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Limelight - Chaplin's tour de force - and dance

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Last night we watched a DVD of Charles Chaplin's tour de force:  "Limelight." 


I had seen the film many years ago and it has always lingered in my  mind.  What a towering talent he was. 


Chaplin wrote this story as a full book size novel. 


Then he wrote the screenplay.


He composed the music for which he won an Oscar.  The theme song is a river of romantic lyricism -- perfect for the story.  It can be heard here:  



In the final scene Prima Ballerina Melissa Hayden's dancing to it is hauntingly beautiful.


He also directed the film.


He produced the film.


He choreographed (with Eglevsky) the dance scenes. 


He plays the violin.  I don't know if he was actually able to do this - but if not one would never know it - his stance and hands are perfectly those of a violinist (at least to my eyes).


And, then, he starred in the film  both as a serious acting role and as a serious comedic role. 


Though the story is about the necessity to exit the stage because of age, Chaplin, himself,  is still a marvel of grace and strength - fully in control of all the elements of performance - his body still his to command.  In several sequences - as when his legs seem to grow and shorten spontaneously while playing the violin - one is transfixed by his art. 


The film stars a lovely Claire Bloom.  All of Chaplin's family have roles in the film. 


Chaplin was from the beginning of his career in love with dance - especially the ballet.  It is because of him that we have film clips of Anna Pavlova.  In "Limelight" the beautiful Prima Ballerina Melissa Hayden, principal of NYCB, stands in for the dance sequences of Bloom's character.   The transitions between Bloom and Hayden are cleverly done and only once for a second or two does one detect that  Claire is not a dancer.  It is in the scene where Bloom,  costumed in tutu and pointe shoes, rises to pointe before entering the stage - at which point Hayden takes over.  But for that split second as Bloom rises to pointe, those of us who dance can detect that the rise to pointe is not the foot of a dancer.  It lasts but a blink of an eye.


Hayden is subime - she is young, strong and lovely.  She is partnered by Andre Eglevsky and he, too, is a pleasure.  Her strength allows her to melt into the weeping music.  I see her now as I type this.


Chaplin came from a childhood that even Dickens in his worst literary nightmares would have difficulty conjuring.  Out of this nether world of poverty and insanity - with no training - comes this man of multiple talents - to this day a giant of the stage.


If you haven't seen "Limelight" - do.  And, if you have - perhaps give  yourself the pleasure again.

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  • 1 month later...

Thank you for sharing this with us!

I have seen some of Charlie Chaplin's films but not this one. I find this forum valuable when it comes to popping out names of ballets documentaries, films, etc. I haven't heard of before. I watched  Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" last month... so much talent in one individual - it's unbelievable!

I heard someone commenting Maya Plisetskaya once - "Plisetskaya is not a name in ballet history, she is an epoch!". This could be said about Charlie Chaplin too, replacing "ballet" with "film".

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  • 1 year later...

Last night I watched Limelight in the U.S. on Turner Classic Movies.  A wonderful, captivating film.


In "Limelight" the beautiful Prima Ballerina Melissa Hayden, principal of NYCB, stands in for the dance sequences of Bloom's character.   The transitions between Bloom and Hayden are cleverly done and only once for a second or two does one detect that  Claire is not a dancer. 


I did not know this.  I never noticed the transition.  The dancing was beautiful.


Here's another bit of trivia.  Limelight, a film made in 1952, won an Oscar for its score in 1972.  Why 20 years later?


To be eligible for an Academy Award, a film must make a seven-day run in a Los Angeles theater.  Limelight was set to open in Los Angles in January 1953, but due to political pressure concerning Chaplin’s politics in the 1930, the film did not make the requisite seven day run in until 1972.

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Thank you, Willie, for that information.  It is sad when politics and art intersect - usually to the corruption of both.


I am listening again to that beautiful music as I write this.  It is a real shame that this movie did not get the oscar for Best Movie of the Year.


(I posted this reply earlier - but somehow cannot see it - and so reposted - please forgive me if this becomes a double post)

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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I too loved Limelight at the time it first came out.  Could I just put in a word for the equally marvellous Buster Keaton, who has a cameo moment in the film.  He was also a 'beautiful mover' in his own earlier silent films - The General, Steamboat Bill jnr, for example - and, for me, far funnier and less sentimental than Chaplin!

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Music played an important part in the Karno comedy sketches, which achieved, for example, effective comic contrast by accompanying gross slapstick with delicate 18th century melodies. Stan Laurel, a fellow Karno performer, recalled in an interview with John McCabe that during the 1912 US tour Charlie:

“Carried his violin wherever he could. Had the strings reversed so he could play left handed, and he would practise for hours. He bought a cello once and used to carry it around with him. At these times he would always dress like a musician, a long fawn coloured overcoat with green velvet cuffs and collar and a slouch hat. And he’d let his hair grow long at the back. We never knew what he was going to do next.”

Chaplin himself recalled that:

“On this tour I carried my violin and cello. Since the age of sixteen I had practised from four to six hours a day in my bedroom. Each week I took lessons from the theatre conductor or from someone he recommended. As I played left handed, my violin was strung left handed with the bass bar and sounding post reversed. I had great ambitions to be a concert artist, or, failing that, to use it in a vaudeville act, but as time went on I realised that I could never achieve excellence, so I gave it up.”


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