|Charlie Chaplin, filming the 1925 classic, 'The Gold Rush'|
From the beginning, it was meant to be a form of ‘release’ for the people. Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 film, ‘The Gold Rush,’ became a timeless film etching itself into the American conscious as it weaved a well-known story of an impoverished ‘underdog’ who is without guile, yet valiant and clever. Chaplin’s Little Tramp goes out to seek gold in the time of the Alaskan gold rush and finds himself in a far-flung cabin between a gold prospector and a fugitive from the law. Throughout the story in the silent film Chaplin’s character faces starvation as he deals, evades and one-ups the prospector and fugitive with their own agendas who will stop at nothing, even if it means possibly eating Chaplin’s character.
In the end, Chaplin’s Little Tramp wins through default almost without trying, and as usual, without losing his composure.
The film delivers a classic storyline that puts forth the championing of the ‘underdog’ as it delivers humor, fast romance and vaudeville-action theatrics that keep the pace of the movie skipping along. At the time, World War One had just finished, yet the horrors of the collective experience loomed in real life on the minds of the American populace, as did the reality of the ‘Great Depression’ in the economy, which was just beginning to unfold. Chaplin’s triumph as the ingenious man who is nonchalantly moving his way through the world with an easygoing countenance created a temporary exit of laughter and humor for all people. To be able to laugh and be entertained away from the real happenings of American life at the time was welcomed, even as the storylines pointed back, albeit metaphorically, to the reality of the times.
In a real way, actors like Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton began a tradition of service to the American populace which put motion into art directly tugging at our feelings and emotions beyond the immediate ability of still art that can be found in museums and art galleries. In their path, scores of actors, both men and women have played roles that have brought to life historical figures, present times, and things of the future. In fact, imagination never had a pedestal so magnificent as that created by the advent of Thomas Edison’s motion picture invention.
Modern-day actors like Meryl Streep, Kevin Costner, Harrison Ford, Whoopi Goldberg, Julia Roberts, Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, Al Pacino, Meg Ryan, Sydney Poitier, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro are just a few of the star names that have given light to everything under the sun, including racial justice, love, endurance, humility, perseverance, family, community and brotherhood, as well as brought to light some of the not so glamorous aspects of culture, such as envy, greed, murder war and drugs. Like Chaplain, each has given voice to concepts, emotions and happenings that are intertwined in the American quilt. Irrespective of the private or political lives of each of these actors, have they not served us by giving their all to make us laugh, cry, think and yes, be entertained for the length of a movie? Have their films not be instructional works of art mirroring much of our lives, even if with a touch of hyperbole for drama’s sake?
|Ray Liotta & Kevin Costner|
Sydney Poitier’s ‘Lilies of The Field,’ brought hope as an African-American man helps build a church for impoverished East German nuns, Meryl Streep has graced the silver screen for decades and has been nominated more than any actor or actress for her film work. Her art speaks for itself and covers a wide swath of American epochs filling character roles that range across the social-economic strata and speaking to countless hearts. Samuel L. Jackson’s, work in ‘Do The Right Thing,’ and Tarantino’s classic, ‘Pulp Fiction,’ emblazoned confidence, swag and uneasy righteousness in the character of a Bible-spewing henchman. Jackson’s character and Quentin Tarantino’s artistic direction helped raise up the notion of the strong African-American, even as the character’s work occupation had something to be desired of.
|Samuel L. Jackson|
Kevin Costner’s work in ‘Field of Dreams,’ recalled a time in America, be it fictional or real, where family and community where brought together over the love of baseball, an American pastime. Costner’s role opposite the wonderful late-Whitney Houston in ‘The Body Guard’ fleshed out humanity and the biblical line that no greater love exists than a one laying down their life for another. Mrs. Houston played her role and carved it into stone with her incredible song for the film, “I will always love you.” Mel Gibson’s storied career has had an incredible trajectory that has included telling the story of soldiers and veterans and the sacrifices they have endured in order to continuously safeguard the freedoms and liberties we enjoy. Julia Roberts smile and kind-h
earted manner ease her into all of her character roles and has been a constant source of therapy generations have counted on. Who is like her? Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are in a league of their own and have been quiet champions of Italian-American heritage, central threads in the American cultural fabric. Jim Carrey gave everyone respite.
Many examples of distasteful films can be certainly brought out, but all in all the best of the best film artists have done America more than good as leaders in imagination, projected emotion and justice to the stark realities of everyday life most times not spoken of. They have brought these and more to life in intimate ways which have moved us to think, be more open-minded and consider the impossible possible. Have they not been servant leaders? Have they not given all of us something? Have they not been reflections of who we are as a country? Have we not learned more about ourselves because of their work?
Long live the cinematic spirit of Charlie Chaplin.