Thoughts On: Every Year In Film #37 - Making A Living

05/07/2018

Every Year In Film #37 - Making A Living

Thoughts On: Making A Living (1914) & The Emergence of Movie Stars


An exploration of the rise of celebrities in the cinema through the content of the films they performed in.


Previously in the Every Year Series we started to take a look at the effect that WWI had on film history. We then took a look at the initial rise of American cinema via the birth of Hollywood. This provides part of an industrial and economic history of our subject matter. But, what we shall delve into today is primarily cultural and concerns celebrity and the movie star. We have made some mention of early movie stars throughout the series. Some of the very first movie stars were arguably pioneers of filmic technology: Eadweard Muybridge and Thomas Edison. Muybridge was relatively famous in his day for his businesses and artistry and then the murder of his wife - which he admitted to yet got away with, was acquitted from, in a highly publicised court hearing. Edison, who never really made anything concerning film and was more so a business manager, would be famous thanks to self-promotion and his tremendous capabilities as a businessman. These two figures, Edison more so than Muybridge, were notable figures in their day, but, they weren't necessarily movie stars. We come closer to the movie star with a figure such as Méliès, but, one could argue that it was his films that were famous, not necessarily his image and character. And such remains true until actors' and actresses' names reach the public.

Before we transition into this period, we should jump back a few hundred years to the mid to late-18th century. It was during the latter half of the 1700s that the West moved into its industrial revolution, which, in some ways, can be thought of as the mechanical agricultural revolution. This is meant in a very specific sense as it was before what is considered to be the first agricultural revolution during the Neolithic period (aprox. 10,000 BC) that humans could only remain in small nomadic, hunter-gatherer clusters. With the development of agricultural practises comes settlement and domestication; humans controlling, managing and wielding nature. From such a state, people flourish. And so, as agricultural practices evolved over time, pivotal periods being in the medieval East where irrigation was born, the ability for communities to become productive increases greatly. It was then around the 17th and 18th century that Britain experiences a massive agricultural revolution that precedes and causes the industrial revolution which occurs approximately 100 years later. The industrial revolution then acts in a very similar manner to previous agricultural revolutions as it increases productivity, draws people to central settlements and expands the quality and breadth of trade and communication - hence 'mechanical agricultural revolution'. However, industrial development, as the common metaphor goes, turns clusters of people into cogs in a machine. So, as communities are made productive and people homogenised during the agricultural and industrial revolution, there emerges movements in reaction to this. During the early 19th century, this movement was Romanticism.


If one mentions Romanticism there almost inevitably arises this image: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by German painter Caspar David Friedrich. This image encapsulates much of what the Romantic art and intellectual movement embodied: introspection, emotion and the individual. What we then see is a 'modern man', clad in the stereotypical 19th century dress, staring out to a land wreathed in thick fog. The land below is raw nature; rock, grass, trees. This is a place that, arguably, modern man does not exist, and this is emphasised by his position and fashion sense; did he really hike up what seems to be a tall hill or small mountain in such weather with such clothes? What is more, this place, raw nature, is hidden from the modern man by fog. Like his natural impulses and thoughts may be clouded, so is nature. And he stands alone above it all. He stares down into nature, his nature, the nature of the world, and sees little but obscurity; he is very much so lost. Furthermore, he is unknown to us, his back and clothes all we have to describe him. How individual is this man if he can be anyone and remains no one?

These are reactionary questions and statements made to the industrial revolution in the West, and so what they imply is the philosophy that the Romantics would aid in injecting into Western culture. This philosophy is, as mentioned, concerned with introspection, emotion and the individual, and one of its major effects would concern people of note: artists, politicians and intellectuals. The Romantic focuses are then thought to have bred practices of personality cults through their emphasis on emotion, self-expression and subjective, counter-enlightenment, truth that would make famous the image of artists, politicians and intellectuals. And so, these focuses, arguably, form a philosophical basis for the emergence of celebrity in a context (the industrial revolution) where celebrities can be born. And it is from this dichotomy of industrial homogeneity and romantic individuality that celebrity as we know it in the modern day begins to rise via mass media publication. And it is in my belief that, as we move back into the early 20th century and the initial emergence of the first true movie stars around 1910 that this dichotomy remains, forming one of the fundamental reasons as to why celebrities mattered.

