Thursday, December 18, 2014

Charles Chaplin - My Autobiography

Charles Chaplin (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977) was a genius who has contributed lots of joy to the world. He was a comedian, director, writer, actor, composer, producer... a true performer.

His movies are still entertaining, even to my 11 year-old niece. In this autobiography he wrote about his poor childhood, how he joined the entertainment industry, how he made successful movies and founded the United Artists and how the American public were turned against him, accusing him as a communist. He wrote about famous people he met, like Gandhi, Einstein, Churchill, HG Wells, his partner Douglas Fairbanks, etc. 

After the released of the first film with sound, the Jazz Singer, in 1927; he still insisted to make two more silent movies: City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) and both were successful. The next movie, The Great Dictator (1940), which he called an anti-nazi movie, was not as good as his silent ones. It was very funny how he portrayed the dictator, which looked a lot like Hitler: why they wore the same moustache? When you think about it, Chaplin wore it first. Why would a country leader wore the same moustache as a comedian? Was the style a hit in the era?

My favourite Chaplin films are the full-length ones: The Gold Rush, The Circus, and Modern Times. When I was buying this book, what I looking for was how he had gotten the ideas for them. So I am a little disappointed because he didn't wrote about all of them. He only wrote about several of his movies, while he had made so many. In all, this is an enjoyable book and a good inspirational story about a poor boy from a destitute neighbourhood in London who became the world's favorite man. This book was first published in 1964, when he lived in exile in Switzerland. Only in 1972 he returned to the U.S.A to accept his Honorary Award from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.

64-pages of pictures are grouped in the middle of this book. 
As he made his own movies, between them, he had to take break to look for ideas and inspirations. After City Lights (1931), he took a trip to the Orient with his brother Sydney, and he visited the island of Bali, between his trip from Singapore to Japan. He brought a camera along, because there was documentary films from this trip. It's available in YouTube and the year (it's said) was 1932.

Excerpt from the book about Bali:
It was Sydney who had recommended visiting the island of Bali, saying how untouched it was by civilization and describing its beautiful women with their exposed bosoms. These aroused my interest. Our first glimpse of the island was in the morning – white puff clouds encircled green mountains leaving their peaks looking like floating islands. In those days there was no port or airfield; one landed at an old wooden dock by row-boat.
We passed through compounds with beautifully built walls and imposing entrances where ten or twenty families lived. The farther we traveled the more beautiful the country became; silvery mirrored steps of green-rice fields led down to a winding stream. Suddenly Sidney nudged me. Along the roadside was a line of stately young women, dressed only in batiks wrapped around their waists, their breasts bare, carrying baskets on their heads laden with fruits. From then on we were continually nudging. Some were quite pretty. Our guide, an American Turk who sat in front with the chauffeur, was most annoying, for he would turn with lecherous interest to see our reactions – as though he had put on the show for us.
The hotel in Denpasar had only recently been built. Each sitting-room was open like a veranda, partitioned off, with sleeping quarters at the back which were clean and comfortable.
Hirschfeld, the American water-colour artist, and his wife had been living in Bali for two months and invited us to his house, where Miguel Covarrubias, the Mexican artist, had stayed before them. They had rented it from a Balinese nobleman, and lived there like landed aristocrats for fifteen dollars a week. After dinner the Hirschfelds, Sydney, and I took a walk. The night was dark and sultry. Not a breath of wind stirred, then suddenly a sea of fire-flies, acre upon acre of them, raced over the rice-fields in undulating waves of blue light. From another direction came sound of jingling tambourines and clashing gongs in rhythmic tonal patterns. ‘A dance going on somewhere,’ said Hirschfeld; ‘let’s go.’
About two hundred yards away a group of natives were standing and squatting around, and maidens sat cross-legged with baskets and small flares selling dainty edibles. We edged through the crowd and saw two girls about ten years old wrapped in embroidered sarongs, with elaborated gold tinsel head-dresses that flickered sparklingly in the lamplight as they danced mosaic patterns to treble high notes, accompanied by deep bass tones from large gongs; their head swayed, their eyes flickered, their fingers quivered to the devilish music, which developed to a crescendo like a raging torrent, then calmed down again into a placid river. The finish was anticlimactic; the dancers stopped abruptly and sank bank into the crowd. There was no applause – the Balinese never applaud; nor have they a word for love or thank you.
Walter Spies, the musician and painter, called and had lunch with us at the hotel. He had lived in Bali for fifteen years, and spoke Balinese. He had transcribed some of their music for piano, which he played for us; the effect was like a Bach concerto played in double time. Their musical taste was quite sophisticated, he said; our modern jazz they dismissed as dull and too slow. Mozart they considered sentimental, and only Bach interested them because his patterns and rhythms were similar to their own. I found their music cold, ruthless and slightly disturbing; even the deep doleful passages had the sinister yearning of a hungry minotaur.
After lunch Spies took us into the interior of a jungle, where a ceremony of flagellation was to take place. We were obliged to walk four miles along a jungle path to get there. When we arrived, we came upon a large crowd surrounding an altar about twelve feet long. Young maidens in beautiful sarongs, their breasts bare, were queueing up with baskets laden with fruit and other offerings, which a priest, looking like a dervish with long hair down to his waist and dressed in a white gown, blessed an laid upon the altar. After the priest had intoned prayers, giggling youths broke through and ransacked the altar, grabbing what they could as the priests lashed violently out at them with whips. Some were forced to drop their spoils because of the severity of the lashings, which were supposed to rid them of evil spirits that tempted them to rob.
We went in and out of temples and compounds as we pleased, and saw cock-fights and attended festivals and religious ceremonies which took place all hours of the day and night. I left one at five in the morning. Their gods are pleasure-loving, and the Balinese worship them not with awe, but with affection.
Late one night Spies and I came upon a tall Amazon woman dancing by torchlight, her little son imitating her in the background. A young-looking man occasionally instructed her. We discovered later that he was her father. Spies asked him his age.
            ‘When was the earthquake?’ he asked.
            ‘Twelve years ago,’ said Spies.
            ‘Well, I had three married children then.’ Seemingly not satisfied with this answer, he added: ‘I am two thousand dollars old,’ declaring that in his lifetime he had spent that sum.
            In many compounds I saw brand-new limousines used as chicken-coops. I asked Spies the reason. Said he: ‘A Compound is run on communistic lines, and the money it makes by exporting a few cattle they put into a saving fund which over the years amounts to a considerable sum. One day an enterprising automobile salesman talked them into buying Cadillac limousines. For the first couple of days they rode around having great fun, until they ran out of gasoline. Then they discovered that the cost of running a car for a day was as much as they earned in a month, so they left them in the compounds for the chickens to roost in.’
Balinese humour is like our own and abounds in sex jokes, truisms and play on words. I tested the humour of our young waiter at the hotel. ‘Why does a chicken cross the road?’ I asked.
            His reaction was supercilious. ‘Everybody knows that one,’ said he to the interpreter.
            ‘Very well then, which came first, the chicken or the egg?’
            This stumped him. ‘The chicken – no –‘ he shook his head, ‘-the egg – no,’ he pushed back his turban and thought a while; then announced with final assurance: ‘The egg.’
            ‘But who laid the egg?’
            ‘The turtle, because the turtle is supreme and lays all the eggs.’

Bali then was a paradise. Natives worked four months in the rice-fields and devoted the other eight to their art and culture. Entertainment was free all over the island, one village performing for the other. But now paradise is on the way out. Education has taught them to cover their breasts and forsake their pleasure-loving gods for Western ones.

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