3. A silent or dialogue-free film: The Kid (1921)
List Progress: 1/12
I decided to kick off the year with a category that I’m usually slow to get to; it takes a greater deal of attention for me to settle in for a silent film, as they’re a bit harder to crochet or cross-stitch to, but I still think this is a valuable category. In expanding my film repertoire, seeing where feature-length films started is an important bit of context for seeing how they’ve grown and developed. And particularly since I’ve published a book with a mime as a main character, the fact that I’ve never seen a full Charlie Chaplin film feels like an oversight. Therefore, 1921’s The Kid.
In Charlie Chaplin’s first feature-length film (though barely, as it’s 53 or 68 minutes long, depending on the cut), he plays his iconic character The Tramp, who stumbles his way into fatherhood. A single-mother has abandoned her newborn son to be raised by a wealthy family, but a series of hijinks finds the baby in the hands of The Tramp, who raises the boy on his own for five years. The Mother quickly regrets her decision but cannot find her son when she goes back, and in the intervening five years she becomes an accomplished actress, though still mourning the loss of her child. When her path crosses that of The Tramp and The Child once more, the ties of love and family are tested.
I was certainly not expecting as much drama and pathos as I got with The Kid. The film is certainly funny, I laughed out loud a couple times, but I was certainly more struck with how much I came to love all of the main characters and feel their pain. Chaplin doesn’t play The Tramp as necessarily goofy, which parodies and spoofs may lead you to believe, but as a well-meaning man floundering in a world that is bigger and meaner than him. The scenes that stick in my mind more than the comedy set-pieces are the smaller moments of the life that The Tramp and The Child have built together. They are poor and they pull petty scams to get by, but their life is filled with love and The Tramp is fiercely protective of his adopted son. A very young Jack Coogan is wonderfully sweet, natural and charming as The Child, so much so that you can understand why it launched him into national fame as a child actor (for better or for worse).
Chaplin was not a great guy by any means, with a penchant for perving on teenage actresses and marrying them once they got pregnant to try and avoid scandal, but his impact on film history is undeniable. The Kid was a lot different than I was expecting, but more than I had hoped for. And with great writing, music and physical performances, it didn’t need a work spoken to get its message across.
Would I recommend It: Yes.