Anatomy of a Gag

Dancing Chaplin

On Film / Visual Analysis — May 23, 2018


Comedic taste changes with every generation, but the work of Charlie Chaplin has remained funny across more than a century of moviegoing. In a trio of new video essays, filmmaker and critic David Cairns breaks down a few of the signature motifs and techniques that Chaplin repeated to crowd-pleasing effect throughout his career. The series kicks off with a focus on the master’s dance-like movements, which often serve as a counterpoint to the unpredictably chaotic environments his characters find themselves in. Whether rollerskating (blindfolded!) near the edge of a floor with no balustrade or trying his best not to get punched in a boxing match, Chaplin delighted in navigating the most absurd situations with balletic grace and rhythmic precision, qualities he learned from his early days as a music-hall performer. Watch the above video for a look at some of the memorably choreographed set pieces in classics like Modern Times, The Great Dictator, and City Lights. And stop by the Current next week for the next episode in Cairns’s series.