It goes without saying that any homage to Charlie Chaplin is going to come at the expense of those daring to mimic him. Robert Downey Jr.'s astonishingly good bio-pic version notwithstanding, most imitations feel feeble against Chaplin's epic talent. But Google's Doodle team gave it a shot on Friday. After increasingly more elaborate animations and interactive doodads gracing the Google homepage, the group tasked with humanizing the Google brand on the search engine home page posted a full video to commemorate Chaplin's 122nd birthday.
A CNET story outlines the process and thinking behind the project.
How appropriate that Chaplin and silent film are invoked in what is one of the first uses of video on a homepage that made its brand reputation on sparse utility and the lone search box. The short itself is forgettable and looks precisely like what it is, Google staffers in costume trying to recall the style of Chaplin and the early Essanay and Mutual film comedy shorts. It is too easy to take a cheap shot at the effort. After all, the heart is in the right place, and any recollection of Chaplin is welcome.
Especially now. Within five or six years of his introduction to film audiences in the mid 1920s, Chaplin became the greatest celebrity the world had ever known. His physical comedy mapped perfectly with the pace of and audience fascination with film. He found the comic art in a new medium and defined part of its visual grammar. Like Web video now, film then was about 15 years old and still looking for a language to move it forward. Chaplin's specific language may not be portable to Web video, but the way he created an art within a new medium and time is an enduring lesson. He understood film as a frame of action and made his physical comedy work within it. He understood the big screen film going experience and he leveraged tiny ticks, half-gestures and facial nuance because he knew they would be writ large. He knew that in an industrial world of machines and diminishing self-determination, the self-contained man who mastered his body and a new world of fabricated objects was heroic.Arguably, Charlie Chaplin was the signature celebrity of the new age of mass media. Expecting a figure like him to emerge in an age characterized by fragmentation, niche appeals, decentralized, user-gen media creative is wrong-headed. Perhaps more to point, he makes us wonder where and when someone will bring to Web video some of the insights he brought to silent film about finding the art within a new form and mode of consumption.