music hall star of that period, was a morbid alcoholic. At the age of 37, he died because of his drinking problems. By then, Chaplin, as it has been mentioned above, was only twelve years old. Charlie Chaplin’s mother was known as Hannah Chaplin. She was a singer and an actress too. Hannah had three children Sydney and Charlie Spencer Chaplin as well as George Wheeler Dryden. Chaplin did not spend time with his younger brother because he was taken by his father (Leo Dryden) when it was only six months and lived separately. Hannah was constantly sick and this made her to be fired by the employer. She settled in being a seamstress which was a low-paid job and Hannah was unable to provide her family with the necessities financially. This made Chaplin and Sydney live a life full of hardships and poverty. Chaplin and the brother had to be sent to a workhouse. Hannah’s sickness forced her to get admitted to hospital again, thus to earn a living Chaplin had to fend for himself on his own. Soon Chaplin mother’s health deteriorated even more, including the psychological problems, and she was taken to a mental asylum. During this period of her stay in the mental asylum, Chaplin and his brother Sydney were taken to stay with their father, which, as said before, was the only chance for the boys to spend time with their parent. They were later taken from him by the national society for the prevention of cruelty to children. After her release from the asylum, Hannah was again attacked with her illness in 1905 and this time permanently.

Charlie Chaplin had four wives. His first wife was Mildred Harris who was an actress. Chaplin married her because Mildred believed that she was pregnant with Chaplin’s child. This was later discovered to be a false alarm. With time, she became pregnant and bore Chaplin his first son who died after living only three days from birth. Afterwards, Chaplin’s marriage to Mildred did not last and came to an end in 1920. Chaplin’s second wife was Lita Grey who was an actress as well and worked with Chaplin on the creation of his film. Together, they had two children Charles Jr. and Sydney Earl. This marriage was not lasting too and subsequently ended in the court. After this marriage, Chaplin had a third wife Paulette Goddard who also worked with him in his films. Like the previous marriages, it did not last long. However, the separation process was far calmer than the preceding ones and the claims are that the divorce was on amicable terms. Chaplin later met Oona O’Neil whom she married and had eight children with. Oona was only eighteen years old when they met, while Chapin was already fifty three years old. The couple moved to Switzerland where they established their home after Chaplin was exiled from the U.S. In total, Chaplin had eleven children.

Chaplin came from the family that had the talent in singing and acting. Both his parents were singers and actors. Chaplin says that his mother always encouraged him to act and he first acted when she was attacked by her illness during a performance and Chaplin had to go on the stage as her replacement for that day. Charlie became a director when he arrived in the U.S. He majorly directed the movies which he acted. He was inspired to direct movies after he understood that the directors were not listening to the reasonable suggestions that he was making during the filming of the show. His first directed movie was a considerable threat. He had promised to pay $ 1500 to his boss if the film he directed “Caught in the Rain” was a failure. The film was a major success and Chaplin therefore introduced the new kind of comedy, which was slower than that of his predecessor. In 1914, Chaplin was invited to perform with the Essanay Manufacturing Company, which promised to pay him $1250 a week and additionally offered him a $10000 bonus for signing with the company. Chaplin accepted the offer and he begun to form a team of actors and actresses he would create the show with. He started putting a lot of time and care in each film he did and had a high level of control over the process of the filming of the actors. That is when started his directing work.

As it was mentioned earlier, Chaplin directed his films as well as acted them. This gave him important roles in the film industry and his products were of high demand. Top ten of the most popular films directed by Chaplin that were extremely liked include: The Kid, Modern Times, The Gold Rush, The Great Dictator, City Lights, Limelight, The Circus, The Immigrant, A Busy Day and Monsieur. Chaplin gained a lot of popularity because of these films which made him receive recognition as one of the greatest and most important comedian artists in the motion picture history. Chaplin received five academy awards for his works.

