Charlie Chaplin was a pioneer in the early days of Hollywood and became the most recognized face on the planet with a career spanning 40 years.
Gene Kelly was the most creative and athletic dancer of his time and pushed the boundaries of dance on film.
Steve Jobs revolutionized digital entertainment with technological innovation and pushing a major shift in media consumption by breaking the hold of the music and movie moguls.
See also: www.boldbrashandbrilliant.com
My favorite (though perhaps apocryphal) story of an artist’s inability to let go is about Pierre Bonnard, who, in old age, is said to have visited museums with paints and brushes hidden in his coat in order to add some touches to his works on display. The cinema, built as it is of cuts, is a natural medium for self-critical or penitent artists; Stanley Kubrick famously had scenes cut from prints of “2001” and “The Shining” after the movies were already in theatrical release, and there is the remarkable subgenre of directors’ cuts that are shorter than the released version (certainly Charles Burnett’s “My Brother’s Wedding,” and Elaine May showed a slightly shortened version of “Ishtar” at the 92nd Street Y two years ago). In the mid-nineties, André Téchiné told me that he was considering making trims to his film “My Favorite Season” for its American release (the distributor later said that Téchiné went into the editing room to rework the film but then decided to leave it as-is, a wise decision regarding a fine movie). And, of course, directors often rework the same material, as Alfred Hitchcock did with his remake of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” as Howard Hawks did with “Ball of Fire” (improving it as “A Song Is Born”) and with “Rio Bravo” (as “El Dorado”).
But maybe the strangest of directorial reworkings is the one on view tonight at 7 P.M. at Anthology Film Archives: Charlie Chaplin’s 1942 sound version of his 1925 silent classic “The Gold Rush.” (It’s also an extra in Criterion’s DVD release of the film.) Like so many of Chaplin’s movies, the personal element is built into the story. Just as his 1923 drama “A Woman of Paris” (in which he does not star but has a cameo) suggests the decadent backrooms of Hollywood, “The Gold Rush,” a snowbound Yukon comedy, also hints at the movie-land boom town, filled with brutes and rowdies, in which the puckish striver of elegant gentility—Chaplin’s Little Tramp—arrives to seek his fortune only to suffer humiliation and heartbreak.
It has some of Chaplin’s most exquisite set pieces, but Chaplin always looked at these pieces somewhat condescendingly. In his autobiography, he called its succession of comic sallies “one two three, pantry cakey” compared with the carefully composed “situation comedy.” Speaking with Jean Cocteau in 1936 (as cited in David Robinson’s superb biography of Chaplin), he said,
The dance of the bread rolls. That’s what they all congratulate me on. It is a mere cog in the machine. A detail. If that was what they specially noticed, they must have been blind to the rest
In the sound version, Chaplin made sure that viewers would see the rest. In suppressing the title cards, he smoothed out the movie’s rhythms and gave its succession of scenes a more dovetailed flow. Chaplin’s voice-over—sometimes a commentary and sometimes an impersonation of characters’ lines—unified the movie’s tone, turned its third-person staging into a first-person reminiscence. The ironic poignancy of a man of feeling in a cynical land was given a voice; Chaplin, now fighting on the world stage of “The Great Dictator,” looked back at the Little Tramp (whom he now called the Little Fellow) with a wistful tenderness. Brutality now had an altogether different face, and romantic sensibility was hardly its only victim.
Anthology Film Archives follows that screening with Chaplin’s 1952 film “Limelight,” another film of personal retrospect and self-doubt. In that film, set half a century earlier, Chaplin plays Calvero, a London music-hall comedian. It’s Chaplin’s there-but-for-the-grace-of-God story, and the deus ex machina that Calvero lacked but that saved Chaplin is the cinema itself. He knew that he owed everything to the camera; his redemptive view of the movies made him hate what he considered the medium’s banalization, and in “A King in New York,” playing next Monday at BAM Cinématek, one of his most scathing and ruefully satirical scenes—in a movie filled with them—is reserved for Hollywood’s new ballyhoo.