Chrisforliberty's Blog

Just another WordPress.com site

The Tramp at 100

leave a comment »


Image

For those who read my blog, you would know that I feel as if I should have been born about 100 years ago.  It is like a living nightmare at times where my mind and heart belong to this time period, yet my physical existence was misplaced.  Scottie, beam me up!

While the rest of the world indulges in Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Kim K., I have looked at clips of Charlie Chaplin and pictures of Greta Garbo.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp turned 100 this year.  From “Easy Street” (1917) to “Modern Times” (1936), he made many of the funniest and most popular films of his time. He was best known for his character, the naive and lovable Little Tramp. The Little Tramp, a well meaning man in a raggedy suit with cane, always found himself wobbling into awkward situations and miraculously wobbling away. More than any other figure, it is this kind-hearted character that we associate with the time before the talkies.  The individual clothing items themselves are nothing extraordinary.  But when combined and a real human being living in it, this human cartoon comes to life in a way that only Charlie Chaplin could make it work.

Born in London in 1889, Chaplin first visited America with a theater company in 1907. Appearing as “Billy” in the play “Sherlock Holmes”, the young Chaplin toured the country twice. On his second tour, he met Mack Sennett and was signed to Keystone Studios to act in films. In 1914 Chaplin made his first one-reeler, “Making a Living”. That same year he made thirty-four more short films, including “Caught in a Cabaret”, “Caught in the Rain”, “The Face on the Bar-Room Floor”, and “His Trysting Place”. These early silent shorts allowed very little time for anything but physical comedy, and Chaplin was a master at it.

Chaplin’s slapstick acrobatics made him famous, but the subtleties of his acting made him great. While Harold Lloyd played the daredevil, hanging from clocks, and Buster Keaton maneuvered through situations using risky stunts, Chaplin concerned himself with improvisation. For Chaplin, the best way to locate the humor or pathos of a situation was to create an environment and walk around it until something natural happened. The concern of early theater and film was to simply keep the audience’s attention through overdramatic acting that exaggerated emotions, but Chaplin saw in film an opportunity to control the environment enough to allow subtlety to come through.  In Jeffrey Vance’s excellent book Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema: “The ‘thrill’ comedy of the Tramp skating perilously close to the edge of a balcony without a balustrade was achieved with a glass shot to create the illusion of height.

(A glass shot involves a painted scene on a pane of glass that is placed in front of the camera and precisely aligned with the existing set to achieve the desired effect.) However, no illusion is involved with Chaplin’s considerable skating skills, first demonstrated in The Rink nearly twenty years earlier. He devoted eight days to filming the roller-skating routine.”

Chaplin was known as one of the most demanding men in Hollywood. Regardless of the size the part, Chaplin walked each actor through every scene. Chaplin knew that a successful scene was not simply about the star, but about everyone on the screen. He demanded that the entire cast work together in every performance. Without this unity he could not express the subtlety of character that was so important to him. The only way to achieve that unity was to maintain complete control over every scene. This constant attention to detail ran many features over-time and over-budget, but the public reaction assured him and the studios that what he was doing worked. As his popularity increased he took more liberties with filming. Movies such as his 1925 hit, “The Gold Rush”, demanded unending reworking of scenes and rebuilding of sets.

Chaplin typically improvised his story in front of the camera with only a basic framework of a script. He shot and printed hundreds of takes when making a movie, each one a little experimental variation. While this method was unorthodox, because of the expense and inefficiency, it provided lively and spontaneous footage. Taking what he learned from the footage, Chaplin would often completely reorganize a scene. It was not uncommon for him to decide half-way through a film that an actor wasn’t working and start over with someone new. Many actors found the constant takes and uncertainty grueling, but always went along because they knew they were working for a master.

Though Chaplin is of the silent movie era, we see his achievements carried through in the films of today. With the advent of the feature-length talkies, the need for more subtle acting became apparent. To maintain the audience’s attention throughout a six-reel film, an actor needed to move beyond constant slapstick. Chaplin had demanded this depth long before anyone else. His rigor and concern for the processes of acting and directing made his films great and led the way to a new, more sophisticated, cinema.

Image

Written by chrisforliberty

March 11, 2014 at 12:32 am

Posted in Movies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: