When talking about silent films and slapstick comedy, Charlie Chaplin’s name will most likely be mentioned. He is probably one of the most beloved silent movie stars to contribute to the silent film era. Apart from that, he is also an accomplished director and composer. Learn more about Charlie Chaplin on this edition of ‘American Masters’.
Charlie Chaplin was born in London in 1889. He visited the United States at the age of 18 together with a theatre company. He played the character Billy in a production of Sherlock Holmes and toured the country two times. While he was on tour, he met Mack Sennett, a director who focused his craft on slapstick comedy. That was when Charlie Chaplin’s career in the film industry started. In that year alone, he starred in over thirty short films. His background in theatre acting made him an excellent actor in slapstick comedy.
There were other comedic silent film actors during that time, such as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. What set Charlie Chaplin apart from them was his ability to bring humor with the subtle actions. He was also big on dramatic and exaggerated movements, but the little subtleties in his acting made him even better on screen. He believed in improvisation and would spend time rehearsing with the people he worked with to make sure every scene was flawless.
Charlie Chaplin eventually worked as a director in his own films. He had an unorthodox way of doing things as he didn’t work with a full script. He would have general ideas on paper and then worked with that as he shot the movie. In some cases, he would reshoot scenes after watching them just to make sure that everything was done to perfection. His meticulous ways ensured a good result, but shooting took longer than expected. With his contributions to the film industry, he surely is an American Master.
Here’s a short clip from his film Modern Times:
American Masters pays tribute to some of the best artists who have contributed award-winning works in their respective fields. Read more articles on the American Masters series.