Was Hitler a fan of Charlie Chaplin


This content was published on October 14, 2019 - 11:00 am (Keystone-SDA)

"The Great Dictator" is a parody of fascist rhetoric. The Berner Theater is bringing Charlie Chaplin's classic film to the stage in German for the first time. An interview with the director Cihan Inan.

Charlie Chaplin made film history with his portrayal of the dictator Adenoid Hynkel, easily recognizable as Adolf Hitler. As early as 1940, around a year after the start of the Second World War, Chaplin's satire exposed the power mania and inhumanity of the National Socialists in particular, as well as fascist rhetoric in general.

Chaplin contrasted the great dictator Hynkel with the little Jewish hairdresser from the ghetto, thereby undermining the terms "big" and "small". Chaplin plays both roles in the film himself. As a dictator he barks down all his hatred of the mass of his audience in incomprehensible fictional language.

The last word, however, is the hairdresser's, who is mistaken for the dictator because of his outward resemblance and, at the end of the film, addresses the people with a speech: "... Let us fight for a world of reason - a world in which Science and progress should lead to the happiness of all of us. In the name of democracy, let us stand together! ... "

"This piece just today"

That is the very pathetic message that Charlie Chaplin conveys with the film, in the translation by Cihan Inan, acting director at the Konzert Theater Bern and responsible for the direction and the stage version. He wants to address this appeal to his audience with his "The Great Dictator". "The text of this closing speech is absolutely valid. This message is important to me," he says in an interview with Keystone-SDA. And: "As a Chaplin fan, I just had to do this piece in this day and age." In this respect, his play is "political in its structure".

Inan already brought a film to the stage last season: "Beresina or the last days of Switzerland", based on the film by Daniel Schmid, with the script by Martin Suter. Already with it he staged provocative political satire and with that he already crossed the line between film and theater. "I come from film and do theater like film and films like theater," says Inan. However, "Beresina" was further removed from the film in its interpretation than "The Great Dictator".

Inan received the rights and the script of the film from the Chaplin family, which only contains the dialogues and no directing instructions. "A great honor," he emphasizes. "But the Chaplins wanted to know how we put the material into practice." He decided to stay as close to the film as possible.

The film works with many cuts, scene changes between the power center around Hynkel and the Jewish ghetto, the world of the hairdresser. These quick changes cannot be realized on stage. That is why Inan plans longer scenes. In order to still be able to maintain the logic of the story, he uses a narrator for the Bern production, who leads through the play with commentary.

"Rethinking Chaplin's Idea"

One hurdle that Inan has to overcome with the production for the Bern theater is that Chaplin created images and scenes with his film that are anchored in the collective memory. Inan's stage version now meets this. "I want to pay homage to Charlie Chaplin and at the same time rethink his idea," says Inan.

Against this background, the double role of Hynkel and hairdresser is a special challenge for the actor and leading actor Gabriel Schneider. He is confronted with the model of Chaplin. "We don't want to imitate Chaplin, but Schneider has deliberately found his own representation."

Inan almost always uses black and white in his staging, from the stage design to the lighting to the costumes.

Association with today's seducers

The events on the Bern stage only become colorful during the hairdresser's closing speech, when he directs his fiery appeal to the people, who are carried by the hope of a new world. The dress of Hannah, the colleague and friend of the hairdresser's, is green, and the light is colored - "when we get into today".

Because, says Inan, even if his staging stays close to Chaplin's original, the viewer, the viewer with Hynkel-Hitler's hate rhetoric, will also be today's speakers like Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un, the German AfD politician Björn Höcke or the one or associate with other Swiss. "It's about how populists seduce with their language and what we can do to counter it; we have to get back our decency in dealing with one another," says Inan. "The Great Dictator" will celebrate its premiere at the Stadttheater Bern on October 19th.

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