The Kid (1921 – DVD)

“A picture with a smile and perhaps a tear”

After watching The Artist, I’ve decided to make an effort to see more silent films.  So why not start with the master himself Charlie Chaplin. Fortunately the fine team at Park Circus have just released a gorgeous 12 Disc DVD boxset comprising restored presentations of all of Chaplin’s greatest long-films, a selection of shorts, a 25 minute making-of for every movie and a treasure trove of other assorted extras.

I’ve only seen a few silent films and I’ve usually found the bizarre, mannered and melodramatic acting a big turn off.  However one that I saw on telly when I was young was Chaplin’s first long-form movie 1921’s ‘The Kid’ which I remember fondly.  So I couldn’t resist slipping it into my PS3 first before exploring the less familiar parts of the box set (No doubt more posts to follow).

It was a deeply personal film intertwined with Chaplin’s own life. He was suffering a creative block when two things seem to of inspired him to make ‘The Kid’, one was the death of his first child at just 3 days old and the other was seeing a captivating Musichall performance by the 4-year-old Jackie Coogan.  Of course coming from Musichall himself he cast Jackie in the title role of the abandoned kid and his own loveable tramp character as the surrogate father.  What was intended as another short feature became so precious to Chaplin that he expanded it to an hour and went on to shoot 53 hours of footage in a quest for perfection that lasted a whole year.  Knowing that Chaplin was separated from his own mother at seven and placed in a workhouse, gives added power to the scenes where the tramp fights off officials trying to take the kid.

There is only a very small amount of dated acting in evidence here and Chaplin’s tragic-comic performance is wonderful.  But it’s young Coogan’s naturalistic turn as the sweet mischievous kid that breaks your heart and in fact hasn’t aged a day.

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