Considered a classic by most, yet not the best of Chaplin, The Great Dictator which released in 1949, is one of the most enduring satires of its time. The film takes place, as the title card clarifies, in a ‘period between two wars’. This film was screened as a part of Meta-Culture 2008 Film Festival on Conflict and Resolution last month at the Alliance Francaise. In the film, writer-director Chaplin plays opposed dual roles – that of a Jewish amnesiac barber and the Tomanian dictator Adenoid Hynkel.
The Great Dictator was Chaplin’s first feature-length talkie. The movie, in a loosely set narrative, is a film on Hitler. Chaplin is an unnamed Jewish soldier in the army of Tomainia (fictional nation). He bravely attempts to rescue an officer named Schultz. When the plane the two had taken off in crashes into a tree, Chaplin loses his memory. Schultz escapes, and Chaplin spends the next 20 years in the hospital. The amnesiac soldier finally returns to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto.
All the while great changes are taking place in Tomainia: Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin in a double role), its ruthless dictator, has undertaken to persecute Jews throughout the land, aided by ministers Garbitsch and Herring.
The soldier is obviously unaware of the political developments, and is shocked when storm troopers paint ‘Jew’ on the windows of his shop. In the scuffle that ensues with the storm troopers, he finds his love interest in Hannah, a resident of the ghetto. The movie is a fine comedy; however, the romantic subplot gets too little attention.
The final word
This brilliant gag, though in the light of a serious event like the holocaust, is poignantly funny. Making a comedy out of the Nazi’s elevation to power, and a clown out of Hitler, only Chaplin could take on the critics. However, the film deserves encomium for thinking ahead of its time. When the film entered production in 1937, Hitler was rather viewed as an ally, and it is precisely for this reason that a movie like The Great Dictator breaks all rules of being a ‘product of its time’. The movie transcends baseless definitions and belongs to eternity. The film, very innocuously, also wins the title of being the first on the subject of holocaust.
At the end of the movie the barber (soldier) and Hynkel see a role reversal. The allowing of hopeful, grandiloquent statements on world peace from the barber is almost hilarious, to the point that it dilutes the satire – the very element the movie is constructed on. “We think too much and feel too little”, he asserts in one of his last statements. Don’t we all do that when intelligentsia takes over?
This weekend, the Bangalore Film Society (BFS), is screening some equally interesting films (details in box). The list includes some classics and some contemporary films like Stuart Rosenberg’s Cool Hand Luke, Fernando Eimbcke’s Duck Season and Fellini’s Toby Dammit. Siddharth Pillai, Associate Secetary, BFS, gives a short overview on the films. "Toby Dammit," says Siddharth, "talks about Terence Stamp – an eccentric thespian, noted recluse who spent the best years of his life in an ashram and an actor who when he is at his best seems to be in the grip of some strange dark force." Duck Season, which made in 2004, has measured doses of quirk, comedy and pathos. "Fernando Eimbcke’s inimitable debut was a revelation to critics and audiences in Mexico and across the globe drawing glowing comparisons to Jim Jarmusch and Wes Anderson," says Siddharth. The movie Cool Hand Luke released in 1967 is a tribute to Paul Newman who passed away recently. "The film," he says, "talks about a criminal, gambler, and serial saboteur of the municipality."
BFS is also bringing in the National Award winning film critic MK Raghavendra as the guest speaker. "The talk proposes to identify popular Hindi cinema’s form and its conventions," says George Kutty, Programme Coordinator, BFS.
|Film screening schedule at BFS
|31st October, 6.30 PM
|Cool Hand Luke (127min/Colour/USA/1967) Dir: Stuart Rosenberg
|1st November, 6.30 PM
|Duck Season (84min/B&W/Mexico/2004) Dir: Fernando Eimbcke
|2nd November, 6.30 PM
|‘The Meaning of Bollywood’ Lecture by MK Raghavendra
Toby Dammit (50min/Color/France/ 1968) Dir: Federico Fellini
|Venue: Ashirvad, 30, St. Mark’s Road cross, opposite State Bank of India
Tel: 2549 2774/ 2549 3705/ 9886213516
The screenings are open only for members, and non- members are required to arrive 15 minutes early to register. Registration fee is Rs 700 per annum for singles and Rs 1000 for couples. ⊕