Charlie Chaplin At His Utter Plainest Attempts At Making Us Laugh
The Circus is a very dragged out version of Charlie Chaplin's most average short films. It does not have the amazing sense of comedy that Chaplin presented in The Gold Rush, or the earnest dramatic side of The Great Dictator. So... what does The Circus have to drag us into it? It has a few examples of what Chaplin can do physically... but not much else. I can’t quite comprehend what everyone seem to see in the film.
Yes, The Circus manages to give us a few classic moments, but none of them are quite as memorable as they would like to be. There is no comparison whatsoever from the classic moments of City Lights to the supposed “classic” moments of The Circus. On the topic of comparison between those two films, City Lights stands at such a high degree of sweetness and kindness that The Circus, does not have. The Circus’s sense of humour revolves around people chasing after The Little Tramp and idiots getting hit over the head with blunt objects. I will, however, state that the backdrop of the film being set in a circus, does assist the film’s theme of buffoonery. The many conveyor belts, tight ropes and ferocious animals help Chaplin demonstrate his great talent as a clown. I will say that there are indeed some good laughs in The Circus, but not a single one has managed to stick with me. I should add, that I don’t think Chaplin was too fond of this film either. Although he never outright stated that he did not like it, he failed to even mention it in his autobiography.
I should mention here, that The Circus is completely unmemorable for me. I have seen it twice over the course of the last two years, and it does not stick for you. I made sure to write this very review directly after finishing the film in order to maintain a clear and vivid memory of the film. Perhaps it’s reason for being so very forgettable is it’s complete simplicity. It does not have unique sight gags such as Modern Times or witty moments such as The Great Dictator. The Circus has stunts that we could have actually gone to a circus, and seen them being performed by a superior circus performers. I’m not doubting Chaplin’s skill. I’m simply stating that Chaplin is a filmmaker, and I would rather see a circus performer perform circus acts rather than Charlie Chaplin perform them.
The Circus suffers from being very dry and uninspired. It seems like Chaplin was attempting to replicate the films of Buster Keaton, without the classic Keaton touch that would make such a film a classic. Keaton’s style was better suited to such a film. It’s clear that Buster Keaton was extraordinary at creating fabulous stunts and special effect sequences. Chaplin’s films were superior in the areas of social commentary and through the overall sweetness and kindness of his films. This said, there is a great deal of incredible stunts that would just have worked better should they be performed by the stone-faced Buster Keaton. With The Circus, Chaplin created a non-typical Chaplin film without noticing it. In 1928, this was only his second film and I doubt he fully understood the capacity of his physical humour. Much like his previous film The Kid, The Circus is rather stale.
I am actually quite amazed at the great skill Chaplin demonstrates throughout his multiple stunts. Any form of digital animation would not exist for years to come, so we know that Chaplin would have certainly performed the scene where is trapped in a cage with a lion and the scene where he is walking across a tightrope. I do not doubt that many safety precautions were placed in order to make sure that Chaplin did not get eaten by the lion or fall to his tragic demise. It is, nonetheless, most refreshing to see humour being performed naturally, as opposed to being faked as it is in most modern films.
As I briefly stated earlier, The Circus lacks any degree of intelligence. Should one desire to see foolish endeavors at physical comedy, it would be a film right up their alley. It also lacks one of my favourite aspects of Chaplin’s other films. The Circus has no sense of a purpose other than to make you laugh. The Great Dictator was clearly an anti-Holocaust film. Modern Times was to raise awareness of the mistreatment the unemployed were forced to experience. Monsieur Verdoux was somewhat about the foolishness of the material way of life. Even The Kid, as much as I wasn’t a fan of it, had a purpose, and that was to give you a smile and a tear. But what does The Circus have to make it an important film? Well, could you say that The Circus is about the mistreatment of circus performers? I think such a comment would be evidence of someone trying to find meaning where there truly is none. This arises such a question as, “does a film need meaning, to be considered good?”. Most people confuse meaning in such a case with artistic imagery. No, not every film requires artistic imagery (it is certainly impressive if it does, however), but I believe every film requires a purpose. It requires a reason for being a film, and I do not think The Circus has such a thing.
I might as well recommend The Circus, even though I, personally, did not like it. Many people would enjoy a nice relaxing laugh that with a very light-hearted feel. Should that be your kind of film, I would certainly recommend this movie. However, should you be in search of a greater form of cinematic value, the rest of Chaplin’s filmography would most likely be better suited towards you. Overall, I consider The Circus to be a stunt-driven film that is overall, far too simple for it’s own good.
Directed by Charlie Chaplin,
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Merna Kennedy and Harry Crocker