Photo Essays
1. Exile’s Return
2. Chaplin’s Parents
3. Hannah Chaplin’s Femmes Fatales
4. Playing Dress-Up  In The Land of Make Believe
5. Teenage Girls and Fear of Aging
6. Chaplin’s Three Teenage Wives
7. Mildred Harris
8. Lita Grey
9. Oona O’Neill
10. Chaplin’s Father
11. A Royal Lion
12. Vesta Tilley as Bertie
13. Ella Shields as Bertie
14. Making A Living
15. The Lion Comique’s Son: Dressed Like A Bum
16. Monsieur Verdoux as a Lion Comique
17. Calvero as a Lion Comique
18. The Lion Comique’s Son in the Limelight
19. Charlie as a Child
20. The Kid’s Lucky Break
21. Syd Chaplin
22. A Family Album of Theatrical Drunks
23. Chaplin’s Family Romance
24. Edna Purviance
25. Purviance’s Influence on Chaplin’s Character
26. Essanay
27. Chaplinitis
28. Chaplin’s Predecessors
29. Eye Contact: Audience-Performer Intimacy
30. Chaplin the Auteur
31. Chaplin’s Two Autobiographies
32. Going It Alone
33. The Circus
34. Autobiographical Starvation Scenes From The Gold Rush
35. Autobiographical Madness Scenes in Modern Times
36. Two British Music Hall Traditions and Topical Comedy
37. The Great Dictator
38. Fatal Attraction: Joan Barry
39. Monsieur Verdoux: Guillotine or Hatchet Job?
40. Limelight
Chaplin: A Life In Film
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 The Circus


Chaplin’s film acting career was profoundly influenced by these two Cockney-born actors who sometimes played on the same bill as his troupe of touring clog dancers--the Eight Lancashire Lads. As a precocious and ambitious 10-year-old performer, studiously observing Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno’s acts from the wings whenever he had the chance while playing the halls with his own company, Charlie practiced doing dead-on impersonations of their signature performances—which he then used to learn more about acting technique and the psychology of audience performer relations.

Born with a photographic memory and a flair for mimicry which he credited to his actress-mother, Chaplin would still be able to do effortless letter-perfect imitations of dozens and dozens of other performers’ acts fifty years later. Throughout his life, he was a walking encyclopedia of British music hall history.

One of the most striking features of Lloyd and Leno’s stage performance technique was their ability to break down effortlessly the so-called “fourth wall” of traditional theater by establishing an intimate personal relationship with mass audiences through wink-and-nod eye contact, hand-cupped confidential asides and a variety of other devices. Aware of the critical tactical importance of his screen character establishing similarly intimate contact with physically absent audiences, Chaplin experimented with the little tramp’s visual gaze to connect and bond emotionally with moviegoers.

Calling attention to Chaplin’s seemingly effortless use of this gaze artifice, one actor observed: “his most disarming use of simplicity was a simple look. A look. Have you ever realized that Chaplin always looked at you from the screen—no matter what the action—he looked at you, the audience, as if he knew you—was about to tell you a secret? Made you wonder if he were a neighbor…He established an intimate contact with you in the look, which relaxed you in your seat, prepared you to believe anything he wanted to show you. And with an inimitable wink, profiled glance, or eyebrow-raised stare, he tapped your heart for an extra beat. That look—that simple gaze of familiarity first pulled the margins away from the silent comedy screen and laid the fantasy right in your heart as well as your lap.”

Chaplin’s pioneering use of the little tramp’s gaze was also predicated on his understanding of stage psychology: “I have noticed men and women try to hide their emotions rather than express them and that is the method I have chosen to be as realistic as possible.”

Therefore, a major tactical objective of film acting technique—according to Chaplin--was to allow the viewer the illusion of reading his thoughts. “Don’t sell it, they’re peeking at you,” was the way he put it.

As to Dan Leno’s deceptively simple technique of using his stage character’s gaze to enrich comedy with pathos, Marie Lloyd observed: “Ever seen his eyes? The saddest eyes in the whole world. That’s why we all laughed at Danny.
Because if we hadn't laughed, we should have cried ourselves sick.
I believe that’s what real comedy is, you know, it’s almost like crying.”

As to Chaplin’s possible debt to Leno on this score: during a sentimental visit to London in 1921, Charlie openly referred to Dan as a former boyhood “idol of mine” and graciously accepted the gift of a pair of the deceased actor’s shoes from members of his family. (For a more systematic, in-depth tracing of British music hall traditions on Charlie Chaplin’s film acting technique see Chaplin A Life, Chapter IX).
© 2008 All Essay Rights Reserved.

All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, Copyright © Roy
Export Company Establishment._Charles Chaplin and the Little Tramp are trademarks and/or
service marks of Bubbles Inc. S.A. and/or Roy Export Company
Establishment, used with permission.

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