A fading comedian and a suicidally despondent ballet dancer must look to each other to find purpose and hope in their lives.A fading comedian and a suicidally despondent ballet dancer must look to each other to find purpose and hope in their lives.A fading comedian and a suicidally despondent ballet dancer must look to each other to find purpose and hope in their lives.
"Limelight" is a moving and autobiographical film that works as both a bittersweet drama and a mirror into the soul of one of the world's greatest film makers. I sometimes wondered if my affection for this film is based on my knowledge of Chaplin's life and career, and the parallels between "Limelight" and people and incidents in his own life. When I watch this film I see an artist standing naked at a crossroads before his audience, unsure where to go and what to do. However, I know the film does not require an advanced degree in Chaplin to enjoy. My wife, who could probably do little more than identify the Tramp in a lineup before marrying me, loved this film before she met me. I have also had the good fortune to see the film in a theater in New York and watch it work its wonders on an audience. Stylistically, it might be dated, but the magic lingers.
"Limelight" is best viewed as a drama with comedy rather than a comedy with drama. Outwardly, it is the simple story of a vulnerable youth who mistakes her gratitude for love, and an older man wise enough to know the difference. But it's more than that too. It's about an artist's nature, and the addictive power of applause. The Chaplin character, Calvero, knows how to make people laugh, but feels he has lost the ability to do so. He realizes he is at the end of his career, but he still hungers for one final moment in the limelight. The film is talky and philosophical, and, yes, a little pompous and pretentious at times too. It's almost as if Chaplin is trying to impart through words the simple joys and mystery of life he was once able to express effortlessly through simple slapstick alone. Does this flood of words mean Chaplin has lost his skills as a film maker? No. He still has the power to move.
"Limelight" is Chaplin's final masterpiece. It is one of my favorites. I prefer to think of it as his last film. Should this be your first Chaplin film? No. Start with films like "The Gold Rush," "City Lights," and "The Great Dictator." Come to know the comedian before you get to know the man.
- Jan 14, 2004