Trump, Bernie, George Clooney & Charlie Chaplin: A Curious Convergence

“Modern Times © Roy Export SAS”

Charlie Chaplin, without question, was one of the most polarizing figures in American history. Born into a creative but mostly poverty-stricken family in South London in 1889, he parlayed early vaudevillian success into a lucrative contract with the New York Motion Picture Company in 1913. As history has it, he went on to become one of the few most influential performers and filmmakers of the 20th Century. And just as a new museum, Chaplin’s World, opens in Switzerland, his career seems to have some fascinating parallels with the current political situation in America.

He was at the height of his powers as America was plunged into the Great Depression—and his immensely successful 1931 film City Lights, with its unique, poignant mix of comedy and pathos, resonated deeply with a public living through such disconcerting times. By the time the groundbreaking industrial parody Modern Times was released in 1936, he had become a so-called “left-wing” activist…and thusly caught the suspicion of the sinister, crusading FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover as something of an agitator. In other words, Chaplin turned out to be on the wrong side of the socio-political zeitgeist.

Modern_Times_1936 ©Roy Export SAS (2)

“Modern Times © Roy Export SAS”

The_Great_Dictator_1940 w Jack Oakie© Roy Export SAS (15)

“The Great Dictator © Roy Export SAS”

Monsieur_Verdoux_ 1947 © Roy Export SAS (6)

“Monsieur Verdoux © Roy Export SAS”

But perhaps most shockingly, especially with such hindsight as we now have at our disposal, his brilliant, incisive 1940 Nazi satire The Great Dictator actually won him the ire of the American establishment. The US was still considered “at peace” with Germany, and Chaplin’s stingingly sardonic mockery of hard-right fascism was somehow taken as sure evidence of his communist sympathies (treason, as they say, is often just a matter of bad timing). Ironically, the Soviet Union would, of course, ally with America to defeat Hitler—only for the two to become superpower enemies again after the war. As for Charlie, the bad press from a paternity suit with actress Joan Barry, as well as his poorly received capitalist critique Monsieur Verdoux, ultimately made him persona non grata in his adopted home.

And so as he boarded the HMS Queen Elizabeth with his family on September 18, 1952, bound for the London premier of his magnificent, semi-autobiographical film Limelight, his re-entry permit was revoked by US Attorney General James McGranery. Chaplin, wife Oona O’Neill and their children then settled into the small but picturesque Swiss town of Corsier-sur-Vevey, never to return to America.

A museum dedicated to the legendary filmmaker, Chaplin’s World, opened last month at his renovated Swiss estate, Manoir Le Bain. It features fascinating personal effects, film set re-creations, interactive exhibits and enough career-spanning photos to keep fans and admirers riveted for hours.

Chaplin's World™ © Bubbles Incorporated_manoir_233

Chaplin's World™, Corsier-s-Vevey, Switzerland, © 2016 Marc Ducrest for Bubbles Incorporated

Above images courtesy of Chaplin’s World

But the timing of the opening could not have come with greater social and political puissance. We have a Republican presidential frontrunner whose hate-filled rhetoric sounds an awful lot like that of the fascist upstarts of the 1930s that had so alarmed Chaplin (who was said to have kept his Jewish identity a secret for realpolitik reasons); another current presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, has been effectively marginalized as a “socialist” merely for shining a light on the terrible inequities wrought by the vagaries of unchecked global capital markets.

Further fueling the tension, Jodie Foster’s much buzzed about, Wall-Street-castigating film Money Monster arrives in theaters this weekend. Its star, George Clooney, has arguably followed a Chaplin-like trajectory, devoting his later career not to syrupy romcoms, but to more weighty films that face down the many and sundry systemic corruptions of our 21st Century reality.

Chaplin, above all, wanted to make people laugh, and to offer them a bit of ephemeral escape. But he also passionately hoped his films would make us think about our shared humanity, and perhaps then just be that much more vigilant as to its vulnerability to the forces of venality and greed.

As a crucial American presidential election unfolds, then, what better time to revisit the unparalleled cinematic legacy of Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin?

City_Lights_1931 ©Roy Export SAS

“City Lights © Roy Export SAS” 

Paula Deen’s Childhood Home to Maybe Become Museum

America likes to create monuments of its finest achievements, from the Smithsonian Institutions celebrating American innovation and space travel to spaces for culinary achievements, such as the Spam Museum in Minnesota or the newly opened Pizza Museum in Philadelphia. And continuing our national tradition of honoring American innovation (if putting a burger and a fried egg between two donuts can be considered American innovation) and culinary feats, an entrepreneur in Albany, Georgia is working to turn Food Network celebrity chef Paula Deen’s childhood home into a museum.

The entrepreneur, B.J. Fletcher and Deen’s first husband, Jimmy Deen, are working together on the museum project, likely with the idea that creating a shrine to Albany’s favorite daughter will bring in visitors from around the country. Paula Deen has given the project her blessing, telling the Herald that the museum is an “incredible honor” and that she hopes it will serve as “a symbol of hope for people looking to make their lives better.”

Now for the important question, which is what, of all the darn things, would go in a museum dedicated to Paula Deen. There are the obvious conclusions—the kitchen in which she learned to cook restored to historic immaculateness, much like Julia Child’s kitchen in the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. Pretty much the entire Internet has already suggested there be some kind of butter sculpture involved, preferably deep-fried to more effectively immortalize it. Maybe a different butter sculpture every month? And, of course, the gift shop, stocked with her many, many products, would house the museum’s only exit. 

