As both layabout and gadabout, Chaplin’s off-kilter aristocratic air is a deadpan delight.And if you’re a fan of roaring 20s fashion, Purviance’s wardrobe is a thing of splendour – a pair of art deco-embellished stockings among its highlights. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but Baz Luhrmann’s extravaganza is far from the first film to revel in the decadence and razzmatazz of the Jazz Age. The Great Gatsby was published in the midst of the roaring 20s and is at once defined by that decade, and by a crushing sense of nostalgia.Not only are star-crossed adulterers Jay and Daisy driven back into their own histories, but the novel itself is deliberately set a few years earlier than its publication, in 1922, appraising its own era up-close.The release of Baz Luhrmann’s new adaptation of the novel, 3D trickery, hip-hop soundtrack and all, accentuates the distance between our time and that of F. But the motion picture business can’t forget that it blossomed in the 1920s and many wonderful films have been set in that tumultuous decade, with its cinematic gifts of flappers, gangsters and high-rolling extravagance.
At the outset of the film, Lulu is a dancer and a kept woman, an amoral, lustful imp breaking hearts in sleazy Weimar Berlin – by the end she’s a starving streetwalker in foggy London. When she was a dancer on Broadway, Brooks recalled, her best friend was lesbian (like Alice Roberts’s countess in the film – a rare representation at a time when on-screen homosexuality was taboo), and shows were backed by rich men with eyes on the chorus line (just like the character of Schön).While holidaying at a plush resort, Edna Purviance’s society lady mistakes the Little Tramp for her cocktail-swigging husband, and who can blame her, when Charlie Chaplin plays both roles.The Idle Class plays the mistaken identity plot as farce – a decade later Chaplin would wring heartbreak from the same confusion in City Lights (1931).The dart of Chaplin’s satire, that it’s the upper classes with their spiralling leisure time who indulge in illegal boozing and parasitic laziness, not the lower, sinks in swiftly, leaving the audience to enjoy the slapstick set pieces instead.The tipsy millionaire appears sans trousers in the hotel foyer and fate conspires, ever more elaborately, to hide his blushes; the Tramp causes merry havoc on the golf course; and there’s a fight at a fancy-dress ball involving a malfunctioning suit of armour.Actors’ agents pimped for the ladies in luxury apartments in the Bavarian Quarter.