Tag Archives: Cinema

Book Review: REFOCUSING CHAPLIN

The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Aristotle speaks of the mimesis of the first order and the mimesis of the second order. When creating art, the goal is to distance oneself from the source. Mimesis of the first order is simply art imitating nature. Mimesis of the second order is art perfecting nature and turning it into something transcendent. That rule is certainly at play in the work of Charlie Chaplin. As Marco Grosoli points out in his essay on Chaplin, this was an artist keenly aware of his myth and in a unique position to go on to make great art from that myth. Marco Grosoli’s fascinating essay is part of a collection of essays from various writers on one of the masters of cinema, “Refocusing Chaplin,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.

There may never be another artist quite like Charlie Chaplin. However, his influence and relevance continues to evolve. And so that gives this collection of essays a great sense of urgency. In the same way that an artist of the first rank like Ray Bradbury could have anticipated social media some fifty years ago, so too did Charlie Chaplin foresee the power of a meme in a career that began over one hundred years ago. To say that Charlie Chaplin was beyond famous is an understatement. He reached the level of myth. It is not short of phenomenal that he continued to grow as an artist through a career that spanned the evolution of cinema.

Chaplin in 1941's "The Great Dictator"

Chaplin in 1940’s “The Great Dictator”

In Marco Grosoli’s essay, he examines the friction between two formidable myths in Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” from 1940. By then, Chaplin was more than ready to leverage some of his celebrity for the sake of his art. The timing could not have been more perfect. The difference between the myth of Hitler and Chaplin could not have been more extreme. As Grosoli indicates, Chaplin was not merely imitating Hitler. Chaplin was channeling the myth of Hitler. In that respect, Chaplin was getting at a greater truth. In a work that deeply explores the power of meme, Chaplin plays both the role of Dictator Adenoid Hynkel and a Jewish barber who looks identical to Hynkel. Dictator and barber are, in a sense, interchangeable. In the proper costume and context, everyone accepts whatever the Jewish barber has to say, dressed as Hynkel, even if it is the total opposite of what Hynkel would say. Push two extremes together, Grosoli suggests, and they strangely equate each other, form a perfect nothingness.

"Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses"

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses”

Essays in this collection feature a wide spectrum of themes including Marxism, feminism, gender studies, deconstruction, psychoanalytic criticism, new historicism, performance studies, and cultural criticism. This critical study covers a wide reach of films including The Circus (1928), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931) Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952). This collection proves to be a valuable resource on one of the leading masters of cinema.

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon through Critical Lenses” is a 250-page hardcover, published by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit them right here.

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Filed under Art, Book Reviews, Books, Charlie Chaplin, Critical Studies, film, Hollywood, movies, pop culture, Rowman & Littlefield

Farewell to Seattle’s Cinema Books

Cinema Books, 4753 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle

Cinema Books, 4753 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle

We say farewell to a true Seattle landmark, the shop that’s catered to a movie lover’s needs since 1977, Cinema Books. It used to be that a sizable part of a fun date in the U-District could take place all on one block. On the corner of Roosevelt and 50th, housed within a structure that looks like it was an old Victorian house at one time, you would have dinner at Ristorante Doria, see a cool indie movie at Seven Gables, and lose yourself amid the stacks of movie memorabilia at Cinema Books.

Cinema Books is shutting its doors. This is its last weekend of sales. The final day is July 15th. I’ve been a Seattle native since 1993 and I would stop by now and then and browse the shelves. I was never a regular visitor but I valued every occasion. I found the owner, Stephanie Ogle, to be quite gracious. And, I suppose, I just took it for granted that the place would always be around. Well, of course, the fate of independent bookstores has become decidedly precarious.

There is simply no other place like Cinema Books in Seattle and nothing on the horizon to fill the void. The amount of material on view is quite staggering. Lately, my schedule has allowed me to stop by and check in on Cinema Books in its last days. It sort of pained me as I watched collectors and enthusiasts pile in and take advantage of the marked-down prices. Here were all these people who had never set foot in the store before and now, like culture vultures, they were leaving with armfuls of books. I could see an uptick in activity with each new visit. Quite frankly, I found myself buying one item and then another and another.

Gwili Andre, "America's Most Beautiful Model," 1932

Gwili Andre, “America’s Most Beautiful Model,” 1932

One curious gem led to another. How about a postcard of Gwili Andre? She was known as “America’s Most Beautiful Model” when David O. Selznick brought her to Hollywood in 1932. Alas, after ten films, RKO was unable to turn her into a star. Who Knew? Who will know? Yes, it’s all supposed to be on the internet but you still need to know where to look.

"Screening the Novel: Rediscovered American Fiction in Film" by Gabriel Miller

“Screening the Novel: Rediscovered American Fiction in Film” by Gabriel Miller

It is only in such a place as Cinema Books that each new visit is rewarded in unexpected ways. It saddens me that we’re losing this little haven. A haven that offers something precious. Hard-to-find and rare items are simply what they are. There are only so many out-of-print books. And they’re not all on Amazon. For instance, you won’t readily find a book I just bought from Cinema Books. How many places do we still have where you can stumble upon a treat in real time, hold it, examine it, maybe even discuss it a bit with real people in real time? Less and less.

How must Ms. Ogle feel about all of this? I’m sure she was experiencing a sense of loss that she was still processing. And yet, as far as I could tell, she was taking it all in stride.

Judy Garland, "The Wizard of Oz," 1939

Judy Garland, “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939

Observing Ms. Ogle with her patrons, it looked like it was business as usual in that moment. For these remaining moments, the show must go on. Judy Garland. Mae West. Marlene Dietrich. German Expressionism. Steven Spielberg. The Bowery Boys. Fatty Arbuckle. Hedda Hopper. Hitchcock. Tarantino. All of Hollywood, all of filmmaking, was still in play in that little store, that little magic shop. You’re looking for an anthology of Hollywood crime stories? Yes, we’ve got it. How about the definitive guide to film from 1946? Yes, it’s still here. All the memories. All the ghosts. Everything still swirling about, still dancing, for the moment.

"Charly," directed by Ralph Nelson, 1968

“Charly,” directed by Ralph Nelson, 1968

One of my purchases was an original movie poster for the 1968 film, “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. I gravitated to the iconic image. I had taken it down from where it was pinned and was about to roll it up when Ms. Ogle quickly said, “No!” I waited for her next move. “You want to fold it up at the creases. That’s how the studios used to send posters to the theaters. It will keep best that way. Once you’re ready to hang it up, then you can smooth out the creases.” I gratefully followed her advice. Another treasure safely made its way out the door.

Perhaps the sense of loss was outweighed by a sense of freedom. All those items, all that clutter, would soon be gone. It brings to mind the recent collective sigh from the media at the sight of the entire set to “Late Show with David Letterman” in a dumpster. Heck, where was it supposed to go? Well, in the heat of the moment, no one had planned for that. Things change. Things need to go. Decisions need to be made. Either someone walks away with it or it needs to be demolished. We move on.

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Filed under Cinema Books, film, Hollywood, movies, Seattle