Showing posts with label Writings by Chaplin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writings by Chaplin. Show all posts

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"The Fool" by Charles Chaplin

From Rob Wagner's Script magazine (Vol. 30), October 21, 1944
He looked so old and feeble, and so out of place in the turbulent hustle of the city crowd,
that my interest was immediately aroused. He was going in the direction of the Hudson
River, crossing the road at Twenty-ninth Street and Madison Avenue. And although he had started with the change of the traffic signal, his progress was so painfully slow that I
doubted whether he could make it in time.
His queer, stumbling gait was like one's impeded movements in a dream—his legs operating as though they were extricating themselves from entangled rope. And, as I had anticipated, before he was two thirds of the way across, the signal changed. However, the traffic was not as ruthless as I had for some reason expected, and with considerate slowness it allowed him to pass.
On gaining the curb the old man chuckled and seemed amused by it all. He carried a stick, as well as an old cigar box which he held high in mock triumph. But no one paid any attention. In his exuberance he over-balanced and staggered, but quickly regained himself.  
He was an anachronism—this ancient derelict—with clothes that hung on him as on an old scarecrow. His Christlike whiskers were thin and yellowish white. And beneath an old battered fedora hat, his gray locks furled inward around a sunken neck. His complexion was sickly—translucent, like the inside of an oyster shell. And the features were thin and pointed as though cast from a long illness.
He stood a moment as one having accomplished only a part of his pilgrimage, and looked about him at the milling crowd. As they hurried by, he chuckled and laughed, and made inaudible remarks. There was something ironic in his laughter, I thought—a whimsical resignation of one who knew the torments of hope and its bitter betrayals. He seemed to be mocking them for their hurry, and to be bent on playing the fool. He raised his hat several times to people passing by, but they paid no attention. Nevertheless, his geniality never diminished. And he continued on his way along Twenty-ninth Street towards the Hudson river.
As to what Mecca he was bound, I had no idea. But I intended to find out. I was curious to know more about this old chap and what motivated his journey. So, on the opposite side of the street I followed.
As he hobbled along, hugging his cigar box as an author would his manuscript, he paused occasionally to rest. And while doing so, his legs occasionally buckled. But he would regain them quickly, ignoring the fact. There were no signs of the fool in him now. As he slowly limped along under the eaves of the tall buildings there were only pathos and weariness.
When he came forth into Madison Square, the Metropolitan Tower clock tolled four. The
June day was warm and sunny, and a summer spirit pervaded the city square. Precariously he crossed the wide intersection that leads into the park, and entered it. I did not follow, but remained outside at a vantage point where I could see him.
Without hesitation he hobbled up the pathway to a bench. Methodically he placed his stick and cigar box on it, then felt in his coat pocket and produced a lump of bread. Behind the bench numerous sparrows flitted about the green. With a perfunctory air and a dexterity, he nipped off pieces and threw them to the birds. His manner was that of ”Milord Bountiful.” And he threw with the abandon of abundance. Before his supply was exhausted, however, he was obliged to rest on the bench, throwing the remaining pieces over his left shoulder. When he had finished, he brushed off his hands, took out his handkerchief, wiped his face, wiped his beard, blew his nose, then sat quietly.
Was this the Mecca? the end of the pilgrimage? Surely, I thought, he has not come all this way just to feed sparrows. There must be other reasons. However, I was not kept in
suspense very long, for a moment later he was all primed with renewed energy and was
playing the fool again. 
At the end of the bench was one other occupant—a lugubrious, old, fat man who, sphinxlike, sat staring ahead of him, his blue puffed hands overlapped on the handle of his walking stick.
“Penny for your thoughts,” the old man chuckled. But the fat man paid no attention. A
soldier and his girl were passing. Immediately he got to his feet and saluted them, bringing his stick straight up to his shoulder. But they paid no attention.
With a chuckle he picked up his cigar box and ambled off up the pathway. On one of the
benches four middle-aged women sat chatting. As he passed them he bowed with
embellishment and raised his hat. One of the women laughed and he laughed back, mocking her in a falsetto voice which only made her laugh all the more. With such encouragement he turned and went towards them, but not too close, and without further preliminaries he burst into song:
I love a lassie--a bonnie Highland lassie,
She's as pure as the lilies in the dell.
She's as sweet as the heather—the bonnie purple heather,
For she's Mary--my Scotch bluebell.
When he had finished he opened his cigar box and gingerly held it out towards them. In it were shoelaces. They smiled, a little embarrassed, and shook their heads. He smiled and shook his head also, his geniality never diminishing, and closing the lid of his cigar box, he slowly ambled away. 
It seemed that nothing could affect the amiability of this old dodger—he was so irresponsible, and I began to wonder whether his whimsical antics, his elfish laughter were as profound and as complex as I had thought or whether they were merely the imbecilities of a senile old man. Were I to accost him, I might find out. 
Where the paths cross and the branches of the trees almost meet overhead, I caught up with him. “What have you in that box?” I asked. Tremulously he opened the lid. 
“Give me a pair,” I said, laying a five-dollar bill on top of the laces. He looked at the bill, then at me inquiringly. 
“You may keep the change,” I said brusquely.
 Gone was his buffoonery now. In his sunken eyes was a look of bewilderment. He could vie whimsically with the cruelty of life—its loneliness and indifference—but this gift, as small as it was, perplexed him. He was saddened by it. 
As I took the laces, he held on to one end of them by way of detaining me. He tried to speak but could not. I thanked him and went my way. Before leaving the park, I turned and glanced back. He was still standing where I had left him, in the center of the pathway. I waved to him, but he did not respond. He just stood gazing after me—a tragic old man with the shadows of the leaves dancing about him like gloom.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

