Stage 5: Make random observations until everyone tells me to shut up.

Chaplin never minded being categorized as a comedian. He didn't want to grow out of comedy; he wanted comedy to grow. Nor was he put out by being so closely identified with the tramp that made him famous. The character apparently has a name, which I didn't know; Chaplin refers to him in the book interchangeably as "the tramp" and "Charlot". Of course, Charlot is just the French equivalent of Charlie, which goes to show how much of him went into that in the first place.

He must have either been ambidextrous or one of the unfortunate left-handers whom the Victorians smacked into pretending to be right-handed. He writes, or at least mimes writing, with his right hand, but he plays the violin with the bow in his left. (He does play; I don't know what he's playing for the obvious reason that it's a silent short, but it's something coherent.) The tramp doesn't seem to wear a watch, unless it's needed for a gag, but in The Great Dictator, the barber has his watch pocket on the right and the dictator wears his wristwatch on the same side.

Lightly is the word I think I want. He moves very lightly. Light fingers, light feet, always handling things delicately, always on his toes. A lot of the broad gestures are part of the theater, but the lightness is not an affectation; he has it also when he is on camera as himself, and in the even rarer moments where he seems not to be conscious of being on camera at all. It surfaces at the oddest times, and breaks through movements where you wouldn't ordinarily anticipate grace.

Slapstick requires a great deal of athletic skill. Any idiot can hurt himself on camera, but you need a lot of planning and practice to bounce backwards down three staircases, hit the coat rack, and tumble to a stop on the floor, then get up none the worse for wear and do it again for the next twelve takes. I expected Chaplin to be coordinated; I did not expect him to be beautiful. I am not sure he was aware of it specifically, beyond the observation that he could be extremely charismatic when he tried.

He's got a couple of stories about early attempts at juggling and his conclusion that he'd never be a threat to the professional juggler in his comedy company, but only other people seem to talk about the feats of dexterity he taught himself -- roller skating, tightrope walking, playing a number of instruments by ear, etc.

The book makes little mention of the physicality of the job, save a brief statement to the effect that once Chaplin was in charge, nobody ever got seriously hurt. Movie-making was a dangerous business in those days, especially if you were anywhere near either the huge historical epics or the Keystone Kops. Your script required an actor to leap out of the window of a burning building, you went and found a building, set it on fire, and then threw an actor out of it, ideally while the cameras were rolling. Your "stuntman" was the guy you could goad into doing it more than once.

He covers his face with his hand when he laughs. He tries not to when in makeup, probably to avoid disturbing the mustache, but he does it quite openly in home movies, clapping the long fingers of either hand across his mouth. None of the clips have any audio, so I don't know if he was trying to stifle the sound or conceal the grin or both. This is one of the things I keep reading as incongruously shy -- it's a very self-conscious reflexive gesture, but it only kicks in when he's not distracted by doing whatever is making everyone laugh. Being physically involved in something else short-circuits it. It's a little rueful. He knows he does it, and he knows he doesn't have to do it, and he knows you know all that, and he knows everyone can see him when he does it anyway.

It's also one of the things that reminds me of RDJ. They both have hands that seem to flutter around with minds of their own, although I'm quite sure they know what all of their assorted fingers are doing at any given point in time. That, and the perpetual unconscious pantomime. A very big reason Downey comes across so well when he's playing people who are haplessly, incoherently confused is that his facial expressions tell a story all by themselves. So do Chaplin's. Neither of them seem especially concerned with turning off the subtitles when out of character, either. It makes them both very easy for the audience to follow, and very easy for other people to play off of.

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