The Real Chaplin

It’s the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length feature, The Kid, and that’s as good  an excuse as any to celebrate all of his films. But who was Chaplin off-screen? A new Showtime documentary, The Real Chaplin directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney purports to get to the bottom of the real Charlie Chaplin…does it?

Click the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my review, as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI FM NYC, and Pacifica stations across the country.

Breaking the Frame





After reading my friend Mitchel Cohen’s essay on factors affecting how people change their political views, I was reminded of the scene above from Chaplin’s Modern Times (I’m strange that way). Facts alone, Cohen says, are often not enough to change a person’s political views, because the person’s psychological reaction formation simply dismisses the new facts as false propaganda.

I’m a little less pessimistic concerning facts. Generally, I think that facts that challenge the framework of the conversation, or move the discussion to a wider context, some meta-level, can be very useful.

Well, this isn’t the place for that discussion (but see Mitchel Cohen’s excellent series of essays here: for really deep imaginative thinking about how political change is effected and affected).

But what that conversation reminded me of was the roller skating scene from Modern Times, as well as reminding me of magic and the technology of deception. If you haven’t watched the video above yet, please take two minutes to watch it. Don’t watch the video link below though yet—it’s a spoiler.

Once you watch the first video, consider your feelings about the scene. Next click the link below.  I think you’ll enjoy it. Consider what happens to your mindset about the first video when the frame is broken.

Click here for the second video.

Thanks to YouTubers TheChaplinFilms and Petr Pechar




City Lights


Critic James Agee called the final scene of City Lights the “greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid.” I much prefer Modern Times and The Great Dictator as complete Chaplin films, but I still do love the ending of City Lights.

The set-up: The Tramp befriends a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill), but she mistakes him for a wealthy man. The Tramp vows to raise money so that the girl can have an operation to restore her sight. He fails at a succession of jobs, but manages to help a drunken millionaire who gives the Tramp $1000 for the girl’s operation. He gives the girl the money, then leaves, the girl’s illusion of his wealth remaining intact.

The Tramp is arrested by the police who assume that he stole the money, and he is put in jail. Months later, he is released; the girl has had her operation and she now runs a small flower shop … you can pick it up from there…click on the video to play.

Thanks to YouTuber okonx

The Dumb Waiter


Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times has more great comic set pieces than just about any other movie I can think of (see here, here, and here for examples). The waiter scene above is yet one more clip from the film that makes me just drop my jaw at its conception and execution.

Waving A Red Flag


One more great scene from Charlie Chaplin’s wonderful movie, Modern Times. The set-up is that he’s just been released from the hospital (nervous breakdown from his last factory job), so he’s not fully aware of what is going on in the outside world.

The flag, of course, is red.

“You must speak.” “I can’t.” “You must, it’s our only hope.”

In the Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin plays a Jewish barber who is mistaken for the mad dictator of Ptomania, Adenoid Hynkel. Hynkel’s party wears the insignia of the Double Cross. Circumstances force the shy barber to give a speech to millions of Hynkel’s followers. What follows is one of the most extraordinary speeches in cinema history from the most celebrated silent film star ever. Click on the video above to play.

Script for a One Coin Routine


The best magicians have long told us that the method is not the heart of a trick. Magic, after all, is a branch of the theatrical arts, not a species of brain twister, puzzle, or mathematics lesson. The premise and effect are what the audience sees. The rest is for backstage discussion.

To that end, when a magician is planning a routine, a script is very helpful. Here’s a sample script involving a very simple one coin routine. Interestingly, there’s no outward dialogue in this script! But by working a script, a performer can take a mundane set of tricks and create a more compelling performance piece, as follows.

The following effect is what Gerry Deutsch might call “‘perverse magic.”

Effect: a confused, but lovable old man or woman gets very lucky. S/he is not sure if this good luck is a hallucination or not.

Character: A Chaplinesque poor tramp who can’t believe his or her eyes. Older than Chaplin though, not drunk, but the eyeglasses are not always reliable. Time isn’t what it was.  Was it ever?

This is all performed silently. The dialogue in the script you’re reading is the performer’s silent script. Nothing is spoken out loud. Method is not important right now. The script, as per Pete McCabe’s advice in Scripting Magic is from the audience point of view.

1) (An old man or woman with glasses enters. Looks up to the right, then the left, then back to the right, puzzled.) “A coin in the air? No, can’t be. Coins in the air! I’m seeing things. (Takes off glasses and rubs them against shirt.) There they are again! Maybe it’s a spot against my eyeglasses stuck. (Rubs finger from inside to outside–no glass!) Huh? That’s weird, how did my finger…? (Looks at finger) Hey I got an idea–this is strange, I hope nobody is watching this–I’m going to grab one. (Reaches out, there it is!) What the–OMG–This is like when I–let me look at this–Wow.”

2) (Spinning coin in between both hands) “This is so beautiful–from up there! (Holds up in LH) This is so precious. (Puts in RH, closes hand tight. ) Wait is someone there? (Look around for anyone.) The coin is still there, yes! (Checks the coin, close hand again) I’m so happy I found this.”

3) “Wait a second, something funny is happening with that coin, it’s jumping in my hand it’s weird it’s trying to get away!  Omigosh, I think it’s gone. I can’t bear to think that it is. Is it? (Slowly open hand) It’s gone!”

4) (Looking around) “Where did it go, is it back where I got it from? No, did I drop it, no. Did I–wait–what’s that weird twitching under my right arm? It’s omigosh, it’s my coin (Kissing it). So glad. You bad boy. (Deliberately put it back into RH. Shake tight. Wags finger at it:  ‘Bad boy’. Kisses it.) Wait a second, something funny is happening again with that coin, it’s jumping in my hand, it’s pulling my hand away. It’s gone!  Wait something strange happening now with my left armpit (grab the coin from under the L armpit with RH, transfer to LH in order to adjust glasses to see it better.) Oh you crazy coin.”

5) “And it’s real silver! (Bites it, nods his head to confirm, yes it’s real. Bites it again, swallows it. Look of panic.) I swallowed this thing! I’ve got to get it up! (Coughs and eventually a whole slew of coins comes up which he catches in his hat.) Where did all those come from? That’s really strange. (Looks up at audience for a moment, then back at hat. S/he is startled. Turns the hat upside down) The coins are all gone! what’s going on here?”

6) (Stands motionless for a few moments) “Gone. They’re  nowhere. I screwed up. Maybe it wasn’t even real. (Walk towards Stage Right, looks behind him Stage Left, where he first saw the coin. Walk back slowly to that spot and looks again) I just–I know I –how can I –I’m just a loser. What–what’s that? an echo…a shadow…” (S/he reaches gently into the air again with the RH. S/he has something now. S/he rubs the fingers of the right hand together and a slow, long, pour of silver glitter flutters to the floor. S/he looks up, shaken, thankful, at the magic portal that was open for a brief time. See Chaplin photo above. S/he backs away slowly from the remains of the glitter on the floor until s/he is offstage.)