Keeping this idea at hand, we shall take a look at a few of the first major movie stars. Generally, it is Florence Lawrence who is said to have been the first movie star - and this seems to be quite true for the American industry. However, there are around half a dozen figures who can lay claim to this title. Their names are: Asta Nielsen, Florence Lawrence, King Baggot, Max Linder and Mary Pickford. There may be one or two other candidates, but, these are often the major names that are so often given. We have already spoke of Asta Nielsen when exploring Danish cinema and so won't make detailed mention of her again. We will, however, pick up a strain we started in the last post on Florence Lawrence and explore it in more depth.


The Country Doctor is one of the finest Griffith short dramas that have survived to this day. It follows a very classical, Aristotelian vision of a tragedy; the characters are simple and of high social status, the plot is the focus, the narrative is contained, short and universalised and the emotional basis of the story is pity and fear. Bookended between a pan to and away from a home in a luscious valley town is then a very simple story of a well-off family - a vision of nuclear harmony - whose daughter falls ill. At the same time, however, a poorer family's young daughter also falls ill. The higher-class father whose daughter is ill tends to her because he is the local doctor, but is pulled away to the poorer household. In neglecting his daughter, however, she falls ever more ill. And though the doctor tends to the poorer girl, she dies. When he returns home, he finds that his daughter has died too; he sacrificed his moral will as a father to his moral duty as a doctor and tried to help both girls, but ends up failing in both respects. The tragedy is found in death, but more so in the fact that both moral urges of the father/doctor are betrayed by their partnership inside one man.

The story is what makes this narrative work; the direction, camerawork and acting bring this narrative to the screen, but, if one compares this to other Griffith shorts such as The Unchanging Sea or The Unseen Enemy, there lacks dramatic and characterological pathos as well as any explosion in acting and direction. However, this does capture the narrative irony and punch of a short such as A Corner In Wheat. Alas, let us not focus too much on Griffith. In The Country Doctor, Florence Lawrence plays the higher-class mother, and thus embodies a rather simple archetype that would have been brought to life within the audience more so than on the screen (at least, this is what one can assume when watching the film). In the shorts that typify the period between 1907 and 1913, archetypes were so often the means of creating affective characters, in turn, movie stars. For the Griffith Biograph shorts in particular, it is in my estimation that object-archetypes were key and that Florence Lawrence, alongside Mary Pickford, was one of the most important.

The object-archetype is one of 6 screen types that can be created via impressionism (or, to be more accurate, any form of cinematic expression); it is of mid-level complexity and objectively constructed as opposed to being imbued with subjectivity. Florence Lawrence plays an object-archetype because she does not give a true subjective perspective to her screen presence; the confines of the narrative and run-time do not really allow for this. What Lawrence instead does is imitate, or rather embody, a vision of maternal femininity. It is then through her that the audience can install character and meaning into the narrative space she takes up; the same could be said for all of the characters in the short. We can then theorise from this point that Florence Lawrence was so famous in her day, the iconic Biograph Girl, because she best projected the archetypes behind her screen characters.

In a period in which cinema hadn't yet fully developed subjective cinematography and cinematic language - the close-up, for example, was rarely an agent of photogénie, merely functional and informational - or come to grips with filling a feature-length run time with more than plot and spectacle, there were very little means for characterisation outside of archetypes. We find this to be true with early stars such as Asta Nielsen and Florence Lawrence; these women embodied an image (Nielsen's was far more sexual than Lawrence's) and projected archetypes, they didn't necessarily use their character to master the art of emotional expression through reasoning and dramatic being--such being how we may define acting. One finds that this is a rarity until the post-war period and that, furthermore, subjectivity in characterisation remains uncommon until the latter part of the 20s (generally speaking of course).

What is most fascinating about the transition Florence Lawrence takes from being an archetype on screen, the Biograph Girl, to a movie star is the intensification of the archetype and the construction of a new tragedy. In 1909, because she was looking to work for studios outside of Biograph, Florence Lawrence was dropped from the company. However, she was quickly picked up by Carl Laemmle and his company, which we previously discussed, IMP. Laemmle, whose plan it was to promote the image of independent film studios and prove to audiences that they could trust in them, constructed a lie to sell Lawrence and promote the films she was to make with IMP. The tragedy he constructed then involved a rumour that his company spread to newspapers that suggested that the Biograph girl had died in a car accident. This was spread so that, soon after, he could resurrect the Biograph girl and give her a name - and that name was Florence Lawrence. And it is this that saw her propelled into stardom; a cheap melodrama that took her archetypal presence on screen and put it into the real world.


