The ten-day series PFA at the Castro: Charles Chaplin ends today with an appropriately groundbreaking film: The Great Dictator, Chaplin's first talkie and his most commercial film. Dictator, a biting slab of satire aimed at Nazi Germany, is all the more surprising when you realize it was written before the war started, when the United States was still on neutral ground with Germany, and was filmed during the war. Even Hitler reportedly saw it. Although Chaplin said he wouldn't have made the film if he knew the full scope of the atrocities -- the slapstick involving the stormtroopers appears particularly insensitive to postwar audiences -- at the time his effort was seen as one of the world's most beloved men standing up to the most hated. In making the film, Chaplin, the same age as Hitler and who bore a resemblance to the fuehrer (notably when he wore his Little Tramp mustache), is said to have been spurred on in part by the Nazi book The Jews Are Looking at You, which described Chaplin as "a disgusting Jewish acrobat." At the end of the film, Chaplin breaks character, giving an impassioned political speech, which reads in part, "Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men." Dictator, which was written, directed, and produced by Chaplin, was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1941.
It screens tonight in a double feature with Chaplin shorts at 4:35 and 9:15 p.m.
Dec. 2-12, 2007