Remember those lines from 1940’s ‘The Great Dictator’?…
“… Our knowledge has made us cynical
Our cleverness, hard and unkind
We think too much, and feel too little
More than machinery, we need humanity
More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness
Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost …”
These lines are from the excerpts of the most poignant and powerful speeches in the history of cinema by Charles Spencer Chaplin. Such simple words translate into something so profound; encapsulates the entire political, and civic scenario of the world back then, relevant in today’s time and probably the time to come.
Where the ‘The Great Dictator’ was extremely political in its sense as it was widely heard in one year into the Second World War, it also gave humanity a ray of hope. And of art’s importance in restoring humanity.
Though it was much more than just a parody as it openly discussed the core principles of fascism – xenophobia, bigotry and anti-Semitism – something which was an indictment of the equation of the army and the dictator of Tomania (a parody on Germany) – somehow the audience in our own country and the spectators around the world have the consciousness to understand it literally; and that’s the true definition of a classic.
And the sublimity in which it casually mixes ridiculous atrocities with humour is an elegant way of portraying the daily brutality which takes place in the disguise of altruism.
Faith and humanity are the recurring themes in Chaplin’s masterpieces. In ‘City Lights’, the Little Tramp through his misadventures provides money for the blind girl who sells flowers on the streets to restore her sights. Of course, the story unfolds with the signature fast-pace cinematography, and other Chaplin delights. But it is he who restores the vision of an unknown girl literally and make another human being understand the sacrifice made in the name of love – with such a pristine, clean heart.
In ‘Modern Times’, Chaplin observed the suffering of men on the assembly lines of the auto plants. The men working on the machines were succumbing to the speed of the machines. This is symbolic of how they are draining themselves under the pressure of the world. In seeing the gigantic picture of the progress made the inventions and the growth of the factory – progress that inevitably adds to the stature and conduct of privilege for the nation, the men who are sacrificed at the altar of those very machines remain in oblivion. And through this theme, he portrayed the division of humanity on a social ladder. And the exploitation of men in the advancement of technology and the obsession with efficiency.
In the film, ‘Tramp’, Chaplin’s on-screen character, is arrested for waving a flag in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sounds familiar? This audaciousness of communist paranoia showed in his films, led the man into many troubles in the US. And after a century later, in the democracy, men and women are bewildered in the chants of many doctrines.
But despite the savagery and political brutality, the hope for a better life was periodic. How to sustain, how to live, and how to still have room for humanity was a persistent signature in Chaplin’s films. Probably, that’s why people from all walks of life take the utmost delight in his art and movies as love dominates over cruelty, without any language barrier.
Happy Birthday, Charles!