A more obvious example of an archetype or caricature may have been Asta Nielsen, for she was so well known for her screen presence as a strong woman who bore an erotic atmosphere that was so often subject to tragedy and punishment. However, whilst Nielsen - maybe more obviously than Lawrence - carried an archetype or presence through all of her films, it was this very phenomena that was literalised by Max Linder.


It is through Linder that one of the most significant elements of the early star is found. Linder is considered one of the very first actors who appeared on screen as the same character across multiple films. His character was called "Max", and he was essentially a foolish rich man, not stupid, instead charming, but always at the centre of some chaos that often involved a woman. Max appeared in hundreds of comedic shorts between 1907 and 1916, and though his character is signified by his silk hat, one sees Max in many of Linder's other characters - albeit subtly. To simply see this character in action, let us take a brief look at a selection of his films...


Max Linder became a star because of his consistency, his developing skill, his films' quality and general familiarity. Early in his film career, he was shooting a film a day. Initially, he was not directing them, but, after gaining some success, he demanded that he secure the control of his films as director. Furthermore, he is noted to be one of the very first film actors to be given a ridiculously high salary of 1 million francs a year - something entirely unheard of at the time, but also something that Charles Pathé was willing to give and publicise. So, not only were audience seeing Max every week in the cinema, but his personal life, as filtered through studio promotion systems, reached out to his fans as well. And in France, there wasn't such a significant issue of actors' and actresses' names reaching out to the public. This seems to be especially true for Max Linder as he made his transition into film through the theatre, where he had already gained something of a name for himself and had his name publicised.

There is a point here that should be emphasised briefly. Movie stars were not the first stars. One could argue that movie stars of the 1920s were a entirely different kind of star, divorced from anything that the world had seen before. However, in the 1910s, movie stars started to emerge amongst theatrical, musical and vaudeville stars. The greatest controversy or surprise connected to this was the fact that movie stars could emerge in such a context, that someone such as Max Linder could move away from the theatre and gain a bigger name than international stars in vaudeville, figures such as Little Tich, dancers like Loie Fuller or comic singers such as Dranem. The point made by recognising the rise of movie stars and film celebrities is not that this was a new phenomena - the blueprint was arguably already laid down - but that this marks a new step for cinema and its popularity.

Part of the new step that cinema takes in embracing the celebrity concerns character. Asta Nielsen is then credited with changing the silent film approach to acting by emphasising a more natural presentation. And it was Linder who also showed how a character gains impact by recurring on screen. We continue to see actors influence characterisation throughout film history. For example in the 50s, Brando, Dean and Monroe brought method acting to the screen and popularised it through their stardom - indicating of course that their skill as performers was in relationship with their celebrity status, and such can be considered to be true, to a good degree, with the earliest stars.

If we were to take a moment to stop and analyse a character, I think it best we look at one of Linder's funniest shorts, Max en Convalescence. This is a very simple film that sees Max return home to visit his parents and sister. But, despite all his efforts to enjoy his childhood home, there is a horse that will not stop causing catastrophes - to the glee of his sister.


Part of what makes this one of Linder's best films is Max's smooth and simple relationship with the women he encounters; and this is something that is carried over from many of Max's films, a sense of charm and control before women that usually betrays him for laughter. Here, this brings out some highly genuine comedy between Max and his sister. But, the element of naturalism that makes this film so funny is the horse and Linder's very clear concern for his own safety when the horse is either trying to bite him or kick him in the head. Like a true professional, however, Linder maps his recurrent character-mannerisms over his real concern, throwing out his usual facial expressions and grin, fumbling after his hat, signalling comedically with his hands, kicking at the horse, etc.

It is this meeting of the new and the chaotic with the familiar that makes Max such an endearing character; we simultaneously expect and enjoy his comedy and character, and the two get caught in a feedback loop.

It is at this point that I again want you to look at the highlights of Linder, paying attention only to the first clip of Max in a park, throwing the apple, dancing around, confusing the handshake with the hat and punching the man into a fountain:


Looking at this clip, it is impossible not to think of Charlie Chaplin. And so such will serve to be our segue into the main element of this post: a look at one of the most popular film stars to have ever existed.

