Sunday, July 30, 2017

Charlie Chaplin

 Chaplin had sympathies for the Left.   The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) – the country’s political police – investigated Chaplin from 1922 onwards for his alleged ties to the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). Chaplin’s file – 1900 pages long – is filled with innuendo and slander, as agents exhausted themselves talking to his co-workers and adversaries to find any hint of Communist association. They found none. In December 1949, for instance, the agent in Los Angeles wrote, ‘No witnesses available to testify affirmatively that Chaplin has been member CP in past, that he is now a member or that he has contributed funds to CP’.

It was Chaplin’s popularity and his message that disturbed the FBI. ‘There are men and women in far corners of the world who never have heard of Jesus Christ; yet they know and love Charlie Chaplin’, noted an article that an FBI agent clipped and highlighted in Chaplin’s file. Chaplin’s plainly depicted criticism of capitalism did not fail to impress the world’s peoples nor disturb the FBI. ‘I don’t want the old rugged individualism’, Chaplin said in November 1942, ‘rugged for the few and ragged for the many’.

Buster  Keaton recounted that Chaplin talked ‘about something called communism which he just heard about’. ‘Communism’, Chaplin told him, according to Buster, ‘was going to change everything, abolish poverty’. Chaplin banged on the table and said, ‘What I want is that every child should have enough to eat, shoes on his feet and a roof over his head’.

Chaplin came to the United States just after the Russian Revolution. He saw the growing lines of unemployment and distress in the United States – an unemployed population that grew from 950,000 (1919) to five million (1921). This was a time of great class struggle – the Palmer Raids conducted by the government against the Communists, on the one side, and the general strike in Seattle as well as the Battle of Blair Mountain by the mineworkers of Logan County, West Virginia, on the other side.

Chaplin’s silent films were anchored by the figure of the Tramp, the iconic poor man in a modern capitalist society. ‘I am like a man who is ever haunted by a spirit, the spirit of poverty, the spirit of privation’, Chaplin said. That is precisely what one sees in his films – from The Tramp (1915) to Modern Times (1936). ‘The whole point of the Little Fellow’, Chaplin said in 1925 of the tramp figure, ‘is that no matter how down on his ass he is, no matter how well the jackals succeed in tearing him apart, he’s still a man of dignity’. The working-class, the working-poor, are people of great resourcefulness and dignity – not beaten down, not to be mocked. Chaplin’s sympathy for the working-class defines all his most famous silent films.

What drew Chaplin directly into the orbit of institutional left-wing politics was the rise of fascism. He was greatly troubled by the Nazi sweep across Europe. Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator (1940) was his satire of fascism.
(from here )

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