Charlie Chaplin

In addition to some chapters in our textbook, I am also asking you to read “Life With Charlie,” by David Raskin. It offers the perspective of someone who worked closely with Charlie Chaplin on the musical content of his films.

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Charlie Chaplin was one of the few silent film stars to survive into the period of “talkies” without incorporating spoken dialog into his films until 1940 for The Great Dictator. This week’s screened film, Modern Times (1936), incorporates synchronized sound, but it largely works as a silent feature.

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Chaplin was famous for working as autonomously as possible. He co-founded United Artists motion picture studio (with D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford) in 1919 which allowed him to distribute his films independently of the hold commercial film studios had over movie houses. He wrote, directed, produced and edited most of his films. He also exerted an extraordinary amount of control over their scores; he largely relied on a group of trained musicians to assist him in realizing his musical ideas, but he took credit for the music in his films.

Chaplin reportedly enjoyed the new control over film scores that sound offered – without the live orchestral or keyboard performances, he could use hard-syncs while erasing the opportunities for rogue scoring. As you watch Modern Times, pay attention to how the film takes advantage of synchronized sound to communicate its message.

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