Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charles Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Nigel Bruce, Buster Keaton, Sydney Chaplin, Norman Lloyd, Marjorie Bennett
Written by: Charles Chaplin
Directed by: Charles Chaplin
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 137
Date: 10/16/1952

Limelight (1952)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Tears of a Clown

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

To casual viewers, Charles Chaplin's Limelight may appear overly sentimental and not very funny, but a deeper look proves it to be one of the comedian's most revelatory works. It's Chaplin's most personal and painful film, and the only film to show his onscreen death. It's an incredibly brave achievement.

It's set in the London of Chaplin's childhood, recalling some of his most painful memories and experiences. He plays an aging clown named Calvero who has taken to the bottle. In his building he discovers a beautiful dancer (Bloom) who has tried to commit suicide. He nurses her back to health and convinces her to dance again. She's fallen in love with him, but Calvero knows in his heart that she belonged with the young composer Neville (Sydney Chaplin).

The film features several on-stage set pieces, such as the flea circus and a memorable teaming of Chaplin and his colleague/rival Buster Keaton. One of the finest aspects of Limelight has to be Chaplin's heartbreaking score, which won an Oscar the year it became eligible, in 1972.

Andre Bazin argued that the movie is extraordinary simply because Chaplin was making it about himself, in a way that no other filmmaker could ever duplicate, and it could not have existed without him. In his article, he wrote: "There is only one word to describe the note struck by this film, and we must first restore it to its full classical meaning -- sublime."

Warner Home Video re-released Limelight in 2003 on a two-disc DVD set. Bonuses include the entire 60-minute soundtrack, stills, posters, a short documentary featuring Bernardo Bertolucci, a deleted scene and more.

In 2015, the Criterion Collection offered a new Blu-ray, which contains the finest transfer, by far, of this film that I've ever seen. (It also includes an uncompressed monaural soundtrack.) It comes with the deleted scene and the short documentary from the 2003 DVD, but it also includes new-ish interviews with actors Claire Bloom and Norman Lloyd, a new visual essay by Chaplin biographer David Robinson, an audio recording of a reading by Chaplin (also used in the Robinson essay), and two early Chaplin shorts, A Night in the Show (1915, Essanay) and the uncompleted The Professor (1919), the latter of which Chaplin mined for Limelight. There's also a thick, handsome liner notes booklet.

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