First review I've seen of "Chaplin at Keystone"

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Gary Johnson
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Re: First review I've seen of "Chaplin at Keystone"

Postby Gary Johnson » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:20 am

Since I don’t own the Keystone set as of yet I won’t comment on the film speeds and all of the angst it is causing in some circles - nor will I even comment on it when I do get the DVD. I change speeds all the time when I’m editing film clips so it doesn’t affect me. By the way, why all of the hand-wringing from some of those weasels over at N-trateville whenever Richard, Waverboy (nice name) or anyone else creates a good healthy discussion about film? A passionate argument is made and suddenly their hearts start pounding and the entire thread is threatened to be shut down. I always enjoy when a dispute erupts. It reminds me of the halcyon days of Alt-Silent when verbal abuse was king.

But what I did want to write about was to commend Richard’s vigorous defense towards ‘scruffy Chaplin.’ I also love his early, chaotic demeanor. It’s been said that all comedy is anarchy. (In fact, it was just said by me…..a moment ago.). The Marx’s Paramount films have always been held up as touchstones for anarchic film behavior but in those movies it is only the Brothers who are running amok. The Keystones were an entire universe populated with such antisocial, boorish behavior that it would make the Tea Party blush. And when Chaplin appeared on the scene he became the most unhinged of them all. In fact, the joy he brought to his nose-thumbing toward society bordered on the psychotic at times. He seemed to hit harder, throw more errantly and spit further than anyone else on the lot. He would cause tumult for absolutely no reason at all outside of causing tumult. Even if the gags weren’t always the strongest his attitude always was. Keystone Charlie would take offense at the drop of a hat - then he would stomp on that hat. Violent agitation was his stock in trade while at Keystone.

And then he slowly began to mellow. Not over night and not to the detriment of his comedy but because he did grow and mature his humor inevitably altered. There is no way that the wistful, yearning tramp of CITY LIGHTS could have survived in the world of Keystone. They would of eaten him up alive. But the Keaton of THE BUTCHER BOY would have fared just fine in STEAMBOAT BILL JR. They are almost one and the same. On the face of it Chaplin too appeared to burst on screen with his identity complete. His tramp outfit arrived with his second film appearance (unless Gierucki has gone and unearthed an earlier film credit of Chaplin’s before I finish writing this) but this tramp carried an entirely different mindset from the one in A DOG’S LIFE. It was a totally different tramp. But then again it wasn’t. He was already showcasing that fluid body language. Those wonderful facial expressions were on display and his fascination with inanimate objects was fermenting in the use of his cane. But his thinking was definitely more demonic at Keystone than at First National. There will be moments when we are watching his early films when we suddenly wince and utter, “Oh, Charlie……why did you just throw hot lava into Mack Swain’s face?” “Do not kick a pregnant Phyllis Allen in the stomach!” “HEY!! Don’t slice off Chester Conklin’s hands with that machete!! It ain’t funny, MaGee…”

The transforming of Charlie’s behavior came soon with his jumping to Essanay and the rise in his popularity. Both HIS NEW JOB and THE TRAMP play toward a more humane tramp but old habits die hard. When Charlie is handed a pitchfork in THE TRAMP he doesn’t accidently poke the farm yokel in the behind. He consciously stabs him – repeatedly – as if he were a science professor experimenting with ‘cause and effect.’ In fact, it gets to the point where he uses it to steer the yokel around carrying feedbags as it would spurring a horse. Need I mention that it is quite a funny image? His spurts of sadism would be replaced by rowdiness. THE PAWNSHOP is two reels of horseplay as Charlie does battle with his fellow co-worker with brooms, ladders and baking dough. They finally square off with fists in the backroom. Charlie gets the best of him and begins giving a merciless beating in the best Keystone tradition. He suddenly stops when he hears footsteps, quickly musses up his appearance and falls to the floor in a cowering defense just as Edna enters. She immediately berates the numb and wobbling co-worker as she holds and coddles Charlie close to her bosom. Chaplin’s wit successfully melds his earlier truculent self with a more comedic universal appeal.

