On this day in 1914, the first film starring Charlie Chaplin was released. This is quite interesting for a number of reasons. First, of course: think how late that is: 1914! The Great Train Robbery was released in 1903. That was pretty much the first film that used the editing technique of cross cutting: cutting between two location to indicate that what is occurring is going on at the same time. (People claim it isn’t the first example, but no one has ever shown me anything earlier.) Just one year after Chaplin’s start would come The Birth of a Nation — probably the first thoroughly modern film.
In addition to this, I had always thought that Charlie Chaplin’s first film was, Kid Auto Races at Venice. It is a little six minute film in which the little tramp keeps trying to get in the picture of some guys trying to film the races. There really is nothing more too it. It’s funny for the same reason the little tramp was always funny: his arrogance despite his low stature in society.
Charlie Chaplin’s First Film
But that was not Charlie Chaplin’s first film. That was the first film in which the little tramp starred. It came out a whole five days later than his first film, Making a Living. It is a far more complex film. Kid Auto Races at Venice was just an improvised film. It has no real plot — just a single gag done over and over. The director pushes the tramp out of the scene at the end, but he’s done that several times before and there is every indication that it will continue on as it has.
In Making a Living, Charlie Chaplin pretends to be a gentleman, out and about. He stops a passer by and they chat. But it is all a setup to ask for money. Then, inexplicably, Chaplin gets a young woman to agree to marry him. While telling her mother, the same man comes by and proposes, but she refuses. Chaplin and the man fight. And so on. It actually has a very nice comedic narrative until it, like all Mack Sennett films, it just stops.