The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush – 1925

Director – Charles Chaplin

Starring – Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, and Georgia Hale

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush is essentially the same film as Modern Times, the other of his films that I’ve seen.  That is not to say that it is bad, or that it is poorly done, on the contrary the gags are very well through out and expertly executed.  No, I only mean that The Gold Rush is a venue for Chaplin’s most enduring character, The Tramp, to play out many of the same, or at the very least similar, gags as seen in his other films.  The backdrops in each changes, but he essence of each is the same.

This time around The Tramp is trying his luck in the Alaskan frontier as a gold prospector.  A number of other characters struggle alongside him, most notably is Georgia, the love interest.  He spends the entirety of the movie pining after Georgia, dreaming up clever ways to get her attention, and most of the time failing miserably.  There is some tension between the Tramp and some of his fellow prospectors, but it mostly amounts to a bunch of innocent, slapstick, sight gags.  At no point was I ever convinced that Chaplin was going to fail, or die, or succumb to any of the dangers to which he is subjected throughout the film.  Once all the danger and opportunity for our hero’s failure is stripped away, all that is left are a series of nice, but rather shallow skits that are barely tied together by setting and characters.

The individual gags themselves (a delusional prospector sees the Tramp as a plump chicken, constant walking through doorways into empty space, and playing round-about games of hide and go seek from ones’ pursuers, to name a few) have inspired more than a few Warner Brothers cartoons as well as defining the language of comedy.  The real accomplishment in what Chaplin managed with his films was in the imitation that he inspired.  His gags (and those of his contemporaries) have been used, re-used, and re-imagined so much that they have become a part of our collective knowledge.  The value of his work is measured in how many people know about it, whether or not they know it’s Chaplin’s work doesn’t lessen the impact of its saturation.

Despite the fact that, in my opinion, The Gold Rush isn’t the best of the movies on this list, I recognize it’s importance.  If for no other reason than it’s contribution to the language and history of film, The Gold Rush deserves to be on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

“Sorry I’m more of a Keaton and Lloyd kind of gal.”  –  Ashley

Modern Times (1936)

Modern Times – 1936

Director – Charles Chaplin

Starring – Charles Chaplin and Paulette Goddard

Not having seen much from the cannon of Mr. Chaplin, I only had the few clips I’d seen in film school, and the similarities of his peers (Keaton, Three Stooges, Fatty Arbuckle, The Marx Brothers, etc.) on which to form my initial impression of him.  Modern Times marks my first opportunity to form an opinion based on work that I had actually seen from start to finish, and while the man clearly has vision, talent, and comedic range, it seems to me that the hype about Chaplin being the greatest performer of his generation may have given me some over-the-top expectations for him.

Please don’t get me wrong…I don’t mean to say that he is overrated, nor do I think his films are lacking any crucial element.  I guess I just wouldn’t consider the tagline that I found in IMDb to accurately describe him…(“He stands alone as the greatest entertainer of modern times! No one on earth can make you laugh as heartily or touch your heart as deeply…the whole world laughs, cries and thrills to his priceless genius!”)  This is high praise for a man who came out of the same time frame as the Marx Bros., and Buster Keaton, and to a new viewer it sets the bar very high.

The story is simple enough, Chaplin’s Little Tramp is trying to make his way through the world of burgeoning technology, and industry.  He tries in vain to keep up at his assembly line job tightening bolts, managing to consistently cause problems for his co-workers, and bosses alike.  After his disastrous run in with a new automated feeding machine, his bosses have reason to believe that he has gone a little mad, and they send him away to a mental hospital.  Once he gets out, he runs into a series of problems with the police who alternately believe that he is a communist, a thief, and a troublemaker.  When in custody, he meets a young woman who is also struggling to survive in the modern world.  Together they attempt to create a little place for themselves in the world.

I thought that the film’s set-pieces were it’s greatest strength, allowing Chaplin to really explore the ridiculous nature of the crazy mechanized world, the nature of and need for infrastructure, and the simplicity inherent in it all.  It is very clear that Chaplin’s films (along with those of Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and the Marx Brothers) with their wide variety of visual appeal combined with storytelling and heart went a long way in inspiring a whole crop of successful visual filmmakers such as Jacques Tati, Terry Gilliam, and I’d even guess Peter Jackson.  The intimate nature of the Tramp’s interaction with his physical surroundings speaks volumes about his curiosity, resilience, and compassion.  Chaplin must have firmly believed that it wasn’t the fancy machinery that made modern living great, but it was instead it was the strong connections possible because of these innovations.

Modern Times was Chaplin’s last silent feature, and it was only sort-of silent.  It is filled with sound-effects, some voice acting, and lots of music.  It a time when most of the industry had already converted over to the “new” talkie format, I wonder if Modern Times was itself a commentary on the nature of change in his own industry? 

Despite the fact that it may have been a bit over hyped for me, I still really enjoyed what Chaplin had to offer in Modern Times, and I look forward to seeing more of his work (this time with a bit more moderate expectations).

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1981)

FastTimesAtRidgemontHigh

Fast Times at Ridgemont High – 1981

Director – Amy Heckerling

Starring – Judge Reinhold, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, and Phoebe Cates

So now we start getting into some of the movies that could be considered fluff.  Potentially not worthy of being on the list of 1001 movies that you MUST see, but possibly being on the list of 1001 movies you might think about checking out sometime if you aren’t busy.  Does that mean it’s bad?  Not at all.  Does it mean that this space could have been better used for something else (like the Big Lebowski or The Blues Brothers for example?) in the comedy genre? Yup.

This isn’t at all an indictment of The Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but as it didn’t really do anything particularly revolutionary for film as a whole (aside from including a lot of young and up-and-coming actors and actresses), it more than likely was pulled from a hat with a list of movies meant to pad out the numbers to 1001.

That aside, Fast Times was a very fun movie.  I particularly liked Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.  Each reminded me of people that I went to high school with, but not in a sappy or sentimental way.  Everyone knows, or knew a Judge Reinhold.  Everyone saw the Phoebe Cates character walking down the hall.  And everyone was friends with or dated a girl like Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character.  These characters make the movie relatable for people, at least for someone who grew up in the relatively safe suburbs, like me.

Unfortunately I don’t have a whole lot of analyzing to do for this film.  It was great fun to watch, but I haven’t really thought about it too much since.  Some quick things to say about the film…It did strike me that there was an awful lot of nudity from a character that was supposed to be 14 years old, and the subject of abortion was dealt with in a pretty straight forward and un-dramatized way.  So much so, that I have to imagine that it would have sparked some controversy on it’s initial release (it certainly would today at any rate).   Next, I think I can appreciate Sean Penn in this movie more than anything else that I’ve seen him in (that is of course without seeing Milk yet).   Lastly I have to say that there is a similar thread going through all of the movies that Cameron Crowe has had a hand in (aside from the dominance of music), each one seems like a close relative of the others, different, but only by a little.

So…watch it, enjoy it, but don’t expect too much.