The Circus


Charlie Chaplin has always been an aloof figure to me. Although I am gaining good ground on his filmography, I don’t think that I will ever truly understand or appreciate his films like some other film writers do. I think it is because I was exposed to him so late in life. I only started watching his films seriously a couple of years ago and although I can appreciate his humor, he sometimes bores me with his drawn out stunts and his simple story telling. Unfortunately I can’t force myself to love something that I know I should, but I am trying very hard with Mr. Chaplin.

The Circus did not help me with my feelings of ennui. It is a simple story about the Tramp who gets a job at the circus. He is duped into thinking he is just a production guy, but he is really the star of the show. This is because his inability to do anything right produces comic results. Of course there is tension with the a girl and another man, but that is really secondary to the sight gags he pulls off throughout the course of the film. I wonder why Mr. Chaplin did not put the Tramp character at a circus any earlier than he did. He seems to be a natural character in this environment. There are tons of pies he can put in people’s faces, do dads that he can trip over, precarious situations (like being locked in a lion’s cage) he can put himself in and natural tension he can set up between him and the ring leader. But I feel like this opportunity was slightly wasted. Although the film was pleasant enough, there were not as many laugh out loud moments that he had in Modern Times, The Gold Rush or City Lights. A lot of the scenes just seemed to be a demo reel of all the different kinds of stunts and sight gags he can pull off. In short, Mr. Chaplin seemed to be distracted and it comes across on the screen.

While doing research on this film, I found a couple of biographical events that happened to Mr. Chaplin while he was working on this film. Part of his studio burnt down, he lost the climax of the film which was this very ornate tight rope walking sequence which he then had to re-shoot, he was juggling several different mistresses, a new wife (who was around fifteen when he married her… ew) and a new baby at the same time. All of this probably led to the distraction I picked up on while watching this film. Sometimes life does get in the way of art and all we can do is sit back and let it happen. It was unfortunate that he decided to go on with a picture when he had all of this weighing on his mind. But even geniuses make mistakes…


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