Sunday, November 1, 2015

Introducing Chaplain: Making a Living and Kid Races at Venice

Making a Living (February, 1914)

A strange short, but it is Chaplin's first starring role, and occasionally funny.

Chaplin is a poor man, dressed to the nines with a long mustache, trying to obtain an engagement with a wealthy woman.  He only does so through stealing a ring from his rival (Henry Lehrman, who also directed the short), and after fighting, Chaplin comes out the victor.  But he still has another obstacle before he can be wed-- getting a job.  So he battles with his rival over getting a reporter's job at the local paper.

The strange part of the film is the editing.  Clearly, there are portions of this film left out.  It drops us in the middle of the story without context (which isn't so bad), there are cards for what we can tell from the context, but no cards for scenes that would be useful to have them.  It feels as if part of the story was cut out, it just feels perfunctory.  It turns out, the director admits that he purposely made cuts to Chaplin's role because he disliked Chaplin and wanted him to fail.  So, rivals both in front of and behind the camera.  Unfortunately, this did little to improve Lehman's role, either.

Despite this, Chaplin still shines.  Somehow, although his rival is the hard working, upright one, we root for Chaplin because the rival is more of a buffoon, and Chaplin is just more likable, although deceptive.  But this film isn't very funny, except for a couple scenes, and is sometimes confusing. What is clear that it isn't the fault of the performers, all of whom did well, but the director/editor.

This film shows up under many names, including Doing His Best or Busted Johnny.  


Kid Auto Races at Venice (February, 1914)

It is 101 years since the Tramp first made his appearance in this film.  From this time, the Tramp has been an icon, at times center in the world stage.  Hitler probably borrowed his mustache style from the Tramp, being a huge fan, which Chaplin used to great effect in The Great Dictator, at the other end of the Tramp's career.  Yet the Tramp's beginnings were small, an inside joke between two people, with him doing nothing more than mugging for the camera.

The plot is simple.  The Tramp is doing his best to get in front of the camera, posing, and Henry Lehrman, the director of the film, is doing his best to keep him out of it.  By itself, the film is kinda dull.  But the meta-meaning of the story is what really brings entertainment to it.
Just as background, the races were a "kids" version of the Vanderbilt Cup, an auto race of some importance in 1914 Santa Monica, CA. The children's version were mostly soap box races, using a ramp to give speed.  A few motorized cars were also used in a separate race.

As we saw in the last film, Making a Living, Lehman didn't care for Chaplin and tried to edit the better part of the star's role out of the film.  So here is a throwaway film, six and a half minutes (the "longer" version is simply the film twice in a row, as above), of Chaplin trying to force himself in front of the camera and Lehrman pushing him out of it.  To me, it is funny to think of them coming up with this film as the only one the two of them could agree upon.  It is also funny to think of the filming, where Lehrman is directing himself as a director, doing the same thing in front of the camera, beside a camera, which is also capturing Chaplin.

Unfortunately, I can't imagine it being too entertaining for the audiences watching it for the first time in 1914.  This film isn't given great applause, and certainly Chaplin's performance is relatively poor.  It isn't even the first time the Tramp was filmed, because the movie Mabel's Strange Predicament, which also stars the Tramp, was filmed first.  This short was released first, though, so it is given first credit.

4/5, just as an inside joke.  

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