charliechaplinfan wrote:I've always wondered just how much of Limelight is about Chaplin's own father. Chaplin spent so much time behind these scenes in the music hall he saw lots of characters...
I just watched Limelight
again, and, as usual, am haunted by the afterimages in my mind. In order to process my feelings all over again, I went over to IMDB to read through the user reviews. It's amazing the wide range of opinions about the film -- people seem to either love it or hate it.
So while I'm putting the puzzle together (once again), it started to dawn on me that the model for Calvero might have been more Chaplin's father, than Chaplin himself. So I came back over here to SSO, searched on "Limelight," and came to find out that you were way ahead of me, CCF
You often hear that Limelight
is an evocation of Chaplin's music hall roots. But this observation, once I started thinking about it, was somewhat incongruous. He was quite young when he switched from stage to film, so his experiences in music halls were the experiences of a youngster on his way up -- an ambitious person bootstrapping himself out of abject poverty through his wit and art. There's no room for pathos and irony in such a worldview. Plus, I never got the impression that Chaplin's work in the music halls was of the song-and-dance variety, the way Calvero's was. I think he's channeling someone else's art there.
is a contemplation of mortality -- now that's an observation that has legs. I believe it's the only film in which Chaplin's character dies. As we contemplate our own death, it's only natural that we look to the examples of our closest relatives that have preceded us on that journey. I'm thinking that, later in life, Chaplin is reflecting (in part) on the demise of his own dad -- this time with a fuller and deeper sympathy and understanding.
My oldest son and his wife just had a baby, a beautiful boy, my first grandchild. It's interesting how (at least in my mind) our relationship has changed. He (my son) is no longer a "terminal node" on the family tree. Now he and I are on the same team, the support team devoted to making sure the new ones get off to the best start possible. Limelight
echoes this sentiment -- quite conspicuously -- in the realm of the arts.
For all of the time Chaplin has played inebriates, I've heard that he didn't drink himself because of what it had done to his father. And even though Calvero isn't shown as a "Lost Weekend" sort of dipsomaniac, the script of the film provides a set of connect-the-dots clues pointing to alcohol as the cause of death. That is, a) He tells Teresa he quit drinking because he nearly died of a heart attack; b) He has a beer bash with the street musicians after she's back on her feet; c) He takes a drink before he goes on stage for his final performance; and d) The doctor tells everyone he's had a heart attack after falling into the orchestra pit. Other than that, Calvero doesn't seem the type to be wholly given over to drink, like a classic alcoholic. So if he is patterning the character after his father, he's toned the pathology way, way down.
Another little clue about the models for these characters comes from an interview with Claire Bloom. She said that when she and Chaplin were picking out her wardrobe for the part, he would say of some articles, "Wear this, my mother had something like this." Now, whether that was simply to place the costuming in the correct period, or whether it was a more deliberate, personal evocation of his mother, we'll never know. Still, it suggests a parallel between the Theresa and Calvero couple and his own parents.
is a fiction, a story, a piece of art, with many sources and inspirations. If it is in part a re-imagining of what Charles Sr's later life might have been -- had he been a little more philosophical, a little less self-absorbed, a little more prone to compassionate action -- he might have been able to go out on top, as the character Calvero did. The mood of the film is often described as "bittersweet." As a re-imagining of Chaplin's origins, I believe it takes a situation that was almost patently bitter and adds not only sweetness, but redemption.
"Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day."