I chanced upon this DVD containing several movies of the great Charlie Chaplin a few days ago, and it almost hasn’t been removed from our DVD player since then. I am not complaining. Not even about my kids arguing in mock-German owing, I guess their favorite among all the movies in the disc is “The Great Dictator,” Chaplin’s only “talkie.” Until that movie, he refused to use sound, a new technology then, in his movies. He believed that using dialogue in his films would only result in a much smaller audience – his silent flicks can be seen by audiences from Zamboanga to Zimbabwe and people would still be able to know what’s going on.
Chaplin belongs to my list of the greatest actors, nay, artists, of all time. A gifted comic gifted with a deep understanding of the human being and a brilliant mind that can command a very agile body to do just about anything. He played one character in almost all of his movies – the Tramp, yet through that one character he was able to express the whole range of human emotion. The tramp was a desperate, oppressed, jobless man on the street in “Modern Times,” a struggling, loving parent in “The Kid,” a persecuted amnesiac Jewish barber in “The Great Dictator,” and in each of his films we feel his sadness, aspirations, failures and triumphs.
But what made him great, more than his talent, was his passion for his craft, his vision and, most of all, sense of responsibility. He knew the power of his medium, and he did not waste a single frame on mediocrity, on the inane. He knew that he could make the world a better place, or at least that one man in the back row a better human being, with his stories. While the rest of the world then, and even now, honor Ford for inventing the production line, “Modern Times” showed us the evils of capitalist greed. At a time when most of the world thought nothing much of Hitler’s saber rattling, “The Great Dictator” showed us the dangers of Nazi Germany’s vision of a new World Order where a superior race reigns over everyone else.
He was labeled a Communist by the American Government, particularly by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI who saw him as a threat to the “American way of life.” He was thrown out of the country and forced to flee to Switzerland where he lived for the next 20 years after his banishment. Eventually, just before he died, he was invited back to the country and was honored by his peers at the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
I remember Chaplin now not only because of the drone of Ragtime music at home whenever the children put on one of his films (to digress a bit, the kids didn’t even notice the film was in black and white until we pointed it out to them, and then now they can’t comprehend why they couldn’t put color on film images back then), but also because it’s Baguio’s Charter Day once again, the city’s 101st, and the City Government has given out awards to outstanding citizens of Baguio for the year 2010. There were four awardees last Wednesday – Karen Navaratte-Anton (dancer, choreographer), Lourdes Florendo Bello (educator, entrepreneur), Zoraida C. Clavio (physician) and Julian Chees (martial artist). They are all Chaplins to me, in the sense that they did not succumb to mediocrity and instead rose above social convention and used their respective talents and humanity to uplift the lives of people in the city. A dancer, a teacher, a medical researcher and a karatista, so what, right? There are thousands like them in our city alone, but just as there’s only one comic like Chaplin, there’s only one of them in their respective fields during their time who showed us that we all have that spark of heroism in each of us.
Sure we have comics up there in City Hall, but fankly, what we need up there are more Chaplins. But ones who would go beyond sporting a funny mustache just like one beloved retired councilor.