Calvero, once a famous Music Hall star, now a washed-up old man, saves a neighbor from suicide. He nurtures the young ballerina with paralyzed legs back to health, and helps her regain her self-esteem, so that she may return to the stage.
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As Peter von Bagh notes, the film’s autobiographical component represents only one strand of its cumulative power. It is not just Chaplin’s testament to his own art, but to art in general and to the striving for love that brings meaning to any life.
A star is worn. Limelight is characteristically paternalistic, which is easy to forgive when it's also this wise about the desire to create, the necessity of art. It might be my favourite depiction of a relationship where two can't share the spotlight at one time. I was moved by the uncertainty & sadness Chaplin allowed the movie, quite at odds with the didactic and authorial words otherwise running the show.
David Thomson trashed Limelight for being a work of deep self-pity, and he's not wrong—by the end, Chaplin's taste for melodrama has turned his self-reflexive narrative into one of grotesquely mawkish martyrdom. But it is also an emotionally naked work, frequently offering us a sight we've not seen: Chaplin as an ordinary man, no comedy, no schtick, no makeup, no slapstick. Deeply personal, for better or worse.