Chaplinin NY

A12-DVD Charlie Chaplin pack had been staring at me reproachfully for so long that I had stopped looking at it

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: December 3, 2011 12:18:47 am

A12-DVD Charlie Chaplin pack had been staring at me reproachfully for so long that I had stopped looking at it. Till a few days back when it finally beckoned,and I succumbed,pulling out A King in New York,the only one of the dozen I hadn’t seen before.

A King in New York has Chaplin in his last full-fledged leading role. He plays a dethroned emperor from a fictional European country taking refuge in America,stuck in a luxurious hotel suite,fast running out of funds. The film was released in 1957,but it didn’t come out in the US till the late ’60s,and you can see why. From the time it opens till the end,it is an unending series of digs at American pop culture,and its constant harping on celebrity and image. Chaplin had been thrown out of the US for his “questionable” activities a few years before,and A King in New York was clearly his reaction to it.

What is surprising is how relevant the film is even today,so many years after the terror unleashed by McCarthy and his cohorts. The jibes are sharp,targeting television,and the worshipful attitude most Americans have towards glamour and transient fame. Chaplin,looking every inch his age by now,is smart enough not to give himself a perfect patina. His King Shahdov is as susceptible to a pretty ankle as any one else,and he gets inveigled to a dinner party full of celebrity-seeking hostesses,and attractive TV anchors,and greedy network men.

Parts of the film feel heavy,particularly those in which a precocious 10-year-old boy (Chaplin’s real-life son) is made to carry on about Communism and patriotism. But it is easy to ignore the diatribes because the larger picture remains compelling,with a cracker of an ending,in which Chaplin utilises his skill as a slapstick artist to the hilt. It features a large hose,a gush of water,very wet men in a court room and the incomparable Charlie Chaplin.

The other films in the pack include such well-loved classics as The Gold Rush,Modern Times,The Great Dictator,City Lights,Limelight,and The Kid. There’s also a DVD which has some of his revue acts. Just for this one,the DVD pack is well worth your time.

shubhra.gupta@expressindia.com

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