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As befitting the fate of all tramps, Charlie Chaplin is lost today, between reams of psychological readings of his films and Hollywood cinema that seems to believe gore and juvenilia are the only forms of entertainment. Photo: AFP
As befitting the fate of all tramps, Charlie Chaplin is lost today, between reams of psychological readings of his films and Hollywood cinema that seems to believe gore and juvenilia are the only forms of entertainment. Photo: AFP

Light the candles for Charlie Chaplin

In the world of Chaplin, a chuckle lurked in every random ladder, bucket and brick, you just had to reach out and tickle it

A 120 years ago, a man was born with a doctorate in humour. Over a career spanning 75 years, Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin then proceeded to give the world lessons in laughter, a near extinct emotion in our highly charged times. In the world of Chaplin, a chuckle lurked in every random ladder, bucket and brick, you just had to reach out and tickle it.

Born in poverty, with misery and unhappiness as life-long companions, Chaplin turned his early “forlorn existence" in a school for paupers into a lifetime of championing the cause of the underdog. The Tramp of laugh riots like The Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times, was the little hopeless boy confined to a grim poor house, building an imaginary world of love and longing. Almost 100 years before him, another great artist, Charles Dickens, had forged a memorable writing career out of his experience in a blacking factory. But if Dickens made the world aware of the miserable condition of England for the have-nots, Chaplin provided a similar audience reeling from the horrors of war, a world in which the worst that could happen to you was a spilt pail of milk or a girl standing you up.

As befitting the fate of all tramps, Chaplin is lost today, between reams of psychological readings of his films and Hollywood cinema that seems to believe gore and juvenilia are the only forms of entertainment. In his little masterpiece The Great Dictator, Chaplin preached for one of the few times in his career. Perhaps it was the tramp’s cry for help and the simplicity of the words confirmed that. But what he said was not simple: “We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness—not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone." Indeed, it was so complex a thought that we have long abandoned even trying to understand its meaning.

The derby hat, the moustache and those oversized boots are long gone but the world could do with another twirl of that famous cane.

Happy birthday Mr Chaplin.

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