Over the next week, I will release three posts about some of the earliest surviving Charlie Chaplin films. This is the second of the three. To make it even better for you, the readers, is how you will be able to watch the films yourself too – as the films are so old, no one owns the copywright!
The First Tramp
This is the first time we see Chaplin in full-tramp outfit. And it is incredible. The short is, fittingly, short. As Henry Lehrman, playing himself, films the Kids at the Auto Races in Venice, we see a recognisable character continually walking into shot. The camera is ‘real’, the camera is not ignored as the audience themselves are often caught looking at the camera too – but it is perfect comedic timing as Chaplin walks into shot from different sides of the frame – only to be pushed back out of shot by the director.
Interestingly, we often see the camera showing another camera shooting the action. We are watching the filming of the action itself – whereby the actual director is directing. According to Wikipedia this cutting between the actual footage and third-person perspective of the same situation is to explain the joke better.
A Rough Push
Furthermore, Paul Merton explains in Silent Comedies that “Lehrman gets quite violent with Charlie, on one occasion grabbing him by the throat and pushing him forcefully down to the ground, right out of frame”, going further to state that “the hostility between these two leaps off the screen”. Lehrman had worked for Sennetts production company at Keystone Studios since 1912, directing Roscoe Arbuckle amongst others. But directing Charlie must have been tough for him because Charlie knew how good he was – through his success on the vaudeville stage with Fred Karno – and Charlie didn’t take long before working with a different director. The next film would see Mack Sennett himself intervene on directing duties … but this was the start of something big. Even watching it now, it remains incredibly funny as this drunkard, tramp wanders across the screen at the most inconvenient moments time and time again …