chapter  11
14 Pages

dancing on fire and water: charlot and l’esprit nouveau amy sargeant

Élie Faure (doctor, essayist, art critic, collector, and historian) is probably now best known to film students for the inclusion in anthologies of his 1920 article, “Cinéplastique.”1 Chaplin, said Faure, was the first man to realize a purely cineplastic drama, where the action does not merely illus­ trate a sentimental fiction or a moral purpose. “Charlot,” concluded Faure, “thinks cinematographically” – subsuming the separate subsidiary categories of poet, painter, architect, mime, and actor.2 But in all Faure’s activities, Chaplin was a touchstone and a guide: “After Montaigne, Cer­ vantes and Dostoevsky, I have learnt most from Charlot,” he claimed in 1920.3 Academically, Faure approached Chaplin with the same seriousness accorded to Titian, Shakespeare (with whom he found much in common), and his friend, Picasso, while confessing that Velasquez, Goya, Assyrian rÉliefs, and Japanese prints had as often provoked laughter: “If one doesn’t laugh at the Louvre, it’s out of respect for things which are established.”4 Faure persistently renounced a hierarchy between fine and popular art and happily discussed the archaic alongside the modern; he credited Chaplin with equivalent or even supreme poetic dignity:

am y

sa rg

ea nt

Charlot is the only modern poet who infallibly and conscientiously contemplates life from an heroic point of view. There is more style in the most apparently insignificant gesture of Charlot than in all the com­ bined works of all the French Academies.5