From the first short, Kid Auto Races At Venice, to the heights of fame and his own studio with 70 feature films to its name — visitors to the exhibition can witness the emergence and development of Chaplin’s character. At the very beginning this was a bold and crafty opportunist who thought nothing of robbing his buddies or running after the neighbour’s wife, and Chaplin had a long journey ahead before arriving at the sentimental and extraordinarily talented Tramp. Rare documentary material bears testimony to the stages in which his character developed (the exhibits include photographs from film company archives where Chaplin worked, and fragments from his own photo and video archives); moreover, the curator always keeps in the field of vision the real Charles Chaplin’s biography and its various upheavals: court proceedings, revocation of his American visa, active involvement in civil liberties, political beliefs, etc.
The exhibition is in six main sections, each representing a separate aspect of the real Chaplin, the man and the actor, and visitors have the rare opportunity to see for themselves how and when Chaplin’s screen image appeared, the techniques he used for comic effect and the wide-ranging talent that enabled him to be ’all and sundry’ in his movies: filmmaker, director, actor, composer and producer. For example, the ’Choreography of Movement’ section is devoted entirely to Chaplin’s unique plasticity: his movements are reminiscent of a dance, and the sequence of motion is rather like an avant-garde ballet. The great Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky met Chaplin and genuinely admired his ’dancing’, while Chaplin called Nijinsky ’one of the few real geniuses’ he had encountered. Chaplin’s presence in ’highbrow’ avant-garde culture is one of the most interesting topics covered by the exhibition: for instance, the Little Tramp plays the leading role in a screenplay written by Fernand Léger as part of his legendary Ballet Mécanique, and artists have frequently derived inspiration from Chaplin’s image charged with symbolism and dynamic plasticity. In Léger’s sketches the figure is broken apart, then reconstructed, and the features of his silhouette yield to Cubist decomposition.
As if in jest, Chaplin has entered the ’mainstream’ of 20th-century culture and become an intrinsic part of it. Not only inventing a new type of humour and creating his own school of direction, he also transformed his image into a symbol that shines like a beacon through the passing years and continues to make audiences laugh.
Author of the photos: esperna