Sunday, March 18, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW - The Kid (1921)

I'm fairly new to the world of silent cinema. I had seen a few shorts before, some Laurel and Hardy sketches mostly and the classic horror movie 'Nosferatu', but Charlie Chaplin's 'City Lights' made me fall in love with the media. Because I was only familiar with silent slapstick and horror, I never realized before that this form of old-fashioned film-making would be so well suited to bringing a touching story to life. I love how Chaplin mixed hilarious comedy with romance and sentimentality. The Tramp is immediately likeable and you want him to succeed in his efforts, whether he's trying to get a girl or bringing up a little boy as his own, you're there with him all the way.

The Kid was Chaplin's first feature length film and was extremely well received. It follows The Tramp as he finds an abandoned baby and tries to figure out what to do with the boy. He decides to raise him as his own and names him John. Because he's so poor, he works together with John in little schemes to earn money. When the boy becomes ill, a doctor finds out that The Tramp isn't his real father and has John taken away to an orphanage. Distraught, The Tramp pursues them to try and get his son back. Meanwhile, the woman who left the baby has become a big star and uses her wealth to do charity work helping the poor.

The Kid, as it says at the start of the film, is a picture with a smile and perhaps a tear. The relationship between The Tramp and his adopted son is very sweet and touching. They struggle, but you can tell that he really cares for the boy. I think the choice of subject, a childhood filled with poverty and hardship, was a very personal one for Chaplin. This was his first full length film, which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in and you can really feel all the effort he has put in it. The story sparks off the screen. The jokes are hilarious, bright and light-hearted despite the desperate situation, but the emotional scenes just tear right into you. A lot of credit is due here for the young Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester in the 1960's Addams Family t.v. show). He's such an excellent actor in this movie. He's endearing as the little rascal that he is, but when it comes down to the more emotional parts in the film, like when he gets taken away, his performance is just heart-breaking. The interaction between the Tramp and John seems so realistic, it's hard to believe that they're not really father and son.

What I think is so special about Chaplin's films, is that The Tramp always goes through a sort of transformation. Or it's more a realization and testing of his true character. For example, John gets into a fight with a bigger boy and the other boys father threatens The Tramp that if John wins, he himself is gonna have to fight this much bigger and burlier man. So, instead of letting his boy win (which he was totally going to), The Tramp holds down his son in order to prevent himself having to get into a fight. Beside this being a really funny scene, it's also a pivotal point in the plot that shows how much The Tramp hates to fight, making it all the more heroic when he does so to win his son back.

I've only seen three of Chaplin's films so far, (the Kid, the Circus and City Lights) but I'd say this was probably my favourite. It's nice to see The Tramp try his hand at romance, but a father-son relationship is a much more difficult thing to get right and he succeeded with excellence. I know that silent films are back into fashion a bit now, with 'The Artist' having done so well, so hopefully more people are willing to check out older movies. I used to think that silent movies would be harder to get into because of their lack of dialogue, but I think that that's exactly why a story can hit you so much harder. You pay more attention to the surroundings, to the physicality of the acting and the interactions between the actors. More often than not the music is enough to convey the mood and with great performances like in 'The Kid' you don't even notice the fact that they aren't talking, because like they say, a picture paints a thousand words. Even if you're not certain you'll be able to get into silent film but you're willing to spend an hour finding out, check out The Kid. (Make sure you watch a remastered copy, it'll look great.) It's not just one of my favourite Charlie Chaplin movies, it's probably one of my favourite all together.

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