From Usenet, 23 December 2004
In watching THE TRAMP AND THE DICTATOR again since the first time it aired on TCM a couple years ago, I'm struck by what a loose concept this was to build a whole documentary around.
Initially, it sounded interesting enough. My main reason for seeing this documentary was to get a look at the color home movie footage shot on the set by Syd Chaplin.
When the first Warner/Mk2 DVD was released, I picked it up, not even realizing that THE GREAT DICTATOR disc included the documentary, plus the complete 25 minutes of home movie footage, as special features. Now that the home movies are available as a stand alone feature, I wanted to watch the documentary again, a little more objectively.
Having seen it, I cannot understand why Brownlow really thought that this was a good idea. I mean, yes, there are the coincidental similarities between Chaplin and Hitler, but to build an entire 55 minute film around it seems disjointed. I understand that in the last 10 years or so, Brownlow has become as interested in documenting European history as he is about film history. This first became apparent with CINEMA EUROPE (1995), and later with UNIVERSAL HORROR (1998) and even LON CHANEY: 1000 FACES (2000). However, it became overwhelming in this film. My biggest problem was it really offers nothing new about either men, mainly because it can't very well spend much time on either of them individually.
I much preferred Brownlow's next film, CECIL B. DEMILLE: AMERICAN EPIC (2004), which focused only on one person and one topic. Compared to the DeMille documentary, TRAMP AND THE DICTATOR felt rushed, disjointed and lacking real focus, in my opinion. Perhaps Brownlow should have focused strictly on the making of THE GREAT DICTATOR; then again, that might not have provided enough material for a 55 minute film.
At any rate, Brownlow just released another documentary, BUSTER KEATON: SO FUNNY IT HURT. While below his usual standards of complexity and depth, it stills offers a brief but interesting look at a comic genius.