With his little mustache, oversize pants, bowler hat and walking stick, Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), known as the Little Tramp, became the greatest comic icon in the early 20th century, and his ingenious mime still captivates audiences today.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the artist’s death, a “Charlie Chaplin Movie Festival” will be held from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25 in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The event features 12 films, ranging from touching and sentimental comedy dramas such as “The Kid” (1921) and “City Lights” (1931) to controversial political works such as “Modern Times” (1936) and “The Great Dictator” (1940). A documentary, “Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin” (2003), will also be screened in Japan for the first time, exploring the highs and lows of his career through interviews with celebrities and footage from his films.
Performing pantomime and dancing in England’s music halls from an early age to support his poor family, when he debuted on screen in 1914, at age 24, Chaplin was already a skilled mime. After his first appearance in the tramp costume in his second short, “Kid Auto Races at Venice” (1914), Chaplin gradually developed the character, incorporating pathos and sentiment into slapstick, and establishing the Little Tramp’s innocent and kind, homeless-gentleman figure. Soon becoming one of the first Hollywood celebrities, Chaplin built his own studio in 1918 and, a year later, he cofounded the United Artists film distribution company and produced more feature length films.
Acclaimed as a masterpiece by many, “The Gold Rush” (1925) showcases Chaplin’s many magical mimes — eating his own shoes from starvation, making two bread rolls “dance” to entertain onlookers, and so on — as the movie follows the Little Tramp in Alaska searching for gold.
In 1952, while he faced increasing hostility in America, Chaplin shot his autobiographical film “Limelight.” The sorrow of the film’s aging comedian is a reflection of Chaplin himself, conveying the loneliness he felt for his fading career, and this was the great artist’s last American film. That year, persecuted for both his private life (he married many times with young women, most of whom were teens) and his political views (he was accused of being a communist), Chaplin was denied re-entry to the United States after he had left on a trip to England. Subsequently, he lived out his life mainly in Switzerland.
The festival runs Dec. 22 to Jan. 25 at Shinjuku Garden Cinema, a 1-min. walk from Exit B2, Shinjuku 3-chome Station on the Marunouchi Line. Tickets per screening are ¥1,400. For the full schedule, call the theater on (03) 5361-7878 or visit www.withchaplin.com.
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