Comedy Double-Feature: ‘A Century of Cinema’ Film Series

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The series returned to the glorious Paramount Theatre, where the frescos of cherubs smile down from the rooftop. I don’t think there are actually cherubs, but you get the idea; comedy was a much needed respite from last weeks three-hour epic “Intolerance.”

“The Kid”: Charlie Chaplin’s First Feature

The Kid PosterCharlie Chaplin is a classic for a reason, he makes extraordinary films. He cleverly mixes humor and tight emotional drama that could teach a lesson to modern film-makers.

The film is prefaced by the line, “A picture with a smile—and perhaps, a tear,” and it goes on to do just that.

“The Kid” is a somewhat auto-biographical story for Chaplin who grew up very poor. It tells the story of an orphan on the streets of London who is adopted by Chaplains classic character ‘The Little Tramp.’ The child is played silent film star Jackie Coogan (later Uncle Fester), who commands just as strong of a presence on-screen as The Tramp.

In this film, we get a glance at the humanity of Chaplin who somehow creates a tramp that has the nobility of a king. ‘The Tramp’ is present in this film in all his duckwalking, mustache twitching, and cane-spinning glory; yet there is an aspect to him deeper than physical comedy.

The Tramp carries a deep love of life that is endearing. He honestly cares very much for the inhabitants of his impoverished kingdom, and even more specifically, his adopted son—John.

The Tramp & John reunited from The Kid

The Tramp & John reunited

When the orphanage steals John away from The Tramp, we get a glimpse at the characters deep love. It takes three people to restrain him, and he still escapes to chase the captors on the rooftops before making a dangerous leap onto the truck to free his son. His persistence and pure passion is made apparent in the heartwarming reunion that justifies “perhaps, a tear.”

Another notable point, is the portrayal of poverty in 1921. The Tramp’s room, and the street he lives on are a blank slate. There is almost no signage or ads, and the people live on pennies for survival. This is in stark contrast to the poverty that we see today, and what stands apart is the strength of these people. Although they are down and out, they still lead lives with great purpose. The Tramp never flinches at having another mouth to feed when he takes in his new son.

Chaplin has such a brilliant eye. He not only wrote and directed this movie, but also composed the music, which works so well. The songs help to set the stage for the emotions that follow.

Chaplain came a long has from his impoverished roots.

“Safety Last”: Starring Harold Lloyd

Safety Last Poster Harold LloydHarold Lloyd is a somewhat third string Silent Era comedian, perhaps only because he wasn’t a film-maker himself—Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were both directors of their films. But Lloyd holds his own on camera just as strong as the other boys. His glasses and barber-shop style hat create an iconic look, that when matched with his daring stunt work create an unstoppable character.

“Safety Last” would be a fine film on its own, but the final building-climbing scene makes it stand out as an incredible feat of the silent era. The amount of tension and laughs that are generated from this ending is astonishing.

I have been desensitized by the stunts and CGI of modern movie that I always assume is 100 percent safe. But this scene is all Lloyd, who is working his magic with only 8 fingers none-the-less (he blew off his thumb and first-finger by lighting what he thought was a fake explosive). Although there was safety platforms in place, Lloyd takes chances on that ledge that I would never dream of in a million years.

The directions also done very well. The movie opens with a camera trick that makes you think that Lloyd is saying goodbye to his loved ones, and awaits the gallows behind him. Once the camera moves out, you see that it is a train station, and the gallows rope was some device to get messages to the conductor. A very nice camera play that fooled with the viewers’ perceptions.

I can’t stress enough the brilliance of the final scene in “Safety Last.” With each new building story that Lloyd is forced to climb, another hilarious barrier or problem pops up that keeps the viewer guessing again and again. Here is a clip of the final scene:

The film lets you know ahead of time about the next oncoming problem. When Lloyd finally makes it to the top, there is a spinning weather device that you know he is going to hit with his head, but the film creates a tension so strong. When he finally does get hit, Lloyd teeters on the side of the building to incredible length and hilarity.

I am amazed at the strength and nimbleness of Lloyd. As a casual rock climber, I realize the astonishing feats that Lloyd accomplished, and I would not be to keen to take his place on that wall.

Apparently, before the clock scene, they did a test where Lloyd dropped a dummy onto the safety platform hit the safety pad before bouncing and plummeting to the street below. All the more reason to hold tight to that clock handle. Check out this great resource that shows how they performed many of the stunts. The video at the bottom illustrates perfectly how they filmed the clock scene.

“Safety Last” has a timeliness because public stunts will never fall out of favor. This year, famed free-climber Alex Honnold will be attempting to scale a building all his own, but hopefully he won’t be encountering the same obstacles that Lloyd faced (mouse, pidgeons, dog, net, etc.).

Next Week: “Nosferatu” & “The Phantom of the Opera

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