Stage 2: Cram information frantically into brain

Iconic movie roles are not often as reflective of the actor as the Little Tramp is, mostly because the actor was also the writer, director and largely the cinematographer. Comedies tell you what the writer thinks is funny. When the premise depends on the audience's sympathy following the protagonist, as these do, they also tell you what qualities the writer thinks make a hero sympathetic.

The Tramp is neither stupid nor malicious. He's unlucky, inattentive, often naïve, and occasionally very drunk. At worst, he gets himself into trouble because his reach exceeds his grasp, particularly when it comes to pretty girls. He usually gets himself out of it by being clever, and faster than the guy chasing him. You just know that if these things were being made today, they'd come out closer to Dumb and Dumber than anything else.

A lot of the later films are wicked social satire -- actual satire, not whatever the hell Sacha Baron Cohen thinks he's doing. The Great Dictator pissed off a fair few people when it came out. Germany, for example. As far as I can tell, Chaplin was a social liberal who despaired of actual politics. When McCarthyism rolled around, he was called to testify in front of the committee. After being twice delayed, he sent a telegram informing them rather shortly that he was not a Communist or an anything-else-ist for that matter, and in fact had never joined a political party in his life. The committee sort of looked at one another down the length of their tribunal table, and Charlie Chaplin was graciously excused. Charlie Chaplin then moved to Europe, tired of the witch hunts, and stayed there for a couple of decades.

All of his film credits are under "Charles Chaplin", by the way. Everyone calls him Charlie because... well, because everyone always called him Charlie. He thought of himself as Charlie, or at least introduced himself that way, according to other people. It seems a little odd to think of such an enormous personality keeping the diminutive as a nickname, but I suppose if it's been stuck in your head all your life, it becomes a part of your identity. 

Chaplin wavers between being completely unrecognizable and strangely familiar when out of character, with brief flashes of "Oh! That's where the Tramp comes from!" in his mannerisms. (A lot of the less outlandish gestures are, in fact, exaggerations of things he does when out of character.) Silent films required garish amounts of makeup by today's standards; the eyebrows are greasepaint, the mustache is crepe, and there is an unholy amount of eyeliner involved, so he looks rather different without them. The mop of hair seems to all be his, though he normally wears it slicked back with whatever sort of oil men used in those days.

Surprisingly, there do exist outtakes from some of his films. (Trimmings from silent films were considered trash, and mostly tossed. Nobody thought movies were worth more than quick money at that point.) They're a mix of things from his short comedies, in no particular order. He'd be between twenty and thirty in most of them, I think.

I always think the outtakes are more telling than the finished products. There's always a moment when the take breaks down, when you see someone hang on the line between actor and character and decide which way they want to topple, whether it would be better to just stop there and drop it or carry on and make a joke to defuse the tension.

Chaplin does stomp off once, presumably going RRGH FINE TAKE 901 GODDAMNIT. He looks displeased on a couple of others. Invariably he's the one who's bollixed up the timing when that happens; normally he just starts corpsing like everyone else. Breaks into laughter, grins, eyes crinkling at the corners, looks up at the camera before the take cuts off. The pretty lady with the guitar who reaches back to touch him as he starts cracking up is Edna Purviance. They were involved for a while, then both wound up marrying other people; Chaplin took an interest in her screen career, as he seems to have done for all of his wives and girlfriends, and evidently she stayed on the payroll of his production company until she passed away sometime in the 1950s. The women look happier to be working with him than the men do, but I also can't see much past the stage makeup the men wear, so I can't be all that sure.

There's something going on with Chaplin that I can't quite put my finger on. I want to say he looks shy, but that implies a discomfort with being around people (or performing, or otherwise being the center of attention) that I don't see at all. He may just be very keenly aware of what he looks like. There's also something about the way he moves that seems... odd. Charming. Unconventional. Youthful? Airy? I cannot put a word to it and it is driving me mad. I've seen other people do it, and depending on their gender and what else is going on with their personalities, it can come off as delicate and fluttery or very bashful or intensely self-conscious. 

His writing may shed some light on it. I have Chaplin's book -- one of Chaplin's books, at any rate -- and am just about to stick my nose in it. This thing is like 500 pages long, which is a hell of a lot of words for someone I'm guessing had no formal education to speak of, and either no ghostwriter or no ghostwriter that was ever acknowledged.

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