Today, we will not to try provide a biography of Chaplin's life; there are a countless number of these available all over the place as books, documentaries, films, essays and other blog posts. In fact, if we were to try and do and say anything new with Chaplin, we might just find ourselves at a loss for Chaplin is one of the most celebrated, analysed and investigated figures of all of cinema - one of the only filmmakers who can claim to have had more written about him than Chaplin may just be Hitchcock among a few others. Alas, despite the fact that Chaplin needs very little written about him, we will take a look at a selection of his short films to analyse the relationship between comedy, narrative and character. Our reason for doing this is to uncover an explanation for the movie star's emergence in the content of film itself. It is all too easy to reference publication scandals, magazines, world tours and interviews to see how a celebrity built their stardom and gained a name for themselves. What I am interested in today is attempting to ask why Chaplin attracted the audiences he did with his Little Tramp.

To make a start at this, we come to the first phase of Chaplin's film career, the era of short films ranging between 1914 and 1919. This era is characterised by Chaplin's initial rise to fame in around just a year, his initial prolific output of shorts that soon declined, and the construction and then the transformation of his Little Tramp. As is easily inferred, the timing of Chaplin's start in the film industry is particularly significant. In 1914, not only is the American industry beginning to boom and transform, West Coast filmmaking and Hollywood starting to take off, but Europe is falling into the chaos of war. And whilst many would be very familiar with the idea that the war negatively effected European film industries, it can sometimes be difficult to see a tangible connection between the decline of the European industry and the take-over of the American industry. However, if we take a moment to focus on the transition between Linder and Chaplin, we find a rather symbolic example of European decline due to the war and an 'American' rise (Chaplin was, of course, British, but he always represented the American film industry).

Chaplin was not, initially, the biggest fan of film - nor of the Keystone company for which he first worked. He has famously been quoted as thinking of Keystone as "crude" (maybe ironically as we will find out later), but nonetheless must have been fascinated by the chance to work in the new medium (and earn a good salary). It was in mid-to-late 1913 that he then signed with Keystone and moved to L.A. He brought with him an already developed skill set developed over years in the theatre in England (working with figures such as Fred Karno) and an adoration of Max Linder's French comedies. Alas, whilst Chaplin was starting with Keystone, shooting his first films in 1914, Linder's film career had hit a sudden wall; war had broken out and he had attempted to enlist. Not qualified to actually engage in combat, Linder became a dispatch driver, yet, despite not being on the very front of the lines, Linder was wounded in some capacity - some suggest he was shot, others suggest that he got seriously ill - and so he spent the majority of the war period entertaining the troops and making films every now and then. But, Linder's career was never really the same, and nor was he, following 1914. For not only did he step away from film at the height of his fame, but he developed chronic depression in the interim. This impeded his film career significantly whilst the industry seemingly was moving past him (with Chaplin as one of the main forces of its development).

It was during the war that Chaplin developed at Keystone for approximately a year (something we shall return to and investigate in greater detail momentarily) before moving to Essanay. It was at Essanay that Chaplin started to come to maturity and became a true international star. However, he soon moved from Essanay to Mutual where he made some of his best pre-The Kid films. It was at this time that Linder stepped away from war-service and France and moved to America. He was hired in L.A by Essanay to replace Chaplin. However, though he found some success, his career only managed to decline whilst Chaplin's took off.

During this time of transition in 1917 Chaplin met his idol, leaving this footage an encapsulation of the exchanging of the baton...


Recognising now that Chaplin's fame and celebrity is intertwined with World War, we can look at the films that marker his ascension. Starting at the most obvious point, let's take a look at Chaplin's first film, Making a Living:


Making a Living isn't an explosive start to Chaplin's career; it has a gag or two that are funny, but there is very little about the narrative and characters that make this particularly noteworthy. Whilst it was not a failure, we can understand why even Chaplin disliked the film. One can see in it his comedic skill, timing, presence and athleticism - one can even see his general mannerisms, derivative of Linder and the theatre and preemptive of the Tramp. However, it still lacks something more.

Picking up on this, it must be said that all judgements on Chaplin's films are most likely based on historical bias. We all likely know of the Tramp, have seen Chaplin at his best in his feature-length pictures and find it near-impossible to separate this character from Chaplin. Seeing Chaplin as anything apart from the Little Tramp is, in all probability, going to lead to a sense of disharmony. One could then question the validity of any criticism of his early films. You will be able to argue this as we go on to analyse Chaplin's other Keystone pictures; we will seem to be saying that, just because he does not embody the Tramp of the 20s and 30s, he has not yet found his way. This judgement will be true to a degree, but, there are two reasons why this does not entirely invalidate the criticism we will delve into. Firstly, there will be technical and moral judgements that we can make on Chaplin's early films that are objective - that Chaplin's contemporaries were also passing. And secondly, Chaplin developed the Little Tramp and moved in the direction he did with him for good reason; it worked and he could create great art with him. So, to see us suggesting that movements towards the Tramp are indicators of positive development are accurate and reflective of Chaplin's eventual vision. That said, it is important to note the ways in which we use historical bias when looking at Chaplin's early films so that we can recognise the manner in which his audiences may have seen his films. Because they did not know of who the Little Tramp would be in 1921, they would have been able to enjoy his 1914 films as they were, to grow with Chaplin and the Tramp towards a character and films of higher quality.