As a director, Chaplin produced his first full length film in 1921. The film “The Kid” was a huge success and became the second highest grossing film during the time of its production. This film also gave Chaplin even a wider fame in the film industry and was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the films that integrated comedy and drama to portray a cultural, historical and aesthetical importance of the nation, being saved as the country’s treasure in the U.S. National Film Registry. The Kid story is about the boy abandoned by his mother in the back seat of an expensive car when he was very small. The car is stolen and the thieves decide to leave the child in the street. This baby is found by a tramp. Chaplin is starring as the tramp. At first, the tramp is unwilling to take the baby but he eventually cannot resist the feeling of sympathy and takes the baby. During this time, the mother has a change of heart and goes to take her abandoned child. She becomes heartbroken on learning that the baby was taken away. The tramp stays with the child for five years, the period during which the child grows into a toddler and becomes a partner with the tramp and helps him with committing minor crimes so that the tramp can be employed to fix them. By this time, the child’s mother becomes a huge star who conducts charity activities for the poor in order to relieve herself of the burden of abandoning her own child. The little tramp gets sick, is taken to hospital and discovered to be an adopted child of the tramp. The doctor notifies the authorities who come to take the boy from the streets. After a long struggle, the tramp obtains his child back and they become fugitives. The manager of the facility where the two went to seek refuge took the boy to the authority so that he can earn the promised award. The boy is then reunited with his mother. On waking up, the tramp discovers that the boy is missing. He tries to find him but in vain,  after which he returns to their original home where the police comes and takes him to the child’s mother. The film is said to have been inspired by the child that Chaplin lost with his first wife Mildred Harris. This movie attracted the love and affection of numerous viewers because of the social responsibility it portrayed. Charlie Chaplin’s work was and is still considered to be creative and innovative, going ahead of its time. This has contributed to the many awards that he received. His work in the motion picture was discovered and recognized and with this he earned himself a star in the Holly wood Walk of Fame. Apart from the Kid, some other films directed by him have also been added to the American National Film Registry. The Immigrant, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and the Gold Rush fall under this category.

The last two films that Chaplin made were shot in England. The reason for this was that his re-entry permit to the U.S was rescinded. By this time, the videos with sound track had already long been in production. These two videos have soundtrack as well. They are The King in New York and A Countess from Hong Kong. During his lasts years in U.S, Chaplin was faced with a lot of scandal that tainted his public image and occupied a lot of his time because he was attending a lot of trials. Chaplin’s misfortunes started with a gallant adventure he had with an actress Joan Barry. The couple were claimed to have a sexual relationship. Barry and Chaplin had been separated for one year before Barry came with the announcement that she was carrying Chaplin’s baby. Chaplin denied these claims and this was the major cause of his troubles. The chairman of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) J. Edgar Hoover did not like Chaplin’s art and suspected him of having unreliable political views and used the opportunity to generate negative publicity about Chaplin. Additionally, Chaplin found himself in conflict with the authority for they claimed that he was supporting the communist. These events inspired him to write and direct the film The King in New York. The film was about the family constantly affected by the FBI. Chaplin did not see any need to file for a new re-entry permit in the U.S, so he relocated his family to Switzerland. He left his wife Oona O’Neil to finalize his unfinished business in the U.S but she later joined him in Switzerland. Together, as mentioned before, the couple had eight children. Chaplin died peacefully on 25th December, 1997 in the country in which he was neither born nor gained fame.

Charlie Chaplin had a very hard and challenging life when he was a child. His father being an unsupportive drunkard left the responsibility of caring for their family in the mother’s hands, who was constantly sick and thus unable to fend for them. This made Chaplin and his brother to fend for themselves in the young age. Chaplin was encouraged by the mother to become an actor. He followed this dream of hers and eventually became an actor and the director to many loved films that gained him his contemporary popularity and later the world fame. Chaplin’s works earned him plenty of awards and recognitions. During his later years, Chaplin was faced with a lot of difficulties and conflicts with the authority, so when he discovered that his re-entry permit to the U.S had expired, he did not bother attaining a new one. Instead he moved to Switzerland with his family where they lived until he died on 25th December, 1997.

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