Sunday, 12 April 2015

1914: Kid Auto Races at Venice

 Kid Auto Races at Venice
Cinema's 20th year, and Chaplin makes his first appearance.
Chaplin was on tour in the USA with Fred Karno's music hall company when a talent scout from Mack Sennett's Keystone studio spotted him and offered him a contract. His first film for Sennett was "Making a Living", in which he plays a slimy swindler in a top hat. That film, not uniquely for Keystone, is a bit an incoherent mess. His next, the first in which he used the famous Tramp character and costume, was "Mabel's Strange Predicament", with Mabel Normand. In that film the character appears almost fully formed, trying to charm ladies in a smart hotel lobby despite being very down on his luck.
His next film, though, "Kid Auto Races at Venice", was released before that and was therefore the Tramp's debut.
There's no story- it was reputedly filmed in forty-five minutes and looks it, but it's interesting for what it represents - the world's introduction to a cultural icon.
It seems that part of Sennett's modus operandi was to send a crew out to anything that was happening in the neighbourhood and improvise a film around it. Here, they're covering a kids' go-kart tournament at Venice Beach, and Chaplin's tramp is one of the audience. Having spotted the camera, he plays up to it and keeps putting himself between it and the action, to the annoyance of the director (played by the actual director, Henry Lehrmann) who keeps pushing him out. Lehrmann is a bit brutal with his shoves at times and it's not always clear how much of it was Chaplin was prepared for.
At this point in time, audiences were probably a bit weary both of films that covered mundane events and of random members of the public in those films who insisted on drawing attention to themselves. It would have been fun for audiences to see that parodied, especially played with such an air of self-importance from an obvious nonentity.
The public's reaction in the film is interesting to watch too. None of them have seen this man before and at first they pay him no attention, thinking he's exactly what he's pretending to be, but as the film goes on they start to get the joke and enjoy it. In just a few months Charlie would be world famous, and it would be impossible for him to shoot this sort of film ever again.