To build a picture of who the Tramp initially was, let us look at two of the first films he appeared in. The first film that was released with the Tramp in is titled Kid's Auto Race:


Kid's Auto Race is a humorous piece of early self-reflexive cinema that starts out as a street scene, or as it would have been conceptualised of by 1914, a newsreel, but devolves into a slapstick fight. Chaplin and director, Henry Lehrman, were not pioneers in this regard, however. In the Netherlands in 1905, there emerged a mad-cap chase-comedy that was, in essence, a public stunt that showcased self-reflection and a play with genre and street scene tropes. This was called The Misadventure. Even earlier in 1896, one of the first Italian films starts out as a street scene of sorts (badly shot, even by early standards, it must be said), but becomes a staged crime or comedy film. This was titled The Fake Cripple. This indicates, again, that Chaplin and Lehrman were not pioneers, but leaves Kid's Auto Race rather interesting as a comedy that shows an awareness for the camera, the process of filming and the audience that wouldn't have been all too common at the time.

The Tramp, who would have first been seen on screen by audiences in this film, plays a rather literal and stereotypical role: he is a wandering bum, rude, disruptive, violent and possibly drunk. That said, there is a cheekiness about the Tramp, and an awareness for the camera, that remains and is emphasised later on in the character's lifetime.

Whilst Kid's Auto Race was the first film that was released with the Tramp in it, the first film that Chaplin shot as the Tramp was titled Mabel's Strange Predicament.


The first detail of interest about this film lies in its title. Mabel Normand was a significant star throughout the 1910s and into the early 20s who was best known for her Keystone roles and collaborations with Mack Sennet (The King of Comedy, founder of Keystone). She became a caricature herself, known on screen, and as the title of this film indicates, as Mabel. Like Linder, she is an example of a comic who adopted a recurring character and name and found success with it on film before Chaplin. Also like Linder, Normand was a key part of his early career as she not only had him as the leading man in many of the movies she directed, but supported him on screen as an actress and behind the camera as a writer and mentor of sorts.

To take a moment to actually look at the Tramp, we find that he is most definitely born as a pretty banal stereotype and shallow caricature: drunk, immoral, violent, deceptive and perverted. Make no mistake, comedy emerges from this caricature, but its virtues are rather limited. Many point to the Tramp as the creation of a character who combined pathos and comedy, but, this is not initially true, as Mabel's Strange Predicament shows. The Tramp didn't really start out as much more than a costume and a look. As a result, we see the Tramp in much of what Chaplin did in the Keystone days. Let us then take a look at a selection of Tramp and non-Tramp shorts...


One of the most-recycled Chaplin quotes is him explaining why and how he created the Tramp costume:

... on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on to the stage he was fully born.

There is much that could be said about this quote, but, what is most relevant to an early non-Tramp film such as Tango Tangles is the idea that Chaplin needed to seem older. Tango Tangles, which has Chaplin appear as a naked-faced, young drunkard, feels a little more violent than very similar, but far more innocent, scenes that see Chaplin appear as the drunk Tramp (one could point to the majority of City Lights and see this). The approximately 25 year old Chaplin gives this film a sense of realism, and, alongside Fatty Arbuckle, who dons an equally realistic costume, this is a threat to the melodramatic fantasy at the base of the mad-cap comedy. Chaplin and co. know this, which is why there is an unrealistically drunk person who engages in silly fights. An age-old trick in all comedy is to mask the real with the unreal as to make funny what can be deeply serious - like three men fighting over a girl, with the biggest and maddest winning by force and then simply dragging the young woman away like a doll. With a touch too much realism, without the Tramp, Tango Tangles simply isn't too funny - at points, it can even be a little jarring.

Chaplin's youth is one part of the film's realism, and thus is part of what brings it down, which is why similar Tramp scenes function better - though, the impact of the added contradiction of personage that Chaplin designs into the Tramp costume cannot be devalued, nor over looked in this respect. That said, Chaplin's Tramp was still very under-developed in 1914.


