René Clair on Chaplin, Twice
Here are two excerpts from the book “Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends” by Patrick McGilligan. Both quote French filmmaker René Clair, both are about Charlie Chaplin.
In the first, McGilligan asks Clair, in the mid-1970s, if films affect him, or audiences in general, the way they did when they first premiered:
No, never. Even among the great masters ... Chaplin, for example ... I'm old enough to have seen “The Gold Rush” at its premiere in Paris ... well, people were literally dying of laughter. I know, that, for myself, I couldn't look at the screen. I was sick with laughter! Since then, thirty or so years later, I have seen a very good reissue of “The Gold Rush,” and people were again laughing but it was not the same. Do you see? It was not the same.
Not sure about that “literally dying of laughter.” Is Clair saying “The Gold Rush” killed people? But the rest is interesting. Question: Do some films improve with age?
The other quote is about the similarities between Clair's “A Nous la Liberté” (1931) and Chaplin's “Modern Times” (1936):
If you could see the two films at the same time, at one sitting, well, you would be struck by the comparison. And the truth is that, of course, Chaplin never admitted it. The company for which I made “Ŕ Nous la Liberté” sued United Artists, which had made “Modern Times,” for plagiarism. And, of course, I was asked to take part in the suit and I always refused. I said I know that Chaplin has seen “Ŕ Nous la Liberté.” It is enough to look at his film.
I seem to recall this thought when I first saw “A Nous...” a few years back: Had Chaplin seen it? Now I need to see it again.