Saturday, August 06, 2011

Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. (1914)

Watching Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal., two things immediately come to mind: the irony that the crowd watching the film being made is watching the man who, within the year, would become the most famous person the world had ever known, and yet watch his antics here without the slightest clue as to who he is. The other is that the film, despite its obvious importance as the first public appearance of Chaplin's "Tramp" character, really lacks any strong comedy. The last time I blogged about this film here, I praised it for kidding Keystone's own habit of taking advantage of public events as a backdrop for their comedies, and for demonstrating an awareness of the medium itself by having Chaplin play directly to the camera.

Watching it again, though, the fact that the same basic idea is repeated over and over becomes all too clear. It really is the cinematic equivalent of an infant who's discovered a home movie camera and starts making obnoxious faces. By the time the film arbitrarily ends on a giant close up of Chaplin pulling faces into the camera, it's clear that this was a throwaway effort, made to take advantage of a public event that could serve as a backdrop. It also had the unintended advantage of allowing Chaplin to test out his character in front of a "live" audience. This is the first in a series of the Chaplin-Keystone comedies shot at a racetrack, and could have benefited from a fun impromptu feel, but the film ultimately suffers for a lack of inventive comic business, made even more apparent through endless repetition.

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