Charles Chaplin later preferred to forget about The Circus, but fortunately it remains available for us alongside his better-known gems.
This time, rather than joining the ranks of the musicians playing the accompanying musical score for a Charlie Chaplin movie, I was a member of the audience watching on a very large screen with the added attraction of live music provided by my colleagues. The Circus is a film I had not seen before, but Chaplin’s work being what it is, I knew I could expect something extraordinary. Still, I was not prepared for the depths of contrasting emotions it would provoke and must confess how surprisingly moved I was. My sole reservation — that perhaps the stock dynamic between a cruel stepfather and a beautiful, sweet young daughter was too broadly exaggerated — melted away later on as I considered my realization that all these sorts of things are, in effect, mirrors of true-life situations (a conclusion I reached long ago concerning opera plots).
Precisely because Chaplin went beyond the limits of certain emotional clichés in this piece, The Circus causes us to react in unexpected ways. The characters are more complex than a simple stereotypical portrait. In a short time we are shown how selfishness born of hunger learns to share; how misplaced pride is lurking just around the corner and can lead to disastrous consequences; how true love can turn one altruistic. There are glimpses of humanity everywhere, subtly alluded to. I was certain, going in, that I would laugh, but not as hard as I did, and I did not think I would cry — but I could not avoid it.
Going to The Circus has something for everyone
Chaplin, genius that he was, had such control of timing — the space between movements — that I also had to gasp once or twice during this film at the sheer loveliness and grace of what could be considered the choreography. The music for The Circus was added later by this master-of-all-trades and is not as ruthlessly synchronized to the action nor as illustrative as other scores he wrote. However, it still adds ambience that would be missing during complete silence; here is a small sample. More remarkable is the theme song (here in an instrumental version) that Chaplin composed and sang. The treats — ever available at Amazon.com — are many at this great show.