Curator’s statement: In a time of forced mass migration and rising xenophobia worldwide this classic of early Film history offers (besides it’s marvellous comedic style) a basic thought to always remember: arts and culture are universal, forced migration produced some of the most valuable products of humankinds’ ability for creation. Chaplin’s Tramp is one of them for me. (Sabine Küper-Büsch)
Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie depicts the story of two European immigrants’ journey to the United States. The 24-minute film was made at a time of increasing anti-immigrant prejudice, decades after a record number of Eastern European Jews, Italians, Greeks, Armenians, and others made their way to the United States. The film first shows the misfortunes of an unnamed immigrant (Chaplin) on board a steamship on his way to America. The first scene begins with Chaplin leaning over the side of the ship appearing to be seasick, it turns out he is only fishing.
While being a harmless, goodhearted fellow the immigrant is suspected to be a pickpocket during the passage. Upon arrival in America, he and Edna Purviance, a female immigrant he meets during the journey, stare at the Statue of Liberty as their symbol of hope. The new world reveals itself as a place of steady combat.
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889 – 25 December 1977) was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent film. He became a worldwide icon through his screen persona “The Tramp”, which the immigrant is an early version of. Chaplin had tasted poverty as the child of a single working class mother engaging in work before the age of nine. He traveled to America at the age of 19 and started as an actor for Keystone Studios in 1914. With the Tramp persona he formed a large fan base. By 1918, he was one of the best-known figures in the world. His first sound film was “The great dictator” (1940) which satirised Adolf Hitler. The 1940s were a decade marked with controversy for Chaplin, and his popularity declined rapidly. He was accused of communist sympathies, and some members of the press and public found his involvement in a paternity suit – and marriages to much younger women – scandalous. An FBI investigation was opened, and Chaplin was forced to leave the United States and settle in Switzerland.