Carmen / Burlesque on Carmen [DeMille shot his version of Carmen, and shortly afterwards Chaplin shot a spoof of that film.]
Director: Cecil B. DeMille / Charles Chaplin
Writer: William C. de Mille / Charles Chaplin
Based on: Prosper Mérimée‘s novella and Georges Bizet‘s opera based on said novella.
Cast: Geraldine Farrar, Wallace Reid, Pedro de Cordoba, Horace B. Carpenter / Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, John Rand, Jack Henderson
Part of: Film and Music Cycle in the Konzerthaus
With music by Georges Bizet, played by the Tonkünstler Orchester Niederösterreich under direction of Timothy Brock
Seen on: 27.04.2015
Carmen (Geraldine Farrar / Edna Purviance) works with smugglers. When the city watch gets a new commander in Don José/Darn Hosiery (Wallace Reid/Charles Chaplin), Carmen makes it her mission to seduce him to secure herself and her people a blind eye to their activities. But José/Hosiery falls hard for Carmen, causing unforseeable complications for everybody.
The straight-up Carmen version was fine, though its cinematic language hasn’t aged all that well. The Chaplin version was fantastic though. And for both version, Brock provided excellent music and arrangements.
Seeing the original and the spoof back to back really made it possible to appreciate how faithful Chaplin was to the original. I think he used the same sets and costumes and sometimes recreated the original down to camera angles, though he did speed up the story quite a bit (and DeMille had already sped it up compared to the opera).
Contrary to the original, the spoof works exactly as intended. It’s genuinely funny in its slapstick and I laughed until I cried. The original, unfortunately, has become unintendendly comical by now. In particular the way Carmen is shown to be sexy seems so antiquated, it doesn’t really work anymore. Obviously the way sexiness is represented has changed quite a bit in the last 100 years, and the film suffers for it with a modern audience.
Though that doesn’t mean that there is nothing of value in DeMille’s version. Reid is excellent as José and the pacing is excellent. And especially combined with Brock’s arrangements of Bizet, it really works very well.
Brock’s arrangements are generally very well fitted to both the different moods that the films have. Where it’s straight up, if shortened, Bizet for the first film, Brock gets playful with the second score and deviates from Bizet’s melodies, mirroring Chaplin’s playful engagement with the original and its tragedy.