Saturday, April 9, 2011

FI: Limelight

United States, 1952
Directed by Charlie Chaplin

"Yes, life can be wonderful if you're not afraid of it. All it needs is courage, imagination... and a little dough."

Limelight is a late Chaplin picture, produced well after he retired the Little Tramp and began talking on screen, and released during a difficult period that would ultimately result in Chaplin's exile from America. Yet it hearkens back to an earlier -- if not simpler or better -- time, taking place in the music halls and vaudeville stages of 1914. Chaplin plays Calvero, a once-popular clown and comedian whose descent into alcohol, old age, and ill-health has left him a street performer. He drunkenly rescues Thereza "Terry" Ambrose (Claire Bloom), a fellow resident of his apartment house, from an attempted suicide, learning that she was a dancer with great potential whose self-consciousness broke her nerves. Calvero helps Terry regain her strength and ambition while attempting to revive his own stalled career before it's too late.

Chaplin's films always wear their hearts on their sleeves, and Limelight does this to great effect. Here, he tries to examine the things that we live for: love, attachment, dependence, adoration, the thrill of the stage. It is a film about aging, about celebrity and reputation, about the survival of the arts (and the artists) in the face of changing tastes, and about the simultaneously nurturing and destructive power of the showbiz machine. It touches on both sides of entertainment: the narcissistic self-indulgence of performers and the self-sacrifice of leaving it all on the stage. It is not an overly optimistic movie, though it has moments of great hope and joy. It features fantastic lengthy set pieces, some pulled from Calvero's memories and dreams of the stage, some from the "real" theatrical world. And it showcases the first and only film collaboration between Hollywood's greatest silent clowns, Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It's also hilarious, beautiful, and heartbreaking. Watch it.


  1. I just found out where the term "limelight" comes from on the SGU podcast.


    I guess I should have known that the washed up star trope was a very old one.

    Have you seen "The Illusionist (L'illusionniste)"?

  2. @Spurge

    Nope, haven't seen The Illusionist, but it's in my queue (and at the top, even though Netflix won't have the DVD until sometime in May)

    And the washed-up star thing is a VERY old trope. Human beings have always feared outliving their usefulness due to either age or problems of their own making. But, sometimes, people find a way to make it not FEEL so old :)

  3. I went to see "The Illusionist" at the Capitol a week or so ago. Did not like it as much as "The triplets of Belville" but it was still very good.

    More of a downer than I expected.