Charlie Chaplin Gives A Shot At Making A Self Reflective Film On His Gradual Fade From Complete Success
I figured that Limelight would be at least partially a comedy - I was very wrong. In fact, I couldn’t have been even slightly more incorrect by making such an assumption. Limelight suffers from being one of the most melodramatic films I have ever seen in my entire life. I’m sure that’s partially due to the writing (Chaplin did the screenplay and the original story) and partially due to Claire Bloom’s acting. Although her performance isn’t bad - it was slightly too overdramatic to suck us in. I should factor in the fact that it was also the direction that was in fault - Chaplin should have noticed how over-the-top and unrealistic the acting was. Perhaps that was how Chaplin wanted it.
There are two key performances in Limelight. The first, is that of Charlie Chaplin. This is without a doubt his most personal film. The anger and frustration that Calvero (Chaplin’s character) faces, is the same anger and frustration the Chaplin was frustrating. Because of this - he felt very real and sympathetic. His character’s sadness and complete difference from The Tramp is what gives Limelight any semblance of gusto. It really is a beautifully melancholy film. The second preformance worth mentioning is that of Claire Bloom. This was really her breakout role and she would go on to deliver some great acting. As time passes, the idea of great acting changes. Some actors are very fortunate and their acting seems to still carry the weight (Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and James Dean for example). However, there are also some actors and actresses whose performances gradually transform from utter genius to ridiculous nonsense. I have no choice but to point my finger out at Claire Bloom in Limelight as being one of those many people. It could be something in her line delivery, because a great actress could probably manage to make “I... love you!” sound at least somewhat realistic instead of the awkward mess disguised as acting.
Chaplin was never too concerned with cinematography - or so it seemed. However, Limelight seemed to change all that. I’ll be sure to post a picture to demonstrate this, but he uses shadows and darkly lit lighting as a complete advantage that gives a feeling of something that Ingmar Bergman would shoot in his black and white films. This overall assists the film in sucking us into this dark and moody world the Chaplin is pleading for us to accept. But seriously... SOME OF THESE SHOTS! They are beyond belief! Being a filmmaker from the silent period - Chaplin carries on the value of that as Jean-Luc Godard put it, “the cinema is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie.” In some of Chaplin’s other films - the act of over-longed shots may be slightly aggravating, but they were brilliantly used in Limelight. Halfway through watching Limelight, I realized how a majority of these shots were actually tracking shots! Who knew? Charlie Chaplin is another masters of the tracking shot along with Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson!
I must mention, as much as it likes to think it does, Limelight completely fails at any attempt at actually being a comedy. One of the simple reasons is the fact that the melodrama outweighs the comedy. Secondly - it just isn’t funny. There’s a scene when Calvero sings about how he train flees, and the audience is laughing - but my face was expressionless. I say this with complete sadness- but Chaplin may have lost his touch with comedy when he finished Monsieur Verdoux. Part of making Limelight work- is we have to actually believe in the great comedic skills that Calvero once had. We can’t just see and Chaplin and believe that since it’s supposed to be semi-autobiographical he was actually funny. The flashbacks are poorly directed. Every single attempt at humour in Limelight is a complete failure. Luckily for myself, there were very fewer attempts than I was indeed expecting.
There’s a very nostalgic sense within both this film and Chaplin’s final film, A Countess From Hong Kong, and that’s because it’s Chaplin reflecting on his life in some sort of way. Although A Countess From Hong Kong is more Chaplin reflecting on the evolution and Limelight is a more personal reflection - they both work in the fact. I actually had no idea that Chaplin had faded from success until I watched this film. It seemed like him shouting out “HEY! I’m still here! Give me attention!” would be far more pretentious than it indeed was in the actual film. I’m all for Chaplin shouting out wanting to be noticed - because in all honesty, he had a skill that could not be replicated. He had a skill that deserved to be recognized.
All in all, Limelight is a Chaplin film that deserves to be seen. He was over preoccupied with doing something new for once in his career that he neglected to notice some of the very stale acting in it.
Directed by Charlie Chaplin,
Charlie Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Buster Keaton