Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Face on the Barroom Floor

Face on the Barroom Floor  (August 1914)

Just a couple weeks before the creative low point of Chaplin's time at Keystone, Recreation, they decided to adapt a poem going around at the time "The Face on the Barroom Floor".  The original poem is about a man who enters a bar, and for a bit of whiskey (and then a bit more) he promises to tell them a funny story, and he tells them about his love who ran away from him with another man.  He then draws her face on the floor of the bar and collapses and dies.  Not exactly comic material.

And, interestingly enough, the film doesn't make a comedy out of it.  They tell a slightly different story, just to the side of the poem's story.  Chaplin, is, of course, the man telling the story, and emphasis is placed on his days as an artist, where he is looking at his past through the sorrow of his present.  There are a few sight gags, but it frankly works better as a melancholic piece with a good punchline two thirds in.   They finish it off with a fight and Chaplin drawing and dying on the painting, but it doesn't fit the story.

If I hadn't read the poem first, I'm not sure I would have understood the film as well.  I think it was really meant to be for those who already appreciated the poem, and so offers commentary and humor to the side of the poem, without actually tackling the poem as a straight adaptation.  That's a great way of adapting a work to film-- not ignoring the original work, but assuming that the audience experienced the work already, and providing tone and humor and side stories to the heart of the work. 

I'm torn about this short.  In the end, I feel positive toward it, although I think the end of the film was unnecessary.


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