Archive for September 13, 2020

The Sunday Intertitle: Bumfight

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on September 13, 2020 by dcairns

MAKING A LIVING is Chaplin’s very first film, the only one predating his Tramp character, or at any rate the costume (despite what Chaplin would later write, the character develops fairl gradually though certain aspects are immediately apparent — the lord of misrule, defiant of authority).

Chaplin said he immediately felt at home in his Tramp get-up, and hadn’t as the caddish antagonist here. And he’s really doing a lot to disguise himself — you can tell by the lip movements he’s doing a posy English silly-ass voice. Lip reading does seem to be something Keystone counted on — a definite moment is provided for the hero (though really more stooge) to call Chaplin “Bum.” I wonder how much more we’re supposed to get via mere labial observation.

Lots of nice character stuff before it turns into a good old brawl (hair-pulling, heroine’s mother hit with broom).

Then some plot-coagulation is required so for no obvious reason the cad becomes a reporter, which makes him professional as well as amorous rival of the hero/stooge (prostooganist?). A location shot of what I take to be typesetters at work provides some beside-the-point production values for director Henry “Pathé” Lehrmann. Then there’s a car wreck, I suspect borrowed from another picture (the angle is all wrong). The fabled Kops show up, with various subsidiary Klowns, and the whole thing starts to look like a typical Keystone pile-up of gesticulating hysterics, lively without being funny. The tight focus of the early scenes is gone.

Slightly alarming moment when Chaplin appears to stab a Kop in the stomach. Is he to be an accidental Kop-killer? But the man gets up again, winded not wounded. Not clear how he survived. Moments later, a woman is apparently stabbed in the head, but gets up, not a mark on her. MAKING A LIVING is, perhaps, set in an alternative universe of rubber knives.

The busy street scenes, full of people NOT wearing theatrical garb, shows up the stageyness of the main characters, Chaplin in particular. Discarding the frock coat, he would become more able to blend it, but would also opt increasingly for back lot and studio settings where the crowd could be controlled. In fact, by chance the movie deprives him of coat and topper at the (abrupt, truncated?) end, making his new wardrobe easier to assume…