Friday, September 24, 2004

A Woman Of Paris

Charlie Chaplin's A Woman Of Paris (1923) is a beautiful, forgotten gem from the silent era. It begins with the title card: "In order to prevent any misunderstanding, I do not appear in this picture. This is the first serious drama written and directed by myself."

I wonder if this movie is not as well-known because it is a drama and not a comedy. Chaplin made it as a sort of gift for Edna Purviance, his long-time leading lady. She plays a provincial innocent who comes to Paris and becomes a kept woman to the callow dandy Adolphe Menjou.

The movie takes place in decadent, debauched 1920's Paris. It is immaculately designed, and looks as if it was made not in celluloid but in velvet. Despite Chaplin's title card warning, it is very very funny, though its humor is rooted in melancholy.

A Woman of Paris is one of those rare movies that was much more a favorite of other movie directors than it was of the public. German filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch liked to say that he refashioned his entire career once he had seen it. (He was being entirely too modest, but I can see what he means). Martin Scorsese thinks of it as a totally modern film, and even Sergei Eisenstein adored it.

And I don't know how Chaplin does it, but for a movie that climaxes with a horrific suicide, he pulls off a magically happy ending.