An Emergence from Silence: an Examination of Mise-En-Scene in Early Scenes of the Great Dictator

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An Emergence From Silence:
An examination of Mise-En-Scene in early scenes of The Great Dictator

Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is a film new to the era of “talkies” and, in it’s early scenes focuses on very physical, present aspects of mise-en-scene, almost completely doing away with non-diagetic sound. The film grows throughout it’s full 124 minute run, having been filmed over several years and seemingly developing it’s delving into use of sound similarly, but in it’s early scenes The Great Dictator is permeated with an almost silence to it, with very utilitarian sound usage, only breaking away from the realism when emphasizing a joke. Sound is not completely absent, but beyond sound directly affiliated with actions taking place, visibly, on screen, there is little to no audio. This lack of excess sound in the early scenes of The Great Dictator show how Chaplin was still getting into the swing of “talkies” while producing the film, as later scenes would grow to embrace sound, especially of the non-diagetic variety.

Chaplin is slow to part from his past, famous recurring role as The Tramp, a slapstick, silent film character. In the early scenes, Chaplin’s unnamed Jewish barber character is very quiet, and indeed remains largely quiet until much later in the film. The Jewish barber, seen in early scenes as a low ranking soldier in the Tomainian army prior to becoming a barber post WWI, is portrayed as a very familiar character to the audience of the time. Audience members would have been aware of Chaplin’s character of the Tramp, from previous silent films, and Chaplin seems to play off of this by drawing more than a few similarities between the two characters. The Jewish barber/soldier is low ranking, bumbling, and sheepish, whilst the Tramp is a transient, incompetent, and equally bumbling and sheepish. This is made most apparent by the various jobs the Soldier is given. Pulling the pin of the artillery gun, he has to yank at it several times to...
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