Cecilia Cenciarelli and Kate Guyonvarch (Association Chaplin)
Live accompaniment by the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna diretta da Timothy Brock
Preceding: a selection of films from Mutoscope & Biograph:
The 68mm Ritrovato Time Travel: England When Chaplin Was Ten
Supported by Mare Termale Bolognese
(In case of rain, the screening will be moved to Teatro Auditorium Manzoni)
We do not know if Chaplin ever saw a screening of the Krémo acrobats and their amazing routines, immortalised for 55 seconds by a Lumière cameraman in 1899. What is certain is that The Circus was directly influenced by early film as well as being part of a long genre tradition that draws inspiration from the age-old art of the circus: from Danish melodramas of the 1910s such Alfred Lind’s The Flying Circus (1912) or A.W. Sandberg’s The Clown (1917) to contemporary works such as the masterpieces by Sjöström and Browning – He Who Gets Slapped (1924) and The Unknown (1927) – with acting giant Lon Chaney, or André Dupont’s frenetic Varieté (1925). The Circus is also, as Peter Von Bagh observed, “a striking dreamlike work in which memories of childhood and the stage find new expression”. But that is not all: The Circus is a genuine “self-portrait of the artist” and the first chapter of Chaplin’s thoughts on the dynamics of creation and the inner workings of laughter, which he would finish almost 25 years later with Limelight.
“The clown is he who comes from another place,” wrote Jean Starobinski, “a man with a mysterious journey, a smuggler who crosses forbidden borders: for this reason we can understand why so much importance has always been given to his entrance in the circus and on the stage”. The Tramp’s entrance on the circus stage and the wild success he receives from an audience that believes he is a clown are on the surface a variation of the recurring theme of mistaken identity (the Tramp mistaken for a count, a millionaire, the leader of protesting workers…). Here he seems to suggest that comedy is involuntary and unintentional, impossible to learn; as a result, the origin of laughter is a mystery and not without hardship.
Like a prophecy of the countless personal, technical and atmospheric disasters that would interfere with Chaplin’s filming, the unforgettable scene of the tightrope walker being attacked by monkeys (over 300 takes) is one of the most brilliant metaphors of human existence ever seen on film.
“There is only one place where wonder, excess and the extreme exist without vulgarity,” said Federico Fellini, “at the equestrian circus. I think it is popular entertainment at its best. In this splendid world of colours, movement and emotion we rediscover the eternal tramp whose face Chaplin borrowed. Half angel, half devil, the tramp has the wisdom of a philosopher, the vitality of a cat and the ill-timed grace of a sleepwalker”.
Eric James started work on the score on October 30th 1967, at the rate of £100 per week, and an additional £20 for any Saturdays or Sundays that were required. James worked with Chaplin for nine weeks, plus the recording sessions, for a total of $2,800.17. Lambert Williamson was once again on board as arranger and conductor.
Instead of the humor that was emphasized in 1928, the new score has a decidedly more sentimental bent. Chaplin breaks up the traditional main title sequence with shots from later in the film of Merna swinging on the trapeze bar high above the tent floor. Accompanying her is a song entitled, appropriately enough, Swing High, Little Girl […].
Chaplin replaces the Pagliacci melodrama of the 1928 compilation score with the newly composed Incidental Music, the rousing main theme that accompanies the acts in the ring.
With its joyful energy, the theme becomes the background source music for the circus itself, as if there is a circus band playing in the tent off-screen. Usually the theme plays as straight accompaniment to the acrobats, Prof. Bosco Magician’s act, Merna and the fortuneteller, and Charlie on the tightrope. But occasionally the F-major key can be interpreted ironically as when the theme, probably part of the music heard out in the tent, plays against the Ring Master’s cruelty to Merna. […]
The delicate Tight-Rope Waltz for Rex underscores his graceful agility atop the highwire. Charlie’s excursion on the wire is accompanied by a raw oom-pah-pah rendition of the Incidental Music in three-quarter time. The poignant mandolin waltz of the Dreaming theme underscores Charlie’s dream sequence of him kicking Rex in the pants (scored with Pagliacci’s Vesti la giubba melody in the compilation score), though Chaplin felt the mandolin solos “swell too much”. Merna and Rex’s wedding owes more than a little bit to Wagner’s overture to Tannhäuser (and perhaps a bit of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance in the melodic line). Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies originally ended the film with the Tramp being left behind.
For the reissue, Chaplin composed a new theme, appropriately named Sadness, in which the circus fanfare is now seen as something diabolical, with minor-key brass triplets. Low strings sigh while the winds and violins, saxophones, and finally the full orchestra tugs at the heartstrings. Chaplin thought the end had “a shade too much trumpet”.
Jim Lochner, The Music of Charlie Chaplin, McFarland, Jefferson 2018
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Charles Chaplin. F.: Roland Totheroh. M.: Charles Chaplin; Scgf.: Charles D. Hall. Int.: Charles Chaplin (il vagabondo), Merna Kennedy (cavallerizza), Allan Garcia (padrone del circo), Harry Crocker (Rex, acrobata), Henry Bergman (vecchio clown), Stanley J. ‘Tiny’ Sandford (attrezzista capo), George Davis (mago), Betty Morrissey (donna fantasma), John Rand (assistente trovarobe, clown), Steve Murphy (ladro). Prod.: Charles Chaplin. DCP. D.: 71’. Bn.
Launch of the Oceania
The Wonderful Mutoscope
The American Biograph at the Palace
Iron Foundry Workers
Tram Journey through Southampton
He and She
Rudge-Whitworth - Britain’s Best Bicycle
The Lane on Sunday
Charge of the Carabineers, Aldershot
Afternoon Tea in the Garden at Clarence House
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