Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Kid & The Pilgrim d. Charles Chaplin, 1921/1923

There is a common theme in many of Chaplin's film - at least the three I've seen in the past couple days - where the social and physical aspects of a setting determine the actions of the characters within it. Consider a scene from The Kid, where the titular Kid (Jackie Coogan), dressed in an apron, is making pancakes. Chaplin's Tramp sits in bed, reading the paper and smoking. The Kid tells the Tramp that breakfast is ready; the tramp bickers back some non-intertitled retort. The two have entered a domestic relationship, the Tramp and Kid playing, respectively, the stereotypical husband and wife. That is, their situation - which is typical of a marriage dynamic - has caused them to enter into its typical roles. The great gags ensue when two separate worlds collide, and the Tramp is caught between the two.

And then The Pilgrim: Chaplin plays an escaped convict masquerading as a priest. Of course, he's mistaken for another priest, and finds himself at a sermon. He looks toward stage-right of the quasi-cruciform church and sees what looks eerily like like a juror's box; a glowing "12" burnt into the film hangs ominously over the heads of the jury/congregation. The Convict moves between characters - convict, preacher, actor. It's as if The Convict is responding to 1) the internal world he feels, projected as exteral 2) the actual, physical space 3) the film itself. To be a character in these films is to be determined by what exists externally.


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