History of Cinema 5 – Chaplin

Charles Spenser Chaplin. Born London. 1889-1977. Actor, writer, director, producer, composer, entrepreneur, genius

If any individual person could represent film in its entirety it would be Charlie Chaplin. He did everything. He influenced, directly or indirectly, everyone in film. He created many of the techniques and systems still in use.

Born in London, he entered entertainment early. Moving through various groups and repertory companies he found himself with the Fred Karno Repertory Company on their tour of America in 1910. He loved America. He was given offers with other companies there. In 1912, Mack Sennett managed to get him under contract with the Keystone Film Company. Chaplin made his first movie and began making his living making films in 1914.

Modern Times

Chaplin was with Keystone for one year. In that time he made 35 shorts, created “The Tramp” character, learned every aspect of film production, and became beloved across the country, drawing large crowds to his shorts. By 1916 he was under contract for $670,000.00 for one year, making him the highest paid actor in the world. In 1917 he became an independent producer opening his own studio. He helped the war effort gather contributions in 1918. He commanded incredible crowds of people at any appearance in any country.

A Visit To New York

A group of the most powerful film creators came together in 1919 and pushed the industry forward. Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D. W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks formed United Artists. At UA the stars would essentially be their own employees. It was a giant step for indie cinema and creator rights. The people doing the work, making the film, we’re the ones that shared the profit, no longer filtering the studio’s interests.

  • Filmography Selections of Import
  • 1914 Kid Auto Races at Venice
  • 1921 The Kid
  • 1925 The Goldrush
  • 1931 City Lights
  • 1936 Modern Times
  • 1940 The Great Dictator
  • 1947 Monsieur Verdoux
  • 1952 Limelight

Kid Auto Races was the first appearance of The Tramp character. City Lights was his first film post sound. He chose to keep it silent but composed a score for it. Modern Times was the last appearance of The Tramp and also heavily dealt with economic injustice. Chaplin fervently used his artistic voice for social change and as an advocate for people who were not being heard.

Gold Rush

The Great Dictator was squarely aimed at stopping Hitler and protecting the Jews. This caused him much consternation as the studios opposed him because it would cost them money as they would not be able to release films in Germany nor exhibit German films. It was seen as outrageous that a non-Jew would lay his career on the line to help them. People were split on the content of this film.

The Great Dictator

Chaplin bought Verdoux from Orion Welles. In 1952, Chaplin condemned the House Unamerican Activities Committee and was forced to leave the country. He relocated to Sweden were he remained the rest of his life.


Chaplin was knighted in 1974, won an honorary Oscar in 1972 and was met with a twelve minute ovation. He died on Christmas Day 1977. His grave was robbed in 1978, the robber caught 11 weeks later. He left an enormous amount of work, being called a genius to this day.

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