PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Charlie Chaplin's Film Music Can Stand Alone and Provide Solace Today

While Charlie Chaplin's music may have been meant as accompaniment to his movies, it can stand alone and provide solace today.

Charlie Chaplin Film Music Anthology
Charlie Chaplin

Chant du Monde/PIAS

12 April 2019

More than 40 years after his death (and 130 years after his birth) Charlie Chaplin is still recognized as an iconic movie character (the tramp) and filmmaker, even by those who have never seen any of his flicks. His genius has been universally celebrated both before and after his blacklisting in America during the 1950s for his political views. Often overlooked, however, has been Chaplin's talent as a musical composer. Although he began his career during the silent era, once sound technology became the norm Chaplin scored his own pictures, beginning with City Lights in 1931. While his compositions were meant to serve the films, Chaplin's music taken on its own can charm and enchant.

The Chaplin Office in Paris, which manages Chaplin's archives and represents the Chaplin family, has just released a new double CD set of extracts from the film soundtracks, appropriately entitled Charlie Chaplin Film Music Anthology. Chaplin could not read or write music, but this did not hinder him, as he would hum and sing the notes to associates who could. Chaplin's proficiency was aided by the fact that he was an accomplished violinist and pianist—and was known to instruct musicians to imitate his distinctive style of playing.

The first CD features selections Chaplin composed in Hollywood between 1931-1952 from such films as City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Gold Rush, Monsieur Verdoux, and Limelight. Most of the tracks are just one or two minutes as befits the screen activities such as the gold prospector eating his shoe or looking through a shop window at a pretty girl. The music conveys complex interior monologues in these silent movies. Rather than just presenting a mood, Chaplin's compositions suggest the mix of feelings one experiences during quotidian activities.

Also included on the first disc is Chaplin singing a "Nonsense Song" from the silent Modern Times. It's crooning in a made-up language that no one can understand, but the characters in the film react to suggest disdain for the manipulative lyrics. Chaplin engages in dramatic flourishes and humorous asides in a way that resembles a Marx Brothers' parody. Ironically, the track is followed by an instrumental version from the end of the same movie, Chaplin's best-known song, "Smile", that became a big hit for Nat King Cole more than a decade after John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons gave it lyrics. After 32 cuts of music, the disc ends with Chaplin's speeches at the end of The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux. Unfortunately, Chaplin's condemnation of the greed and militarization of world leaders still seem relevant today.

Chaplin moved to Switzerland in 1952 and the second disc contains the music he composed in Europe. This includes extracts from his 1957 film, A King in New York and selections he composed and recorded to accompany his silent movies from 1918-1923, including A Dog's Life, Shoulder Arms, The Pilgrim, The Circus, The Kid, The Idle Class, Payday, A Day's Pleasure, Sunnyside, and A Woman of Paris. (Putting music on these films during the times of their original release was technologically impossible.) The liner notes explain that the tunes from The Countess of Hong Kong (1967) aren't included because the Chaplin Archives doesn't hold the rights to that material, which is a shame because the soundtrack was popular and yielded the Petula Clark hit "This Is My Song".

The liner notes also contain the lyrics to the "Nonsense Song"—even though the words are made up and have no meaning—as well as to the few other tracks that have words and music. The best ones are the sendups of popular tunes from A King in New York and English baritone Matt Munro (best known for his hit rendition of "Born Free") crooning "Bound for Texas" with lines that would make Mel Brooks smile (i.e., "To hear the moo and rattle of the snakes and cattle").

The 67 tracks on this anthology express a bemused way of looking at the world. Chaplin understood the importance of this during troubled times as his career spanned two World Wars, a Great Depression, McCarthyism, and more. While Chaplin's music may have been meant as an accompaniment to his movies, it can stand alone and provide solace today.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.