The Kid ★★★½

Chaplin’s most pointed difference in moving to features is his balance of disjunctive tones to flow in and out of narrative and gags. This is one of the struggles of slapstick in the age of features: a series of slapstick gags can’t contain a narrative, and certainly not in the Chaplin style of gags that unlike Keaton, don’t necessarily lend themselves to pushing the stakes of a narrative forward (one of the troubles with Chaplin and narrative has always been the lack of stakes to his narratives: Here in The Kid, the mother only really enters in the last third to finally give his aimless film a plot, but even that is pushed back for the elongated angels and devils sequence, a funny sequence I think 30s Chaplin would have had appear during the first third instead). Another key to this is Chaplin as the composer for his own scores, making a pointed difference in how we must read his scenes based less on image than actually on music (Chaplin is truly cinema’s first “sound” artist in that way). His best dramatic scenes tend to be his quietest and most simple (the exchange of close-ups in City Lights, pretty much every scene in the apartment in Limelight), so the most striking sequence here is the film’s grandiose chase scene (the chase has always been the most important gag for slapstick). It is shot at a slower frame rate so it has a classical visual comic pace, but the blaring orchestral score complicates our usual relationship to this episode: bold genius or an awkward experiment? (YMMV). Episodic sequences like Chaplin and Coogan’s window “business,” their amusing breakfast, and their cute sequence in the inn while hiding from the police (this film might make a good double feature with Ozu’s An Inn in Tokyo in many ways), are pointedly sublime.

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