Chaplin in Bali: Journey to the East
M/A/D | Music/Art/Design
In 1932, experiencing a midlife crisis aggravated by the coming of the talkies, Charlie Chaplin decided not to return to Hollywood after his promotional tour of Europe for his movie City Lights. Instead, with his brother Sydney, he "escaped" to Bali, a peaceful haven of an island, where no one knew who he was. Fascinated by the serene lifestyle of the inhabitants, their culture and their way of life, Chaplin, camera in hand, found rejuvenation and inspiration in their dances, especially the complicated dance form known as legong (seen here in Chaplin’s footage and footage shot in 1995 with some of the same dancers), which he filmed extensively.
But he didn’t just film these dances—he also joined in! We see Chaplin dancing legong with the Balinese and precisely mimicking their dance movements, which, surprisingly, echo his own art of pantomime. While Bali helped him resolve his fear of sound, thus enabling him to embark on the new phase of filmmaking that led to Modern Times (the first movie in which he does even better than speak: he sings!), this moment of epiphany was not pure naivety on Chaplin’s part. He also encountered the colonial world first hand and was able to perceive its dark side—so much so that he wrote the script for a virulently anti-colonialist film, which, though never made, furthered his political awakening.
With the permission of the rights’ holders overseeing Chaplin’s archive, Raphael Millet has marshalled the footage Chaplin shot, combined it with more recent footage and created a beautiful time capsule that transports us to another world.