8. Charlie Chaplin (1889 – 1977)
In the transition from silent films to talking pictures, there were few survivors. Charlie Chaplin was an exception to the rule. As both actor and director, he was one of Hollywood’s first superstars, drawing record number audiences to the theater—and bridging the gap that existed between entertainment for children and adults.
But Chaplin also succeeded in making movies with meaning. As a physical comedian, he stands as one of history’s greatest, with the ability to express an extensive range of emotions without the benefit of words. At the same time, Chaplin aimed to say something with his movies, to talk about social and political injustices, but with a sugar coating to attract the largest audience. He’s still doing so, informing the work of everyone from Woody Allen to midnight movie king Lloyd Kaufman.
Says Kaufman, “I don’t know about other contemporary filmmakers, but Chaplin certainly influenced my movies. It is no coincidence that the Toxic Avenger’s ‘significant other,’ Sarah, is blind—City Lights is the obvious source. I could write a book about how Chaplin has influenced my movies, scripts, characters and themes.”
Not content to work around studio restrictions, Chaplin also pioneered the role of director as businessman. Continues Kaufman “Instead of being exploited by a studio as a contracted director like fellow geniuses Buster Keaton and Preston Sturges, Chaplin owned all his movies and benefited from the revenue derived from them.” Chaplin also saw the potential for a relationship between merchandising and film, emblazoning the image of The Little Tramp on clothing and toys—making a fortune and leading the way for future director-moguls like George Lucas.