Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Was Charlie Chaplin an Anarchist?

Modern Times is a 1936 American comedy film by Charlie Chaplin that has his iconic Little Tramp character struggling to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and fiscal conditions many people faced during the Great Depression, conditions created, in Chaplin's view, by the efficiencies of modern industrialization. Modern Times is often hailed as one of Chaplin's greatest achievements, and it remains one of his most popular films.

Charlie Chaplin was a comedic genius and an icon of American cinema. His skill for the art of pantomime and physical comedy was unparalleled as he redefined comedy and filmmaking.
Chaplin's impoverished childhood in England fueled his drive to succeed as an entertainer. His parents, both veterans of the Vaudevillian music halls of London, were a great influence on him and he took to the stage at a young age.
A perfectionist of his craft, Chaplin quickly sought creative control over his films and took the helm as director. Mixing pathos with comedy, Chaplin always found the humor in life's tragedies. Notorious for shooting without a script, he was one of the first directors to shoot several takes of a scene – a process almost unheard of in the silent film era. In his nearly 60 year career, Chaplin also wrote and composed the soundtracks for his films.
While known as a prolific filmmaker, he is most famous for his acting. His trademark performances as the tramp – the mischievous, cane-swinging, vagabond dressed in a bowler hat, oversized pants and comically large shoes – have become legendary.
Chaplin challenged and mocked political and social issues in many of his films, most notably as a factory worker during the industrial revolution in Modern Times (1936) and as Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator (1940). Like many artists in Hollywood, he suffered persecution during the communist witch hunts of the late 1940s and 50s for views that were considered "leftist" or "Anarchist". in nature. He eventually returned to Europe in 1952, leaving his studio behind and severing business ties with the U.S. Chaplin would never hide his views or conform to the American opinion that it was right to hate a Communist. It was for these reasons that poor Chaplin was labeled a Communist. Charlie Chaplin was welcomed back to Hollywood in 1972, when he was presented with an honorary Academy Award for his "incalculable effect on motion pictures." He continues to be celebrated as one of the greatest and most important film stars of the 20th century. Chaplin eventually received his knighthood in 1975 two year prior to his death. This truly was a case of too little too late.
Charlie Chaplin was among the wealthiest men in the United States of America and his contracts continued to grow. In 1913 Chaplin signed with Keystone for $125 a week, 1914, Essanay for $1250 a week, 1916 with the Mutual Film Company for $10 000 a week and signing fee of $150 000, finally Chaplin signed with First National Exhibitor’s Circuit for $1 075 000 a year in 1917. Chaplin’s popularity drove the price of his services so high that no film company could afford him and he began to produce his own films. This does not seem to be the sort of wage that a Communist or Anarchist would be happy to lead. It is in direct contradiction to any reading of Communism or Anarchism to have so much money in a time of depression and war.
Many would argue that the themes of oppression and working class squalor in Chaplin films were not political commentaries but simply themes that would appeal to his demographic. The question still remains though; Was Charlie Chaplin a Communist? We may never truly know for certain. I would urge the reader to have a look at this video excerpt from "The Great Dictator" and decide for yourself.


  1. "It is in direct contradiction to any reading of Communism or Anarchism to have so much money in a time of depression and war."
    anarchism just means advocating not having any rulers. how is it against anarchism to earn a lot of money?

  2. Kurt is right. The fact is Chaplin saw what the government does to his people, and wealth is not a contradiction.