With a look at 20 Minutes of Love, we see that Chaplin's focus on The Tramp's perversion is rather singular and so one of the only things he has developed since constructing the character in the beginning of the year. Chaplin has not yet given his character much charm or innocence. Furthermore, he lacks any tangible virtues. In the best Chaplin shorts, one of the basic characteristics of the Tramp is his luck - or lack of it. However, the impossible and improbable are transformed into virtues by Chaplin's developed Tramp; luck saves him in this short whereas luck makes him a father in The Kid, the difference being that, in this short, coincidence serves plot, whilst, in The Kid, coincidence builds a virtuous character.


In The Rounders, we see that, from Chaplin's continual production and collaboration with other artists at Keystone, his abilities before the camera have developed. His character, however, isn't too easily distinguishable from the early Tramp; maybe he is less crude and better dressed, but he is still a drunkard with similar mannerisms and a very boisterous sense of irresponsibility that gets him beaten up and into fights - and such, it seems, is the depth of his character and early narratives.

This short, does, however, show some development in the structure and character-base of the narratives Chaplin was involved in. It is in the earliest Chaplin shorts that all serves plot with a caricature being a catalyst for happenings. In the likes of 20 Minutes of Love, Tango Tangles and Mable's Strange Predicament, the catalyst is a character fault: the perversion of the Tramp or the drunkenness of the young man, or the drunken perversion of the Tramp. From here, plot takes over and so characters do what they must so that the next gag may come. This changes slightly in The Rounders as there are two plots (something already seen in Tango Tales), and they both take their twists and turns as they intertwine. The comic irony that is derivative of the plot, the two drunks causing trouble, splitting themselves from their wives, putting each other at odds, before coming together and bringing their wives together too, is then more complex than what is seen in the previous shorts. This narrative then has a little more depth and complexity thanks to the plot and its interaction with slightly developed caricatures.


His Trysting Place is one of the most developed and rounded Keystone shorts that Chaplin makes. Thanks to its length and cinematic language, to the use of close-ups and the centrality of character, this is personal and intimate. It is in fact the prominence and focus on character that makes this a landmark film, in my view, for Chaplin. Here, plot and character have a very distinct relationship, with plot serving character, with there being certain very clear plot contrivances, but almost all gags being determined by character development, change and reasoning. As a result, there is an emotional arc to this film as well as character arcs; there is change and transformation away from chaos that sees the seemingly useless and stupid father pick up some responsibility and come closer to his wife and child. And though this manifests some highly Chaplin-esque sentimentality, I have to admit to be deeply sympathetic to this.

Chaplin's main achievements at Keystone, I believe, are encapsulated by His Trysting Place. There are other films that are important in regards to his career that emerge from this period; Caught in the Rain is his directorial debut and Tillie's Punctured Romance is not only the first feature-length film that Chaplin stars in (not as the Tramp, rather, another despicable young man), but is a film that is considered to be one of the first feature-length comedies ever. These films, however, aren't as fascinating - in regards to Chaplin's narrative and characterlogical sensibilities - as His Trysting Place. It isn't until Chaplin moves away from Keystone and towards Essanay that one could argue that he starts to cover real ground with his Little Tramp.


Contrast the immediate pathos that is imbued to the very opening frames of The Tramp to the anarchy and sometimes crude brutality that characterises Chaplin's 1914 shorts and it is far too easy to tell that something drastic has changed in Chaplin's cinema. The Tramp is considered by many to be a milestone in Chaplin's career as a filmmaker and storyteller for his response to the criticism that his character was becoming too mean and vicious. It is in The Tramp that Chaplin conjures an entirely new tone through his performance. We see this in those opening gags. The Tramp here encapsulates the pounding life can give the unfortunate, yet he stands up in the face of this. The tone that this manifests as we watch the Little Tramp rub his sore feet is one of, as implied, pathos.


However, with a developed sense of what the camera represents, Chaplin engages his cinematic space as a jester, and as to transcend pity.



As in pantomime, he reacts not to the car that he should be able to hear coming towards him until it is too late and he falls to the ground.



Then, again, he reacts not to the car that he should see coming towards him until it is already in the frame (in the only causal and real space of Chaplin's comedy). Chaplin acknowledges the faux nature of his cinematic space with a turn towards the camera and a comedic dust off for the audience:



Such is a demonstration of the stronger bond Chaplin is developing with his audience through his Tramp character - and it must be noted that Chaplin has become a true star and a cultural phenomenon by 1915.

