Archive for The Gold Rush

The Sunday Intertitle: The Love Shack

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 5, 2022 by dcairns

Charlie gets out of prison — very short sentence this time. Apparently he wasn’t fingered for the Tiny Sandford Gang’s depredations.

This title card WOULD be useful if we wanted to do a Chaplinesque zombie film, I guess (see Jeff Gee’s comment on yesterday’s post, and see the custard pie fight in Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD).

I guess MODERN TIMES really is episodic, because I couldn’t remember what happens next. Oh yes — second idyll — the real one — the Gamin has found a home for the pair to live in. As they walk off together, we learn that the police station where Charlie has apparently served his sentence is around the corner from the street where he first got arrested. Geography must arrange itself conveniently when you’re paying for it.

This also makes me wonder if some of the film’s connective tissue is an afterthought and some of the scenes rearranged after filming. Chaplin might, for instance, have considered having his star couple meet before the FIRST jail term separates them. Usually, if you can see a way to swap scenes around, then you’d be just as well throwing them out. But MT is a picaresque in which incidents follow one another in a not-quite-random manner — the only structuring principle if the central character’s emotional journey. O LUCKY MAN! is a great example: in terms of story logic, most of the scenes could be reshuffled with impunity, but there’s a clear arc in which the protag loses faith in one goal, establishes it in another, and so on.

Paulette’s “paradise” is a lot like the cabin in THE GOLD RUSH (which no woman ever entered), only smaller (less comic action is required to fit inside it). It’s not much like the suburban-cottage Charlie painted in the fantasy sequence, standing ramshackle on a bleak headland with a dangerous plank over the threshold, serving no purpose but to deliver painful clunks to the noggin.

The plank and the collapsing table deliver semi-realistic sound effects — Tatiesque in the way they’re not QUITE naturalistic but not cartoony metaphors, and emerging out of silence/music rather than the realistic hum of atmos. The movie is slowly becoming a sound film, maybe? Speech is still confined to machines, and we haven’t had any since the prison radio.

“Of course it’s no Buckingham Palace,” says the G by intertitle after the roof nearly falls in, a typically British reference for Chaplin. The tumbledown hideaway resembles the Queen’s residence only in sheltering a millionaire ephebophile.

Chaplin was deliberately careful to eliminate sex from this relationship, perhaps because he and Goddard hadn’t quite gone public with their relationship, and sex out of wedlock still needed some plausible deniability in American life, and in movies under the Hays Code. If the pair were more lovey-dovey, their cohabitation would have raised questions. Still, when a secret panel / disintegrating wall tips Charlie into the nearby bay, and Paulette offers him a shapely calf as a lifeline, the prospect of him shimmying up her bare leg is not entirely free of erotic charge, and the sequence fades out discreetly before he gains so much as the shin.

Life in the shack is idyllic, according to the soundtrack, even if everything we see is discomfort and want. Charlie somehow has a swimming costume so he can take a morning dip, but the water is shallow and freezing. The door plank still plans to assassinate him. But, as in those parts of Chaplin’s childhood when his mother was present, making do with little is a kind of adventure. Even though he has no job to go to, Charlie dresses for work and departs in the a.m. With a steak sandwich inside him — the Gamin is, we must assume, the provider for now. Her naughty wink when Charlie asks where she got the bread is sensational. You can’t really suggest a platonic relationship with Paulette as one half of it.

She’s also swiped a newspaper — apart from the loaf, she’s followed Elaine May’s advice and only stolen flat things. And the news is good — there’s work to be had. The Jetson Mills are to be reopened. I didn’t realise that Hanna-Barbera’s futuristic family came from a line of mill-owners. Also, I’d always assumed that Charlie got reemployed at Electro Steel — the set seems the same. But apparently it’s a different place. And a different episode. As Charlie speed-waddles off into a frightful industrial wasteland, the Gamin quite unconsciously falls into the exaggerated waving and jumping of the suburban housewife seen earlier.


The Big Store

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2022 by dcairns

MODERN TIMES continued.

Moments ago they were out fantasising in the suburban sprawl, now Charlie and the Gamin are suddenly at the entrance to a department store, and there’s a vacancy. The night watchman has broken his leg. I wonder how? But Charlie doesn’t. Presenting the letter from the prison governor, he is immediately hired. Hmm, I wonder how often that happened in real life.

He immediately sneaks the Gamin in — after all, they are not only unemployed but homeless. Department stores make excellent homes, as you’ll know if you’ve seen either Evening Primrose or DAWN OF THE DEAD. Charlie has hit on the perfect way to get fired within 24hrs, thus giving the film finally a structure — the running gag of job loss.

