Have you seen the film Chaplin, made in 1992?… Robert Downey Jr plays the original screen clown, and if you haven’t seen it, forget the fact that you may have no idea who Charlie Chaplin is. I know a lot of you are too young to know or appreciate the history of film, and just what he was in that early world. And that’s fine, just See The Film.
Likely old flashes come to mind of what he looked like, and it’s also likely that those images are from a long series of adverts from back in the eighties. A friend of mine auditioned those decades ago, as he is an incredible mime (a Real mime, not the ones trying to get out of a box), and he said he walked into a room full of Charlie Chaplins, like 300 of them. It must have been pretty surreal. Oddly enough, he ended up with the contract, and it was a big one…. Billy had Five Years as Charlie, for the IBM series. So there you go, and there’s your reference, I bet.
Chaplin was in on the earliest films, before they were Talkies. And his antics, along with Max Sennett’s vision, really set a lot of the old black and white style. He was incredibly talented, nimble as they come, and funny as shit. I think we can easily say Intelligence shined through his work, although right now you’re likely thinking: Slapstick? Intelligent? well…Yes. And the inheritor of a classic form, Commedia, that goes back to Greek and Roman times.
RDJ does the most amazing work in this film, his physicality startling, his miming ability (the ability to physically imitate a person, or act out a situation without words) Beyond. Believe me, you will be delighted and amazed if you’ve never seen this film.
It was early in his career, before his big bumps with sex, drugs, rockandroll, but it shows him in his full youth and beauty. A lot of the film fills in his history and the details of the times, and it is definitely worth watching, but I admit to double and triple playing those scenes where he just does his act as Charlie. One more thing: Just Look at those Eyes! Oh ya… one more thing… he got an Oscar and Golden Globe Nomination for best actor. And I need to note that Kevin Kline played the most adorable version of Douglas Fairbanks ever. And there is a tasteful reference to his being gay, which I had never heard. In those days, it was never spoken, and he was married to Mary Pickford, a major star at the time. I guess things haven’t really changed that much, especially in Hollywood.
Another film that he did, one that didn’t get a lot of press, is FUR, with Nicole Kidman. It’s a fantasy film about the photographer Diane Arbus, he plays a furry neighbor covered head to toe like a circus character, and since she is fascinated with freaks, she becomes obsessed with him. The film is somewhat dark, and holds you captivated. This time, it’s his eyes that do the capturing, and since that’s about all you can see clearly, he works them beautifully. Again…..Gorgeous eyes, and a fun film. If it’s not an Indy, it sure feels like one.
I am so happy that he has gotten himself together, and with IRON MAN allowing him to break out and show some star power (and as he said, be a super hero to his little boy), perhaps we’ll see more acting ability from this extraordinary guy. I hope he chooses some challenging parts, and stretches himself to new heights of pleasure for us, and for him, because he’s one of the Big ones.