Monday, 17 January 2011

Chaplin's 1920s Paris. . .

I watched a wonderful movie last night, A Woman of Paris, the first drama that Charlie Chaplin directed. It premiered in 1923 and apart from a brief cameo, Chaplin chose not to act in it. In the DVD extras, Chaplin's biographer David Robinson introduces the film - which, though a critical success, flopped at the box office - and I was touched to learn that when Chaplin was 86, he went back and wrote a new score for the film that he had loved so much. Edna Purviance plays Marie St-Claire, a young woman who travels to Paris alone after her fiancé Jean fails to show up at the train station. A year later, she's the mistress of Pierre, a millionaire playboy, suavely portrayed by Adolphe Menjou. When Marie unexpectedly encounters Jean, now living in Paris as a struggling artist along with his disapproving mother, she has to re-evaluate what she really wants from life: love or luxury? There are so many clever and marvellous moments in this film. It's terrific at capturing the immoral, partying decadence of Paris in the twenties, the touching and humourous relationship between Marie and Pierre, the catty female friendships (a precursor to The Women?), and the ultimate tragedy and Marie's final decision. The costumes are absolutely gorgeous and despite the melodrama, there's a warmth, wit and sophistication between the characters that makes this a completely different type of film from G.W. Pabst's 1929 Pandora's Box, for example.

The DVD set also has a great documentary about the making of the film that includes an interview with Liv Ullmann talking about the film's innovations. It also includes a much later 1957 Chaplin film, The King of New York which I think I will be watching tonight.

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