Before there were silver screens, theaters offered a different brand of entertainment to serve as a pastime to the masses. Instead of projectors and film, variety shows of music and comedy danced, sang and stumbled about the stage.
Before there were silver screens, theaters offered a different brand of entertainment to serve as a pastime to the masses. Instead of projectors and film, variety shows of music and comedy danced, sang and stumbled about the stage. It was the world of vaudeville, and out of this world came much of the talent that would form the film industry—talent such as Charlie Chaplin. But with film dominating the scene, the stages of vaudeville were soon empty.
This was the story and the tragedy told in the 1952 film “Limelight,” and perhaps with a touch of irony as a film delivered by Chaplin, a man who was forged on the comedic stage and became a significant force in the rise of film, the industry that aided in the fall of vaudeville.
Calvero, played by Chaplin himself, was the master of his craft as a clown in the glory days of vaudeville. But in 1914, the desire for the craft was fading—the world was changing, as were the tastes of audiences. Calvero now drinks through his days, drunkenly carrying the memories of his time in theater.
Through a twist of fate he encounters Terry, a young dancer he finds after she attempts suicide. The two form a friendship as he aids in her recovery. From this relationship, both regain their poise and march on to practice their art. Terry finds her way back to dancing and Calvero takes to the streets entertaining those passing by. Terry’s dancing career takes off, and with her success, she uses her influence to include Calvero in her stage productions.
Film nerds and enthusiasts of black and white film will also get a treat with a guest appearance by comic genius Buster Keaton, who plays Calvero’s old partner—though the cameo is brief. Keaton’s career in many ways mirrored Chaplin’s
Modern audiences are offered a unique peek into history—into lost forms of entertainment and art, and the days when such art faded. And despite the fading affection for this lost art, there were still actors, musicians and more who remained.
For those not familiar with Chaplin’s work outside his famous Tramp character, “Limelight” may come as a surprise delivering a greater touch of drama and depth in addition to its comedic angles. Don’t expect the classic clown-style comedy either. Laughs are more refined in “Limelight.”
“Limelight” would be one of Chaplin’s final films—he would only to be involved in a handful more spread out over the following two decades. Upon the release of “Limelight,” Chaplin journeyed to the UK for the film’s premiere. It was on this trip that Chaplin was prevented from re-entering the United States merely for suspected political beliefs during an era of great communist paranoia. He would not set foot on American soil for another 20 years.
“Limelight” will be shown at the Northwest Film Center to end its current exhibition spanning Chaplin’s great works. ?