“Democratia schtunk!! liberty schttunk !! free spracken schtunk!!,” thunders Adenoid Hynkel in front of the sons and daughters of the Double Cross. But even as the Hynkel bares open his dark soul and devious intentions, “strunken me de Europe, and strunken me de world,”; the personal translator on the radio station, Heinrich Stick goes about frostily reading from a prepared script and states that “in conclusion the Fuhrer remarks that for the rest of the world, he has nothing but peace in his heart.”
Burlesque is the one word that comes to mind as one is riveted watching the Great Dictator, a brilliant parody by one of the greatest comedians (and actor as well) this world has ever seen: Charles Chaplin. In fact, the opening speech by Herr Hynkel is one of my all time favourite scenes; the way Hynkel raves and rants about his greatest army and navy, the guttural noises he makes while talking about Jews and the times he breaks off remembering the struggles he had with Herring and Garbitsch (pronounced as Garbage) or the beauty of the Aryan maiden. The 5-minute long address is delivered in gibberish English, with smattering of German words.
It is not merely Hynkel’s speech, in fact each and every scene in the movie is a masterpiece by itself and that is what makes the movie such a classic and Chaplin such a genius. I well remember about an incident the Satyajit Ray recalled about making Pather Panchali. Filming one of the sequences, he got so carried away by the visual that he continued shooting. It was only later on that he realised that while the sequence was very much visually appealing, it did not really fit into the scheme of things and had to be discarded. The movie is more important than the sequences, was the implied message.
And yet, if one were to see Chaplin’s films they are all made of amazing sequences that are meant to tickle us. Chaplin’s antics stay with us, even if the movie does not. Many years back, when I was much younger and in school (apparently 2nd or 3rd standard), we were all taken to Chaplin movie being screened in one of the theatres. That was my first introduction to the tramp. I don’t really recall which that movie, but there are a couple of scenes that I still remember, apparently Chaplin and the villain are caught in a blizzard and in one sequence he cooks his shoe and sits down to eat it with a fork and knife. In fact he almost relishes the shoe, as if it is come delicacy. And in another scheme, the house they seem to be living in, slides down a mountain slope ostensibly because of Chaplin’s carelessness. This is all I remember from my first Chaplin movie. Nonetheless, it is a miracle that I remember anything from that movie considering the lapse of time (over 2 decades and more). That is the power of gag, that is where Chaplin’s genius: in creating gags that tickle. Continue reading