Has Any New Yorker Even Been To A Museum?

School field trips don’t count, and neither do gala fundraisers. And don’t try the “I bought a hot dog from a cart in front of the Met one time” defense. Unless the guy shoveling sauerkraut had something fascinating to tell you about ancient Egypt, you’re just another hungry philistine.

Admit it. You’ve been living in this city for years, maybe even your whole life, and you’ve never voluntarily set foot inside one of these big, echoing buildings that purport to distill some aspect of civilization or the infinitely complex universe from which it springs. You have done everything, in fact, to avoid it.

You go to see movies you know are terrible. You walk outside and comment on the sunset when there’s nothing special about it. You talk and and drink with your friends, if you have any, and if you don’t you simply do those things alone. You tell yourself that something needs to be done about all the dust in your apartment … someday.

What you never, ever do is take the bus across town to the Whitney and plunk down $18 to see another retrospective on postwar American abstraction called Signs & Symbols. If you did this, a car would be waiting for you at the curb downstairs; you’d be taken over the border into Connecticut and dropped on the side of the Merritt Parkway. Please do not speak to the driver.

SF’s “Jewseum” Opens to Acclaim of Chosen-People Celebs

It could have been the San Francisco Sex and the City premiere party. Last Saturday night, over 1,000 people were turned away at the door, while 3,000 made it in, decked out in decidedly more flashy outfits than typical for the fleece-and-crocs locale. It was the grand opening of the new Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and a celebration of the holiday Shavuot rolled into an all-night cultural arts festival called DAWN. The $47.5 million building (designed by Daniel Libeskind as an addition to a brick, circa-1907 power company substation) opens onto a new public plaza across the street from the Yerba Buena Gardens, just a block away from the SF Musem of Modern Art.

The most striking element of Libeskind’s design is a two-story, dark blue cube turned on its side — a stark contrast to the classic brick original structure, designed by Willis Polk. A similar cube sticks out of the roof. At 63,000 square-feet, the Jewseum only features 9,500 square-feet of exhibition galleries. There’s no permanent collection, and the current show features artists including Matthew Ritchie and Barnett Newman.

Though the mood at the opening was festive (think bar mitzvah for the Seinfeld set), the lighting was downright terrible. Flourescent corridors and foyers would have made Jewess patron saint Natalie Portman lunge for some sunglasses, had she been in attendance. Instead, the boldfaced names were a smattering of San Francisco society, including Nancy Pelosi’s son Paul, fashion designer Julie Chaiken, museum benefactor Roselyn “Sissy” Swig, Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams, and Skyy Vodka heir Jeff Kanbar.

The performers (many part of Reboot, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Jewish heritage and culture) included author Jonathan Safran Foer, television writer Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under) and Josh Radnor of the television show How I Met Your Mother, who read an essay he wrote about having Britney Spears guest star as his love interest. The band Dengue Fever performed, and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain and her husband, Ken Goldberg, created an interactive installation with video and sound based on the breaking of glass in Kristallnacht and the Jewish wedding ceremony. At midnight, hipster rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie presented I-Vow-Now, a ritual marking the sacred tradition of the sky opening up at midnight on Shavuot. He asked partygoers to make a vow, while video art projected behind him and Scotty the Blue Bunny, a New York performance artist, screamed out his own vows — many of which were not particularly kosher.

Photo: Tommy Lau

Jeff Koons Invades the Met!

When we aren’t waiting with breath that is bated for updates to Lindsay “Ronson” Lohan’s probably fake Facebook profile, we sometimes like to gawk at art. On display to the public, starting today, is “Jeff Koons on the Roof” at the Met. Featuring three large-scale installations—most notable among them, Balloon Dog (Yellow), pictured left—the 10,000 square-foot rooftop space is the perfect place to showcase playful works by the iconic American artist. Koons’s work will be on display until mid-October (LiLo’s wall probably won’t be).

Openings: La Cite de la Mode et du Design

imageIn Paris, the answer to every civic problem might actually be: more fashion! Indeed, anchoring the Docks de Paris project revival of a downtrodden Left Bank industrial site along the quai D’Austerlitz, La Cite de la Mode et du Design is set to be the capital’s fourth museum dedicated to matters sartorial. As the name indicates, this one will also address a broader spectrum of design, and up the fab factor by incorporating designer boutiques and a chic rooftop restaurant from the people behind Georges, the Pompidou’s futuristic eatery in the sky.

Blood Diamond

Whether or not Interpol’s Carlos D and/or The Horrors can claim all the credit, it’s certainly hip to be Goth again. So it’s fitting that the world’s most fashionable city pay homage to history’s most enduringly sexy beast. Jacques Sirgent, France’s premier practitioner of Dracophilia, has now opened Musée des Vampires, his vampiric stash to all the macabre-hearted and Kohl-painted amongst the living. His salaciously creepy collection ranges from film posters to costumes and weapons; and private tours might include parlour games, discussions (no doubt many regarding the virtues of the new Bauhaus record), and even dinner parties—though you might want to scrutinize le vin rouge before imbibing.