Leading lady Claire Bloom called it a "fairy godfather" story. Historians said it was frankly autobiographical. Charlie Chaplin knew it as a love story. Chaplin plays Calvero, a vaudeville clown whom time has passed by in ... more »1914 London. Although under few illusions about his own prospects for the future, he is able to impart his passion for life to Terry (Bloom), a young ballerina who believes she is paralyzed and can no longer dance. Calvero alternately nurses and bullies her to recovery and subsequent success as a prima ballerina. From this position, she is able to help Calvero enjoy one last triumphant moment just as he suffers a fatal heart attack. As his life is ebbing, hers is flowing in a brilliant solo ballet that ends the film.« less
Andrew McCaffrey | Satellite of Love, Maryland | 08/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"LIMELIGHT must serve as the ultimate "love it or hate it" film. If you fit into the "hate it" category, then you'll find this a silly, self-serving, self-indulgent, over-long piece of megalomania. You may think of it as overly sentimental and possibly emotionally manipulative, with Chaplin pitying himself at every turn and pitching all his neuroses onto the big screen. On the other hand, I absolutely adore it. Sure, it's melodrama, but it's the purest and best form of melodrama. It comes straight from Chaplin's heart and the autobiographical feel gives the sad moments just that much more of a kick.
Set in London in 1914, the story and its characters are very simple. An old music hall clown at the end of his career turns to alcoholism and a young ballerina loses her confidence and attempts suicide. If that sounds depressing, you're right; and that's only the film's opening sequence. The movie isn't an out and out downer though; it has its emotional highs and lows as the pair pursues the only thing that brings meaning to their lives -- the stage. It's interesting to note that during the dream sequence where Calvero (Chaplin) performs alone, the audience disappears; when his dream places Terry (Claire Bloom) alongside him, the applause echoes. And, of course, without Calvero to encourage her, the ballerina cannot perform.
Odd to say this about a Chaplin film, but the dialog is marvelous. It shouts out to be quoted, with Chaplin's character opining on everything up to and including the meaning of life. Sure, it isn't realistic, but the speeches are great and fit in with the movie's bombastic attitude.
It's the relationship between the young ballerina and the old clown that brings me back to this film. The documentary touches on this briefly and raises the right questions. Are they in love? Can they be? Are they fooling themselves as well as each other? They both clearly need each other, but how self-destructive is the relationship? Calvero tries to teach Terry to be optimistic while standing on the cliff of depression himself and Terry praises Calvero's abilities while unable to come to terms with her own. The questions and contradictions make for a very thought-provoking experience.
Much has been made about Buster Keaton's extended cameo near the film's conclusion. I've read that during the filming Keaton was much funnier in their comedy scene together and Chaplin (being director) edited the result in such a way as to throw the spotlight back on himself. I've also read denials that this ever happened, and I've even read that even if this were true, it makes sense in the context of how the film is progressing (Calvero being upstaged at this moment would have wrecked the whole point of the scene). I honestly don't know what's true, but Keaton's presence is more than welcome, serving as a grumpy counterpoint, anchoring the film before it floats away in schmaltz. It seems oddly fitting that he is present in the background as a witness to Calvero/Chaplin's farewell.
The DVD extras work well, with a whole second disc devoted purely to features. The "Chaplin Today" mini-documentaries have been the highlights of these Chaplin DVDs and the one on here continues that tradition, a nice balance being struck between contemporary analysis and interviews with the surviving cast. In addition, included is all that exists of a short film from 1919 in which Chaplin plays the headman in a flea circus, a gag which he would eventually use in LIMELIGHT.
The film's Oscar winning soundtrack is also available on the second disc, though one can only select tracks and cannot rewind or fast forward through individual selections. Also included are two homemade movies from the Chaplin estate, the first being the family running around enjoying themselves in the US in 1950, while the second documents Chaplin returning to his childhood London neighborhood in 1959. They're about as dull as one would expect watching someone's vacation films to be. The selections are silent (the only noise is the gentle whirring of the projector) and the second piece could really have used some narration to explain what we are looking at.
