History with Charlie Chaplin
When analyzing the brief history we have associated with film, we find a lot of rich information about people that have been extremely successful. One of the most interesting concepts that grew out of cinema was the star system. Often times people would go see movies purely because they knew the actors in the movie. That gave it a reputation of being a high-caliber film. One of the first stars in this system was Charles Spencer Chaplin. How did Charlie Chaplin rise to become such a popular comedian in the film industry? He became such a great star because of his upbringing in the entertainment industry, His attention to the details of what his audience wanted and what was going on in the world at the time, and his being in the right place at the right time.
Charles Spencer Chaplin, better known as Charlie Chaplin or The Tramp, was named after his father, a music entertainer. Early on in his life, he lived with his mother, Hannah Hall, a singer, who gave him his debut performance at age five when she lost her voice mid-song. As Charlie grew up, he used his mother’s business contacts to become a professional entertainer in 1897 by joining a clog-dancing act. He was also a small part of some stage acts until 1913. Charlie was touring in America as was signed to appear in Mack Sennett’s comedy films (Erickson).
As we see in the Film History textbook, Mack Sennett was a great producer/director. “Among the most successful shorts were the films of producer-director Mack Sennett. Sennett headed the Keystone company, which specialized in slapstick comedy” (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 63) Charlie Chaplin could not have been in a better position to become successful. Although he had a few bumps in the road, such as Making a Living (1914), Chaplin used these as milestones that he would cross to become a better performer. He put together a unique wardrobe consisting of big pants, a small vest, giant floppy shoes, a hat, a cane, and a mustache. Then, with Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), The Tramp (1915), and most notably The Pawnshop (1916), Charlie became a character everyone knew! His rise to fame had truly been started, and it wouldn’t stop here. During his early years he made 35 Keystone comedies under Sennett. Then, he went on to direct and act in a multitude of successful films, which landed him with many awards and a name that will never be forgotten (Erickson).
How did he become so successful? Chaplin had the perfect upbringing for this industry. We see, as stated earlier, that he debuted at age five and was involved in the entertainment industry his whole life. When the motion picture industry came to be, and the star system was becoming established, a lot of big names from other versions of entertainment became actors. Charlie followed this line of people; and, although he wasn’t very popular before film, he was able to make a name for himself because he knew what the people wanted.
This is another reason why Charlie Chaplin succeeded in the industry. He paid attention to what the people wanted, and he knew what was going on in the world. He used these things to be able to relate to people or make fun of their circumstances to bring some joy into their lives. He allowed an escape from reality. Times were hard for people. World War I was well on its way. People were trying to recover (Thompson and Bordwell). Chaplin too advantage of this and was able to use it to his advantage in his career. You can see this in The Pawnshop (1916). People at that time probably went to the pawnshops often. They needed to make some money to be able to get through the hard times. In this film, you see Chaplin turn a pawnshop into an absolute circus. ”The phenomenal flight of Chaplin from the ranks of small-time vaudeville to his preeminent position in the motion-picture industry has been the most romantic event in the whole history of that industry” ("Motion Picture Studio Directory" 208-209). He was the joy in everyone’s hearts. This lighthearted, slapstick comedy is exactly what people needed to see to get them through the times, and that is why it, and he were both such big hits. However, there were a lot of comedians around at the time that were just as good or even better than Charlie Chaplin. What made him stand above the rest?
When we really get down to the fine details, Charles Chaplin was just in the right place at the right time. Being in the entertainment industry, then happening to get signed by Mack Sennett while on tour in America were both huge helps to his career. Then, on top of that, Hollywood took off after World War I. As we see in the Film History textbook, “Before World War I, the cinema was a largely an international affair” (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 45) It was perfect timing for Chaplin to be in America. This is something that he couldn’t have controlled, but he happened to be in the right place at the right time. Being in the most popular area for his industry definitely helped him rise to fame.
“The world’s greatest comedian directs his own productions and conceives the great majority of the situations and stories himself” ("Motion Picture Studio Directory" 208-209). Being referenced as the world’s greatest comedian is a huge feat. Chaplin accomplished it by growing up in the industry. He knew how to make people laugh. He paid attention to the audience and produced movies worth seeing. He was in the right place at the right time and was able to peak his success higher than any other comedians. Because of these reasons, Charles Spencer Chaplin rose to be the greatest comedian in early film, if not the great comedian of motion picture forever.
Erickson, Harold L. "Charlie Chaplin." Charlie Chaplin. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/106116/Charlie-Chaplin>.
Thompson, Kristin, and David Bordwell. Film History. 3rd Ed. New York: the McGraw-Hill Companies inc., 2010. Print.
"Charles Spencer Chaplin, world's foremost comedian." Motion Picture Studio Directory. (1916): 208-209. Print. <http://archive.org/stream/motionpicturestu00moti#page/208/mode/2up>.