Why Charlie Chaplin’s Kid is worth watching 100 years later


We would like to think that over the last century, Hollywood cinema has changed a lot. In some ways he has. Technically, a lot has evolved, from the overwhelming shift from celluloid to digital cameras or just the types of bulbs used to light a scene. Anyone can watch any movie from a major Hollywood studio today and easily distinguish it from a movie released 100 years ago for purely aesthetic reasons. However, in terms of what the big studios are looking for in stories, honestly, that hasn’t changed too much during this time. Hollywood is always looking to release movies that manage to make you both laugh and get emotional over the long haul, or as a movie would describe it, “A picture with a smile – and maybe, a teardrop.”


This quote is the opening title card for The child, the first feature film directed by a silent movie star Charlie Chaplin. Nicely crystallized in these nine words, the ethics behind The child, released 100 years ago this year, tells you everything you need to know about Hollywood cinema since then. Films made with the intention of reaching as large an audience as possible strive to create that perfect balance between humor and heart. Some of them do. Most of them don’t. Yet all of them look like a movie like The child to guide them, because Chaplin managed to strike that exact balance a century ago. Chaplin’s first feature film, due to its tonal balance and thematic preoccupations, acts as a perfect model for the next century of Hollywood storytelling and incredibly difficult to replicate.

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The child begins with a mother who abandons her child in the car of someone quite wealthy. Unfortunately, the car is then stolen, and the thieves, upon discovering the child in the car, leave it in an alley. Chaplin’s iconic character, the Tramp, meets the abandoned baby and decides to take him in and raise him. Five years later, the Tramp and the titular kid (Jackie Coogan) can barely muster a dime, find ploys and inconveniences to get by, but their love for each other is unquestionable and that of a true family bond. Eventually, the mother comes back into the equation and the authorities try to tear up the Tramp and the child. Of course, things work out in the end.



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Image via criterion

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On three key figures of silent comedy, alongside Buster keaton and Harold Lloyd, Chaplin has always been the most concerned with bringing heart to the film. Sure, he was a skillful physical comedian, but Chaplin’s comedy rarely came from full-scale gags. Where he shone making laughs was in the little moments born of character, basing his jokes on misunderstandings and everyday objects like cigars. Because the humor came from a realistic place, he could weave in and out of humor with the drama of the story he was telling with great ease, since both came from the same source. Thinking of Buster Keaton, the first image that comes to your mind might be him at the front of the train, bouncing railroad ties on the track. The general or neatly through the window on the side of a house that has fallen on him in Bill Jr., and for Haroly Lloyd, you probably imagine him hanging on the clock tower in Security lasts! For Chaplin, it is probably just the figure of the Tramp, where his posture is both funny and a little sad.


A perfect example of how Chaplin mixes comedy and emotion in The child comes in the sequence where the Tramp told the kid to throw stones through people’s windows so he can walk around buy as a window repairman and fix them for a fee. The way Jackie Coogan’s kid likes to throw those stones with a mischievous smile and the way the Tramp keeps pushing the kid away from him after he’s been grabbed by a cop like he doesn’t know the boy is on you. make laugh. However, these moments tell you a lot about the closeness of these two characters thanks to their playful nature. Of course, they make you laugh, but they also get attached to these people and really make you think about their economic situation which forces them to concoct these schemes. Because of this character work, you can build a story to the point of a heart-wrenching scene of a son being snatched from his father and make it look completely natural, even if you laughed until that point.




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Image via criterion

Finding the right balance is no easy task. Quite often you get drama-like movies that have unwarranted or inappropriate jokes or a comedy that happens in a third act that makes you think, “What happened to the jokes? Chaplin knows that creating the right chemistry for the two to coexist requires complete trust in your characters. If the people you follow don’t have definable goals and relationships, the chances that they can make you laugh and cry will be slim. The people of Pixar are Chaplin’s heirs in the modern landscape with films like Toy story, Up, and Upside down. The character holding WALL-E is even a direct and inspired descendant of Chaplin’s Tramp.

So many themes that Chaplin presents in The child still populate a large majority of films today. Outsiders, love of a family (whether biological or chosen), and class discrimination are all fundamental tenets of so many cinematic achievements. In the last few weeks alone we have had Encanto, king richard, and tick, tick … BOOM!, which are all stories of the underdog. Encanto and king richard deal with biological family ties, while tick, tick … BOOM! concerns a chosen family. More, king richard and tick, tick … BOOM! there are also stories of class discrimination. All you have to do is wade through the new release schedule, and every weekend a new movie will be released that explores one, if not all, of those themes Chaplin struggled with in 1921.


“A photo with a smile – and maybe a tear,” has been a Hollywood aspiration for so long, whether it’s Marvel, Amblin, Dreamworks, or whoever makes movies. People like Charlie Chaplin and movies like The child created feelings in people 100 years ago that generations have sought to find since. The very essence of Hollywood cinema grew out of this kind of storytelling, which makes it a distinct part of its DNA. Thousands and thousands of filmmakers stand on the shoulders of the pioneers of cinematic storytelling, hoping to do something as good as the filmmakers in their early days. Even if they are not directly inspired by Chaplin or The child, the foundation of populist and Hollywood storytelling is built from them, making new films inextricably linked to that foundation. When people go to a movie, they’re looking for some sort of release. Sometimes it’s a scream, but most of the time people love to laugh and whether they want to believe it or not, they love to cry. The child earn that opening title card.



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