Beyond this subtle exploration of both pathos and comedy lies the rest of the narrative, which, for the most part, is a larger experiment in this dichotomy. As this then follows the Tramp, he stumbles upon a robbery that, through courage and fool's luck, he prevents. And such is emphasised with Chaplin's choice of weapon: a metal box. He does not simply beat up the bad guys, but confronts them in a non-heroic, yet realist capacity. And he is scared as he does this, using the girl as bait and the tree to hide. To even further highlight the fact that the Tramp is not a classical hero, he almost takes money for saving the girl. And whilst this may have been where the old Tramp tottered off, the developed Tramp stays and continues to fight for the girl until he is beaten. This movement between fighter and fool is repeated again with the finale as the robbers make a return, and it is finalised with the Tramp's melancholic departure once he discovers that he, in fact, has no chance of romance despite his good actions. Alas, he manages to walk away, again, pounded by misfortune, but pugnacious in face of pity.


This seems to be the Tramp we all know and love; he does not wallow in face of tragedy and he never stops fighting against misfortune. Chaplin has thus constructed his archetype of the virtuous fool, for it is the Tramp that is darkness in light in the most fundamental sense; from pain he brings laughter, from sadness emerges a chipper walk, from naivety comes morality, from need comes sacrifice, from desire comes compassion. One begins to see this over and over again in films featuring the Tramp from this point on in Chaplin's career, and such, without even specific analysis, we can imagine did and said so much in a context of World War - especially for the likes of soldiers, who particularly championed the Tramp.


The Bank, again, welcomes Edna Purviance to the screen, equal and opposite of Chaplin as always. And it bears worth to mention that Chaplin is most complete with a strong female lead by his side, whether it be Mabel Normand in his earlier Keystone films or Paulette Godard in his later features. One could argue, however, that Chaplin was most complete on screen alongside Purviance. She had the capacity to mediate between Normand or Godard, more boisterous and loud with their actions, and Virginia Cherrill from City Lights, far more subdued and sentimental, with her performances. She could then emit the much-needed sympathy to embrace the Tramp, yet also had an air of being slightly beyond him - and this could manifest intellectually, socially or morally. Purviance's characters then always pulled the Tramp, gave him something to pursue and live up to, whilst retaining her own sovereign and independent presence and pathos.

Chaplin really explores the draw and power of Purviance's character in The Bank, depicting her as a girl of a fool's dream very explicitly. By the end of this narrative, quite like in The Tramp, she is then shown to be two characters; an idol to become a better man as to pursue, yet also a woman of her own mind and will who will not go out with a janitor. As in The Tramp, Chaplin falls in love with Purviance's character, putting life and limb on the line for her, only to realise that he cannot have her romantically. Again, however, there remains the stoic resilience in the Tramp; he dreamed and made a fool of himself, but, life goes on.

What is of significant prominence about The Bank beyond character and story is in fact Chaplin's developed sense of cinematic language and the gag. Having become far more experienced behind the camera, also quite aware of his own tropes and what the audience expect, Chaplin uses story structure and cinematic language to deceive and to surprise, and also to produce minor commentary. This is seen in the opening:



The Tramp picks up a coin: a lucky start to the day.



He goes into a bank? It's empty? Is no one aware that he is here?



Is he going to deposit the coin he found? Does he know the combination?



Did he just get lucky?



Is he going to steal? Where is his shirt?




He's the janitor.

This is a brilliant opening, one that is as funny as it is ingeniously deceptive. However, not only is this exceptionally structured, but the ambiguous movement from Tramp to Janitor through the huge bank vault begins to say something about either the absurd bureaucracy of the bank - why would they insist that the mop be locked away? - or the cheek of the Tramp. Either way, Chaplin's comedy is starting to bear some commentary, a somewhat new phenomena in his cinema.


It is with The Vagabond that we transition into the final phase of Chaplin's early career that we will explore: his Mutual film period. That said, The Vagabond speaks, in terms of narrative, character and romance, almost directly to The Tramp and The Bank. In both of those narratives, the Tramp fails to win the girl. Chaplin recycles the two story and character arcs for this narrative before utilising a reversal of poignant effect - one we see in a plethora of later Classical Hollywood romances, a great example being It Happened One Night. So, here again we see the Tramp mediate between fortune and tragedy. What is emphasised in this short, however, is the fact that the developed Tramp is never above misfortune and the lower, fringe class lifestyle. In tandem with this is the question of the Tramp's ability to attain fortune. And having seen the Tramp fail in this respect so many times over in the Essanay shorts, not getting the girl and finding himself in pretty much the same position as in the beginning of the narrative, provides an arc that embraces sentimentality to a degree: finally, he gets the girl.

