The Kid

The Kid ★★★★

Last night I had the good fortune to attend a screening of Chaplin's feature-length debut at Chicago's historic Patio Theater, with Chaplin's score performed live by an 85-piece orchestra. It was thrilling, and while the experience of being in a classic old movie palace hearing the music live no doubt contributed to the enjoyment of the experience, it is Chaplin's timeless classic that makes the night special.
Inspired by the unravelling of his marriage and the death of his newborn child, Chaplin made the picture under great emotional stress, but the only thing that comes off the screen is sweetness and comedy. An almost pure emotional experience, the film is effortless in its narrative thrust, explaining complicated concepts with single images, making one laugh and feel emotionally invested in the Tramp and his little charge, played by the extraordinary Jackie Coogan.
The film moves at a brisk pace and is iconic in its introduction of The Tramp. Having starred in numerous shorts over the previous seven years, the character was popular and instantly recognizable to audiences of any age or culture--there is something so universal, he is down and out, but his spirit is not broken. He gets the best of authorities and other pompous figures, but is quite a fool himself. And most importantly, I believe, he is far from a saint and has appetites, sometimes which get him into trouble.
In the happy ending, the mother who abandoned the babe at the start is reunited with her child, and the tramp seems to have found a home for himself as well. One aspect to note: apparently in the late 1960s Chaplin re-edited the film, cutting 18 minutes of its already short (for a feature) running time. Now with the film clocking in at just over 50 minutes, I am curious if this footage exists somewhere. I know that my lack of knowledge of silent films is a gap in my experience I am currently remedying--I have quite a few silent classics making their way through my Netflix queue currently. The Kid is special, and I look forward to rediscovering Chaplin the filmmaker--to reconnect his artistry to his icon status.