MY SOON TO BE next project is a book on Charlie Chaplin's "A Woman of Paris" (1923). You have not heard of it?--that is part of my reason for the text. A neglected work from a major artist always merits looking into--and a recent research project has given me a pronounced incentive to further probe this picture.
However, to set the table properly for the film's significance, let me back up the bus a moment. By the time of Chaplin's "Paris" drama, in which he does not appear (beyond a cameo), his Tramp had become the most-famous figure in the world. Through the still new art form of cinema, which Chaplin (1889-1977) had entered in 1914, he would generate the first example of what later generations would liken to "Beatlemania."
Moreover, as the Beatles created everything from musical trends to mass marketing as a cottage industry, Chaplin did them one better. He gave greater credibility to what many saw as a lesser "dumb [silent] show" form of entertainment, and became a pioneering global star. Indeed, his iconic Tramp logo remains, with the possible exception of Mickey Mouse, film's most-emblematic symbol.
Though one might quibble over whether Chaplin is cinema's most-significant artist, there can be no questioning he is its greatest auteur, given his ability to write, direct, perform, and compose the music for one groundbreaking picture after another. Thus, by the time "Paris" was released, he seemed to have conquered every potential roadblock naysayers had thrown his way. Indeed, a 1923 Picture-Play Magazine stated: "Today Chariot [Chaplin] is hymned by the literati... the beautiful and the damning.... The critics have decided that the abominable movies have produced something worthwhile in this harlequin of mustaches and baggy trousers."
What were the most memorable of these hurdles? Three examples readily come to mind. First, his short subjects frequently took on provocative issues during a period now known as the "Progressive Era" (1900-1920). For instance, his 1917 "The Immigrant" makes points which remain topical today.
The following year, he felt our involvement in World War I would be further assisted by making a dark comedy, "Shoulder Arms," about the plight of Allied soldiers. Everyone, sans his best friend, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., told him it would be in poor taste. Instead, as with "The Immigrant," it was a commercial and critical hit.
Third, in 1921 Chaplin decided to make his first feature film a comedy/drama about an unwed...