What may also be noted in regards to The Vagabond is the emotional punch it carries. Personally, I am struck most by the end - for reasons indirectly discussed - and our introduction to Purviance's character. The reason why the introduction to the kidnapped girl stands out is simply for its brutality, which is almost never seen presented in such a way by Chaplin again. The unrelenting whipping of the girl adds such a troubling foundation to her character, and, in turn, the relationship she develops with the Tramp. In short, we are shown that misfortune has broken this girl; it imbues her with so much fear, yet also naivety and a blind eye to the Tramp's affection. Ultimately, this is transcended with the final reversal, which is not just a change of fortune for the Tramp, but a change in character for the girl too - a burst of clarity and seemingly an escape from all previous modes of being, either as slave or rich child.


One A.M is a fascinating Chaplin Mutual short to briefly contrast with the majority of his others from 1916, most of which are narrative based. In one sense, One A.M sees Chaplin go back 2 years to have gags become the motivation for story and plot (a story and plot catalysed by a drunkard). But, it could just as easily be argued that there is no plot here and that this is a relatively unique Chaplin film for the fact that it experiments in one space and across one block of time, allowing a true showcase of Chaplin's abilities as a performer.

Maybe slightly tedious, One A.M highlights the narrative successes in Chaplin's other Mutual shorts. Not only does Chaplin now commonly see character build story, but theme plays a strong part in the construction of plot with gags coming along the way as a result of character (e.g the Tramp's known mannerisms and developed inability to avoid a mess).


The Immigrant is the final Chaplin film we will look at, and it is undoubtedly one of his finest, funniest shorts - one that balances romance, character and gag like no other - moreover, one that captures some of Chaplin's best direction of the camera with, for example, the heaving boat effect. Because the film almost entirely speaks for itself, there is little I can say about it. This simply sees the Tramp reach maturity, presented by Chaplin almost immaculately.

It is seeing the Tramp presented so perfectly in this short that we can take a step back and question what exactly Chaplin has done and why, possibly, this made him a star. In my estimation, Chaplin has built one of the most complex archetypes of the silent era; as said, he is the epitome of light emerging from darkness: the fool transcending calamity through comedy. This archetype is such a successful one because it bears such a universal truth at its core. Chaplin's Tramp shows us that virtue can come from the gloomiest of places, brought to life by even a wretched soul. This wretched soul always happens upon light that is about to be blown out, a metaphoric archetypal figure, an innocent sufferer, played best by Perviance. Chaplin protects the light and builds something around it; as in The Immigrant, a marriage. The Tramp then speaks to individuals in an audience and tells them that they, however sordid and outcast they may be, can not only suffer through hardship, but can preserve goodness in the world - and make an impact on others through their inevitable bumbling and buffoonery. The Tramp did this whether or not he was a hero, always walking away from hardship as far from a tragic victim as one could be.

This is an evocation to the masses that picks out individuals, and how could it have not hit home when this was new, when the world was drowning in the chaos of WWI? How could this have not made Charlie Chaplin one of the most famous men in the world, whose symbolic presence lasts to this very day?

***

Today, we made an attempt to map out the birth of movie stars. The primary argument made is that the first movie stars created some of the first crystaltypes - a phenomena that I believe I have indirectly described though Chaplin. There is far more that could be said about the emergence of celebrities in cinematic culture with approaches that look beyond character. For further investigation into other perspectives on the emergence of celebrity, I would recommend looking into the careers of figures such as Florence Lawrence and Asta Nielsen. I struggled to find material to work with in this regard and am not able to recommend any particularly useful reading. I can, however, recommend books on Chaplin's career - one of my starting points was Chaplin by Simon Louvish, but there are, as mentioned, countless biographies, autobiographies documentaries and more. Beyond this, I would firmly recommend further viewing of Linder's and Chaplin's films. With supplementary facts and details, this is one of the best ways to get a sense and real feel for who these people were on screen and why, possibly, they were the personas of some of the earliest movie stars.

I will now end here with the hope that you look forward to the next post of the series that will conclude our look at the rise of the American film industry.

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