I’ve been an avid viewer of Turner Classic Movies for about 10 years now, so to say that TCM is responsible for introducing me to a few good movies is putting it mildly. Thanks to TCM, I’ve been introduced to cult classics like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, pre-code essentials like Gold Diggers of 1933 and Red Dust, masterpieces of international cinema like 8½, plus countless American classics. TCM has consistently been such an incredible way for me to discover movies that when I came up with the idea of my annual Blogging Under the Stars event in 2011, the entire point was to discourage myself from watching the same movies I’ve seen a dozen times and discover new things instead (and every year has been a big success in that respect.)
When Nitrate Diva announced her TCM Discoveries Blogathon, where all participants write about one special movie they discovered because of Turner Classic Movies, I instantly knew the movie I wanted to write about. Out of the hundreds of amazing movies I’ve discovered over the past decade, there’s one movie that stands out from the rest because of the huge influence it had in shaping my taste in movies and putting me on the path to being the movie nerd I am today. That movie would be Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.
Picture it! Ferris State University, February 2005, semi-early on some Saturday morning.
At the time, two of my favorite things to do on a Saturday morning were watch The Soup on E! and laugh at really bad infomercials. This particular Saturday morning, I woke up a little earlier than usual for no apparent reason. The Soup wasn’t on yet so I flipped through the channels looking for infomercials to make fun of, but I was getting a little tired of watching the same infomercials over and over again. Then I remembered that TCM was having their annual 31 Days of Oscar programming event so I figured I’d see what they were playing. Whatever it was, it had to be better than watching people fail at cooking yet again.
I turned on TCM in time for The Great Dictator. I’d heard of the movie and knew it was considered one of the all-time great film comedies, so I figured I’d keep watching. I’d never seen any Charlie Chaplin movie before, but I knew he was a legend, so I was certainly intrigued to see one of his movies. It didn’t take long for me to understand his appeal. Not only was the movie absolutely hilarious and extremely daring for its time, but watching him move was absolutely hypnotic; I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen. The famous globe dance scene was one of the most fascinating things I’d ever watched.
When the movie was over, I was hooked. I spent a considerable part of the day reading about Chaplin on the Internet, learning all I could about his life and his career. Although The Great Dictator isn’t a silent movie, I credit it with being the movie that got me interested in silent film because it made me want to see any Chaplin silent I could get my hands on. As I saw more of his silent films and learned more about the film industry during Chaplin’s heyday, the more I wanted to see movies starring other legends of silent comedy like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as well as movies starring some of Chaplin’s contemporaries like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. (On a related note, a couple of months later in April 2005, TCM had this month-long spotlight called April Fools, during which they played a ton of movies by people like Chaplin and Keaton. As someone who was newly interested in those types of film comedians, that spotlight was pure gold and remains one of my favorite months ever on TCM.)
I hesitate to call The Great Dictator my gateway drug into becoming a classic film fan because it was far from being the first classic film I’d ever seen or liked and I clearly had enough of an interest in them to know February is Oscar month on TCM. But it was the movie that made me realize that classic films were my favorite types of films. From then on, I started watching TCM very regularly, making a point to look through their monthly schedules and make notes of anything that sounded interesting so I wouldn’t forget to watch or record any movie that intrigued me.
Thanks to Charlie Chaplin and The Great Dictator, I was not only introduced to silent film, it pushed me into the online classic film community, where, over the years, I’ve met so many wonderful people and made so many good friends. The fact that, essentially, all of this ended up happening because I was tired of watching infomercials one Saturday morning is pretty wild to me.