Movies

Little Man with a Big Jailbait Fetish: Charlie Chaplin Edition

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Film critic extraordinaire Alan Vanneman (yes, that Vanneman!) has written a very entertaining essay about jailbait fetishist Charlie Chaplin and his late-career film Monsieur Verdoux, a not-so-hoo-larious black comedy about a serial killer.

Vanneman's essay, in the excellent online pub, Bright Lights Film Journal, is recommended for all film and Chaplin buffs but especially Chaplin haters. Me? I've always found Chaplin as funny as cancer.

Snippets:

In 1942, the Soviets were bearing the full brunt of Hitler's war machine, with almost no assistance from her "allies." There was a quite reasonable fear that the Soviets would go under, leaving Hitler in complete control of Europe, leading to substantial agitation for a "Second Front" — the invasion of Europe in 1942 by British and U.S. forces.

Chaplin threw himself into this agitation. It was a perfect way to irritate the suits and stuffed shirts. You want patriotism? I got patriotism! Let's win this damn war, kids! Now! Chaplin made several long public speeches in the course of the agitation for a Second Front, sometimes sounding pragmatic, and sometimes aggressively pro-Soviet — "I am not a communist, but I am pro-communist" — and was obviously having a great time, to the great irritation of the many people who disliked him. He even went so far as to announce that "We are no longer shocked by the Russian purges." There is nothing wrong, after all, with killing people who are "bad." Stalin was just thinking ahead!…

All his life, Chaplin had played the hero, and he couldn't stop now [in Monsieur Verdoux], no matter how much it muddled the picture's theme. But despite the muddle, the message of the last scenes of the movie are clear: a higher man, like Chaplin, is beyond society's rules. He has only one duty — to fulfill his nature. Once he has done that, he is free. Society may kill him, but it cannot defeat him.

The premiere of Monsieur Verdoux was naturally awaited with a great deal of anticipation [but]…April 1947 was a very bad time for Chaplin to release a bad film that, however confusedly, presented himself as a martyr. His old buddy Joe Stalin was taking over Eastern Europe in traditional Stalinist fashion, committing new crimes every day while fresh evidence of his old ones — often censored during the war — were coming to light. The Soviet purges of which Chaplin spoke so highly were now seen for what they were — grotesque exercises in cruelty and sadism on an almost unimaginable scale. The public mood was shifting violently against our Red allies, and Chaplin would pay the price for his self-indulgent behavior.

Whole thing here.