Chaplin’s Influence on Kubrick

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Oh you needn’t argue with me, I know it’s true. Kubrick said there were two film-makers worth studying: Chaplin, who was “all content and no form”; and Eisenstein, who was “all form and no content”. And while he called Chaplin’s style (or lack of it) “pedestrian”, it seems to me Chaplin influenced Kubrick in both realms — and it’s there to see even if Kubrick had never said a word on the subject.

Andre Bazin is the supreme apologist for Chaplin the stylist, defending the static camera, the long take, the distant angle and “filmed theatre” as legitimate. In Kubrick, originally a still photographer, one finds the emphasis on shot composition almost a mania, and his pioneering use of Steadicam also favored long takes. (Unlike Chaplin, though Kubrick also loved edited — and much else about the movie-making process). But unlike many others, Kubrick devotes as much care to the “picture” (as distinct from the sequence) as did Chaplin, for whom that was the only concern.

I find it impossible to look at the trench sequences in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), without thinking of Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms (1917). And while the latter film informs Paths of Glory visually, I think also that it , and Chaplin’s later black and satirical comedies The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and A King in New York (1957) heavily influence Kubrick’s black comedies Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) and certain sardonic moments in 2001 (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980) and Full Metal Jacket (1987).

FURTHERMORE, as his follow up to 2001, did you know Kubrick was planning a bio-pic about Napoleon, surely one of the great unfilmed masterpieces of all time? Except of course for CHAPLIN’S planned bio-pic about Napoleon from the 1930s, ANOTHER of the great unfilmed masterpieces of all time.

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Chappy goes Nappy

At any rate, they’re both among my favorite film-makers. I could go on at dissertation length about this, but that won’t put any bronze on the baby shoes.

Today is Stanley Kubrick’s birthday.

For more, please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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