Archive for The Kid

The Sunday Intertitle: Kid Stuff

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona had never seen THE KID — I have been slowly trying to raise her appreciation of Chaplin, a decades-long project that reached its apogee with A DOG’S LIFE, which she found delightful. She also got quite a bit of pleasure out of MODERN TIMES and THE GREAT DICTATOR. Oh, and the monkeys in THE CIRCUS had her on the floor begging for mercy, tears rolling down her face, sideways (because she was on the floor). She’ll always be a Keaton girl, which is fine, but I think you’re missing out on something if you don’t check out Chaplin.

THE KID seemed like a good bet because Chaplin is bolstered by a strong co-star. Fiona liked the dog in A DOG’S LIFE and Edna Purviance even gets to be funny in that one. And Fiona likes Paulette Goddard on principle. So I was staking everything on Jackie Coogan and on Chaplin’s chemistry with him. It worked!

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Things didn’t start too great, as the intertitle “A picture with a smile — and perhaps, a tear,” provoked the response “Oh fuck off,” which Chaplin had neglected to list in his catalogue of responses. If he had written “a smile — and perhaps a tear — or possibly an Oh Fuck Off” he would have been bang on the money.

But once Charlie gets landed with an unwanted baby, her attitude changed. Chaplin can be brutally UNsentimental, which only Walter Kerr in his majestic The Silent Clowns really acknowledges. Here, the comedy comes from the defenseless baby becoming a threat. Like Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp, or Tex Avery’s Droopy, you can’t get rid of it. When Chaplin opens a drain and briefly looks thoughtful, Fiona practically screamed in shock and then laughed in relief. “No, I can’t really do THAT,” Chaplin seems to think at us, as he closes the drain again, baby still in his arms.

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The baby then scene-changes into Jackie Coogan, and we’re pretty much home free. The little blighter is adorable and hilarious — Chaplin has schooled him in every move, you think, until you see his astonishing crying scene, which comes straight from the heart and can’t be faked or produced by imitation.

Chaplin (and his gag-writers) manages the action of scenes marvelously, developing situations into crises and finding unexpected ways to solve them. A lot of the comedy follows the baby problem pattern, turning a helpless and appealing infant into a deadly threat. The kid gets in a fight and a bulbous pugilist turns out to be the opponents brother. He’s going to pummel Charlie if his brother loses the fight. Charlie is now trying to sabotage his adopted son’s efforts. Or when Charlie, a door-to-door glazier, feels the watchful eye of a policeman on him — now the kid, suspected of throwing stones, becomes an incriminating item. Charlie must deny the association, gently kicking Jackie away with his foot. A father rejecting his son, writes Kerr, is monstrous. But here, because of the crafting of the situation, it’s hilarious. The kid is oblivious, uncomprehending, so we’re not tempted to emote at the wrong point. The man in trouble is the father.

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Chaplin still wasn’t so good at developing the whole arc of a story, and this remained his biggest difficulty. Starting out with more of a plan might have helped him, but then you look at the talkies… This leads him to the heavenly dream sequence, a heavy slice of whimsy — pointless, unfunny and positioned to paste over the fact that the plot is going to resolve itself happily without the protagonist doing anything. It’s exactly like the massive ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, only that’s entertaining in its own right. Chaplin’s paradise is more boring than Dante’s, and seems longer. “What has this got to do with anything?” asked Fiona.

But sooner than you think, the ending comes, and the film seems sort of perfect again. The good bits are sublime. The one bad bit disappears from memory like… like a dream upon awaking.

Criterion’s Blu-ray makes the film look like it was shot yesterday. Uncanny. My images come from the earlier DVD.

Cinemazin

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 27, 2013 by dcairns

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Vintage postcard purchased at Pordenone Festival of Silent Film’s excellent FilmFair.

In just a moment I will tell you a story that is NOT CUTE. You have been warned.

What I liked about this one is (1) It’s signed. (2) Little Jackie has guffed it up, writing “CINEMAZIN” then adding a “DA” to make “CINEMAGAZIN.” Printed on the back of the card is “CINEMAGAZINE” which is what he was aiming for, in his childish way. It appears to have been a French publication about which I can discover nothing. Grateful for any info there.

The spelling mistake seemed to make the item all the more valuable, or at least unique. Two like this can’t exist.

I happened to show the postcard to some students during a boring session in a college open day. One of the students had previously made a film about some postcards he found in a shop. He pointed out that there is VERY FADED WRITING on the back of my Coogan card. “There might be a film in that.”

All I’ve been able to make out is the address: “Jack Coogan, c/o Metro Studios, Hollywood, Calif.” Which helps confirm this as a postcard signed by little Jackie Coogan, child star, during the silent era, rather than one signed by the older Jackie Coogan in his Uncle Fester period. Who’d want HIS autograph?

Now I’m going to tell you a story that is not cute. It’s my third-hand Jackie Coogan encounter.

My friend Danny Carr’s uncle was in World War II, and he met Jackie Coogan, who was also in that war, and on the same side, as it turned out. Coogan greeted the Brits with the cheerful salutation, “Shake the hand that holds the prick that fucked Betty Grable!”

Like I say, not cute. Of course, he was much older then.

The Sunday Intertitle: Two of a Kind

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2012 by dcairns

THREE’S A CROWD seems to have marked the real downturn in Harry Langdon’s fortunes as a star. Frank Capra liked to blame Langdon’s decline on the fact that he didn’t know his own screen character because he, Capra, had created it. Capra got fired from the Langdon organisation and Langdon certainly foundered on his own.

Joseph McBride in The Catastrophe of Success, his highly critical biography of Capra, heaps scorn on this notion, pointing out Langdon’s long stage career, during which he clearly had some kind of comic character worked out. And indeed, Langdon did not have Capra’s help on all of his early shorts.

The real problem with THREE’S A CROWD is construction, although the film certainly fails to make good use of Langdon’s childlike, melancholy and uncanny qualities. The first ten minutes or so is a pretty good standalone short, with Harry as a sleepy removal man. Much use is made of Harry’s odd apartment, which has a street lamp by the bed, and the extremely long external staircase, which looks like something Tati might have had built. The nicest gag involves Harry falling through a trapdoor and dangling from a carpet that’s caught in the trap. He manages to climb the dangling rug, attempts to open the trap to get back inside, and of course releases the carpet which slides further through, Harry still clinging to it. This is repeated until he’s running out of carpet and about to plummet several storeys. Good suspense gag, good convincing comedy physics.

Then the mother and baby arrive and the film goes to crap. Influenced by THE KID, down to a dream sequence which takes the place of honest plot development, Langdon is given no amusing business involving his new foster-fatherhood, and an inert swaddled infant is no substitute for Jackie Coogan. Inviting the comparison was madness. It’s a shame because Langdon has an extraterrestrial quality, even more so than Keaton. He’s a unique presence and his best moments have an unsettling quality much to my taste.

The film does have THIS, however —

Just beautiful.

Well worth buying these —

Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success

Lost and Found: The Harry Langdon Collection

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