LIMELIGHT works on so many different levels. It's the story of two fictional characters. But it's also the story of the end of the music halls. And it's also clearly autobiographical, with Chaplin sensing the end of his career and his life. And, ultimately, it's a comment on humanity, the old fading away and their place being taken by the young. It's a bittersweet movie, with even the final tragedy somehow giving us hope for the future. An excellent film if you allow yourself to become caught up in it."
Clowntime is over
Flipper Campbell | Miami Florida | 07/18/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To this day, the audiences don't know whether to laugh or cry when encountering this long-winded melodrama about an aged performer and a troubled young ballerina. Director Bernardo Bertolucci is among those who consider "Limelight" Charles Chaplin's masterpiece. When the tramp clown breathes his last, "Who is dying here is not Calvaro, but Charlie Chaplin," Bertolucci says in the DVD documentary. "With 'Limelight,' tears flow very easily."The MK2 documentary for "Limelight" is the Chaplin Collection's best so far. It covers the period in which Chaplin left the United States, only to return once, reluctantly, for his honorary Oscar.The docu doesn't address the old charges that Chaplin spiked Buster Keaton's best work in the film. Regardless, the extended Keaton-Chaplin slapstick sequence remains the highlight for many viewers. The DVD photo gallery includes W. Eugene Smith's terrific stills of the men at work.The film enjoy across-the-board improvements in video and audio, including digital transfers from Chaplin family elements and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. Imaginative bonus features inform and entertain without wearing out their welcome. "Limelight" extras include footage of Chaplin getting a hero's welcome in London and revisiting the places of his youth. Home movies from the 1950s show Geraldine Chaplin as a child and teenager. (The great Chaplin comes across like any other proud goofy dad, playing with his kids.) A hilarious 1919 short shows Chaplin on the loose as a flea-circus wrangler.Chaplin and his collaborators' luscious score, which won a belated Oscar in 1972 -- once the film finally qualified by screening in L.A. -- can be enjoyed separately, as an extra. The music sounds fine in mono or in the 5.1, but the surround seems to introduce some boominess. The film has an intro by Chaplin biographer David Robinson, rendered pretty much useless by placement on disc 2 (almost all of his information is repeated in the docus anyway)."
Andrew G. Rothschild | Brooklyn, NY USA | 03/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"That there are persons who dislike Limelight astounds me. My only conclusion (and this is well supported) is that the critics of Limelight don't get it. Chaplin's character, Calvero, doesn't philosophize endlessly because Chaplin is a blowhard; he overthinks life so that he doesn't lose his grip on it. Far from being indulgent, Limelight absurdly exaggerates ideas which must have been meaningful to Chaplin for the sake of characterization--it's sacrifical art. And it works. God! does it work. Limelight will make you cry if you have a soul and laugh if you have a sense of humor. This is one of Chaplin's best--up there with City Lights and The Great Dictator. "I like working on the streets," Calvero says; "I guess it's the Tramp in me." Sniffle."
For the best image quality, stick with the previous releases
Kaptain Video | CA USA | 05/25/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Warner Bros really blew it with these new Special Edition releases of the Chaplin films. Instead of transferring them to DVD from the original film sources, they merely converted some PAL versions to NTSC. So, while the new Warner's DVDs have better sound than the previous versions released by Image Entertainment, they are also slightly sped up due to the PAL to NTSC conversion. But, worst of all, as The Laser Examiner website noted, "The picture quality during normal playback is noticeably softer and less defined in texture as well as detail, and the overlaps make the motion fuzzy as well." So, if you're a visual purist, you're probably better off grabbing the original Image Entertainment DVD releases of the Chaplin films."
A very early role for Claire Bloom and wonderful Chaplin
Patricia F. Sheffield | New Jersey | 11/25/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was a movie usher at the Astor Theatre in NYC in 1951 and stood through 19 showings of "Limelight". I loved every moment of it. When I saw it again years later, the same emotions erupted. Buster Keaton's piece alone is worth the price!"