Charlie’s personality arc was followed by his cinematic equivalent 20 years later – Mickey Mouse. When Mickey first burst on the scene he was a barnyard hooligan who enjoyed yanking cow udders and sneaking peeks at Minnie’s undies. By the end of the decade he spent his time hoeing his garden in his suburban home. My biggest disappointment with Charlie’s personality shift always occurs when viewing his greatest success, THE GOLD RUSH. Charlie’s pensive tramp has just made contact with the saloon girl and immediately comes to her defense when her boyfriend gets rough with her. This is a scene we saw countless times before when the girl was Edna but here Chaplin is going for something different – more real, more dramatic……..less funny. Charlie flinches and recoils as he tries to play the romantic hero. The boyfriend basically ignores him until Charlie gets in the way one time too many. It takes a comic device to knock out the bully and save Charlie. In the context of the film the scene plays just right. In the context of what we know of the tramp it plays all wrong. We’ve seen Chaplin take out a saloon full of men in the Keystone days, a phalanx of street thugs in the Mutual days and the entire Kaiser’s army in the First National days. Here we are left with the image of our Charlie quaking in his boots over one measly man. What is worse is that he is made a figure of ridicule in the eyes of the motley saloon crowd. That is too much. It is the same uncomfortable feeling I get with the later Laurel & Hardy and Marx Bros. features when directors would have extras laugh with contempt over our heroes antics. But to do this to Charlie?... How dare they? This is a magical man who can assume any demeanor, take care of any situation and right any wrong with the twist of a finger as he slip slides away into a balletic dance of dementia. So whenever that confrontation scene appears in THE GOLD RUSH I quickly transplant the rambunctious hell-raiser from Keystone into the film and watch him dismantle the heavy with a bite to the ear, a poke in the eye and a kick to the stomach that sends him out into the nearest snow bank where he is attacked and eaten by polar bears. For good measures the tramp turns a hose onto the onlookers for a thorough dowsing which, this being the Klondike, quickly turns to pneumonia causing everyone to immediately expire.

After that I allow the movie to continue on to its heart-warming United Artist conclusion but in my mind I’ve already had a most satisfying conclusion – Keystone Chaplin lives on.

Gary J.

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Re: First review I've seen of "Chaplin at Keystone"

Postby Richard M Roberts » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:50 pm

[quote="Gary Johnson"]Since I don’t own the Keystone set as of yet I won’t comment on the film speeds and all of the angst it is causing in some circles - nor will I even comment on it when I do get the DVD. I change speeds all the time when I’m editing film clips so it doesn’t affect me. By the way, why all of the hand-wringing from some of those weasels over at N-trateville whenever Richard, Waverboy (nice name) or anyone else creates a good healthy discussion about film? A passionate argument is made and suddenly their hearts start pounding and the entire thread is threatened to be shut down. I always enjoy when a dispute erupts. It reminds me of the halcyon days of Alt-Silent when verbal abuse was king.[quote]


Well, I notice that Gary 's comment about N-trateville handwringing has in itself caused some new hand-wringing over there, which is entertaining in a silly way, but what I have also found interesting is several folk over there trying to paint silentcomedymafia.com as a bastion of uncivilized malcontents, which as one of the Administrators over here I find to be quite laughable. In the year and change existence of this group, I have only had to bang heads together once, and apart from having the group of the most serious and knowledgeable experts on silent and sound comedy (notice how much trouble that other minor silent comedy newsgroup has in answering even the least complicated or obscure questions these days), the conversations over here are quite civilised indeed. In fact, nobody gets their noses out of joint when a controversial or counter opinion is offered, nobody even jumped on Chris Seguin for thinking the CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE speeds were fine (although he is Canadian, sort of closer to a European, but I have never seen him eat brie, swill wine , or wear a scarf).

So maybe we aren't living up to the attempted slur on our characters. Somebody should start a fight. I could pretend to be John Aldrich and insult myself.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Re: First review I've seen of "Chaplin at Keystone"

Postby Louie Despres » Fri Nov 05, 2010 4:37 pm

Richard M Roberts wrote:
Somebody should start a fight.

RICHARD M ROBERTS


OK, I'm game. I say we have a 2 hour El Brendel slot at next years Slapsticon!

Richard M Roberts
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Re: First review I've seen of "Chaplin at Keystone"

Postby Richard M Roberts » Fri Nov 05, 2010 4:52 pm

Louie Despres wrote:
Richard M Roberts wrote:
Somebody should start a fight.

RICHARD M ROBERTS


OK, I'm game. I say we have a 2 hour El Brendel slot at next years Slapsticon!



No.

Somebody try harder.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Gary Johnson
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Re: First review I've seen of "Chaplin at Keystone"

Postby Gary Johnson » Fri Nov 05, 2010 5:41 pm

Did I ruffle feathers over there? I didn't even notice.
That was just an after thought attached in response to Richard's thoughtful praise
towards Keystone Charlie (not the film speed debate but the actual clown).

Gary J.

Richard M Roberts
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Re: First review I've seen of "Chaplin at Keystone"

Postby Richard M Roberts » Fri Nov 05, 2010 5:54 pm

Gary Johnson wrote:Did I ruffle feathers over there? I didn't even notice.
That was just an after thought attached in response to Richard's thoughtful praise
towards Keystone Charlie (not the film speed debate but the actual clown).

Gary J.


Look in the "site chat" section of threads.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Gary Johnson
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Re: First review I've seen of "Chaplin at Keystone"

Postby Gary Johnson » Fri Nov 05, 2010 7:00 pm

Yes, I sent a polite response to the fella who thinks he has worked with me through my website.

If anyone else has worked on my imaginary website please let me know.
I may have some imaginary paychecks owing me from it.

Gary J.


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