“Rhythm”

This short story, written by Chaplin, first appeared in Rob Wagner’s Script magazine in January, 1938:

Rhythm : A Story Of Men In Macabre Movement
by Charles Chaplin
Only the dawn moved in the stillness of that small prison yard--the dawn ushering in death, as the young Loyalist stood facing the firing squad. The preliminaries were over. The small group of officials had stepped to one side to witness the end and now the scene had tightened into ominous silence.
Up to the last, the Rebels had hoped that a reprieve would come from Headquarters, for although the condemned man was an enemy to their cause, in the past he had been a popular figure in Spain, a brilliant writer of humour, who had contributed much to the enjoyment of his fellow countrymen.
The officer in charge of the firing squad knew him personally. Before the civil war they had been friends. Together they had been graduated from the university in Madrid. Together they had worked for the overthrow of the monarchy and the power of the Church. And together, they had caroused, had sat at nights around cafe tables, had laughed and joked, had enjoyed evenings of metaphysical discussion. At times they had argued on the dialectics of government. Their technical differences were friendly then, but now those differences had wrought misery and upheaval all over Spain, and had brought his friend to die by the firing squad.
But why think of the past? Why reason? Since the civil war, what good was reason? In the silence of the prison yard these interrogative thoughts ran feverishly through the officer’s mind.
No. He must shut out the past. Only the future mattered. A world in which he would be deprived of many old friends.
That morning was the first time they had met since the war. But no word was spoken. Only a faint smile of recognition passed between them as they prepared for the march into the prison yard.
From the sombre dawn streaks of silver and red peered over the prison wall, and breathed a quiet requiem in rhythm with the stillness in the yard, a rhythm pulsating in silence like the throbbing of a heart. Out of that silence the voice of the commanding officer resounded against the prison walls. "Attention!"
At this command, six subordinates snapped their rifles to their sides and stiffened. The unity of their action was followed by a pause in which the next command was to be given.
But in that pause something happened, something that broke the line of rhythm. The condemned man coughed and cleared his throat. This interruption broke the concatenation of procedure.
The officer turned, expecting the prisoner to speak, but no words came. Turning to his men again, he was about to proceed with the next command, but a sudden revolt took possession of his brain, a psychic amnesia that left his mind a blank. He stood bewildered before his men. What was the matter? The scene in the prison yard had no meaning. He saw only objectively — a man with his back to the wall facing six others. And the group there on the side, how foolish they looked, like rows of clocks that had suddenly stopped ticking. No one moved. Nothing made sense. Something was wrong. It must be a dream, and he must snap out of it.
Dimly his memory began to return. How long had he been standing there? What had happened? Ah, yes! He had issued an order. But what order came next?
Following "Attention!" was the command "present arms," and after that, "to aim," and then "fire!" A faint concept of this was in the back of his mind. But words to utter it seemed far off--vague and outside of himself.
In this dilemma he shouted incoherently, jumbled words that had no meaning. But to his relief the men presented arms. The rhythm of their action set his brain in rhythm, and again he shouted. Now the men took aim.
But in the pause that followed, there came into the prison yard hurrying footsteps, the nature of which the officer knew meant a reprieve. Instantly, his mind cleared. "Stop!" he screamed frantically at the firing squad.
Six men stood poised with rifles. Six men were caught in rhythm. Six men when they heard the scream to stop--fired.

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Nocturne"

This poem was printed in Rob Wagner’s Script magazine, November 10, 1934.

"Nocturne"
by Charlie Chaplin

Beneath an oak
     Beside a lake
Through shimmering lace
     I see a moon.
And silver notes
     Of mirrored stars
Trill upon a resonant pool.
The distant rhythmic mountain
     ranges
Symphonize the unknown theme,
Man’s destination—
     Why and Where
     Eternal Truth
The Real; the Dream.
Across the sky
     An eagle high
Conducts the silent symphony.