The store has a huge bar with cakes and sandwiches standing uncovered. Safe to eat? Apparently.

Invading the toy department, as you would, the Gamin is drawn to an off-model Mickey Mouse (in his only costarring role with Chaplin, so far as I’m aware, though CC may appear in a Disney toon somewhere), but then they both don rollerskates for a spin around the shop floor. We may be about to learn how the night watchman injured himself.

Like some Krell laboratory, the store has a three-storey drop without guardrail, and Chaplin teases us with some Harold Lloyd thrill-comedy, using a glass painting to avoid running the risk of actual death. The main pleasure of the sequence is the return to THE RINK, showcasing CC’s balletic grace.

The G., noticing that blindfolded Charlie is skating close to the edge of extinction, claps her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream, probably NOT the right instinctive response. Losing the power of speech (well, it IS a sort-of silent film) she has to wobble towards him (she wasn’t in THE RINK so she’s a novice on wheels) and nearly propel him over the edge with her. Brilliant.

Chaplin claimed he learned counterpoint from the English music hall — Fred Karno would use elegant chamber music to accompany drunken tramps. And that’s it: the graceful music fits Chaplin’s moves, but ignores the panic and peril the Gamin and the audience are feeling. Thereby intensifying them, while maintaining a comic distance.

Good gag where, finally seeing the danger, Chaplin loses all control of his legs and begins frantically, compulsively moonwalking to his doom. It’s always the way.

And then the pair gingerly tiptoe away. They will not be doing THAT again. Note to self: never rollerskate blindfold in a deserted toy department without checking for the YAWNING ABYSS.

What becomes a legend most? Paulette luxuraites in a fur coat before bedding down for the night in the bedding department.

Thieves! With a gun pointed at him, Charlie again loses the power of rollerskating. Commanded to freeze, he instead puts on a furious display of running forwards while moving backwards. On a trajectory that takes him to the escalator (THE RINK meets THE FLOORWALKER). Again, a Chaplin motif that seems to stem from childhood anxiety — under the orders of a strict authority figure, Charlie is physically unable to comply. See also Black Larsen ordering him out of the cabin in THE GOLD RUSH, while the wind compels him to remain.

Charlie is now forcibly inebriated by a perforated rum keg. First cocaine, now rum. The wildest time since Stan Laurel in FRA DIAVOLO. It turns out that one of the burglars is “Big Bill” from the Electro Steelworks — Stanley J. “Tiny” Sandford. He never liked Charlie when they were so-workers, but now he’s an unemployed criminal he’s overcome with nostalgic affection. The good old days of dehumanizing slave labour, One of his partners in crime cracks open a bottle of champers and they all get swallied together.

Next morning, the Gamin awakens before the store opens — Chaplin is ruthless about not giving Paulette any comedy to do — and Charlie is discovered amid the women’s apparel, rising arse-up like a sudden trousered volcano.

Result: Charlie is fired AND arrested — we never learn what happened to Tiny’s gang but I hope they made off with enough valuables to make them comfortable for life.

Off to prison! To be continued.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 31, 2022 by dcairns

I haven’t so much as mentioned Chaplin’s music in this one! Obviously I love it. I know now that Chaplin would lift little snatches of music from here, there, and everywhere, but what he did with them was magnificent. And now, at the end of each gruelling, extended feature shoot, he would launch into scoring and sound design for his films, with the same perfectionism.

So, this is the first time we hear what would become “Smile,” a Chaplin original. The Gamine is much happier than she had been just one scene before. Stopping to rest by the roadside, the pair witness a suburban couple beginning their day. Charlie performs a satirical mime portraying the happy housewife — his impersonation of the extra’s impersonation of Chaplin’s demonstration. Paulette has a very attractive (silent) laugh — I wonder what Chaplin was actually doing to provoke it?

This is the scene Chaplin had prepared to shoot as dialogue with a full script. It’s better — and shorter — mute.

Now comes what MIGHT be Chaplin’s last dream/fantasy sequence. The domestic idyll. A modern home with en suite orange grove, grapevines and handy cow. Charlie’s proletarian costume suggests he still imagines himself as a factory worker, and from the way he wipes his hands on the curtains, he’s not quite domesticated, but he moves about with a certain haughty grandeur, master of his domain. And fancier, more balletic — gaily back-kicking a piece of orange peel — dream sequences tend to bring out the dancer in him, as we see in SUNNYSIDE and THE GOLD RUSH.

Beautiful transition back to hungry reality with Charlie still carving the imaginary steak and a sharp pan to Paulette’s face. And then a kop shows up, inevitably, and moves them on.