Anniversary Post: Charlie Chaplin’s First Film

Charlie ChaplinOn 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.

12 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Charlie Chaplin’s First Film

    • Oh! I thought you were talking about Chaplin. Yes, well Fireman is also an Edwin Porter film. But you are right: I actually know that film, and it was released earlier that same year. So thanks for correcting me.

      Yes, the films were slammed out. That’s why silent movie stars often have hundreds of credits. DW Griffith directed over 500 films! But as I recall, the 1963 film The Terror was shot in 3 days, when Roger Corman had finished another film, had a weekend left of equipment rental and extra film stock. It doesn’t necessarily take that much time to make a film, if it is the right kind and you have a nimble crew.

      • you know me, I love researching. It is my catnip.

        As for the quickness of films-since these days there is a lot more to making a film then just sticking a bunch of people in a room to let them talk for four days, I can see why it takes so long to make a film. And of course it doesn’t account for the time spent in pre and post production.

        • Well, it depends upon the film. To a large extent, films cost as much as they do because it is just the practice. My brother-in-law is a two-time Emmy award winning sound engineer, and I know: they will improve things for as long as there is money. More can always be true. Compare the effects in the original Star Wars versus the redone ones. I know the originals aren’t generally available, and there’s a reason: Lucas doesn’t want people seeing how awful they look! You could still make something like The Big Chill with very little money and have it be a big hit as long as the story really touched people.

          On the other hand, Peter Jackson’s King Kong was fantastic — much better than anything he did going back to about Dead Alive.

          • Interesting-I liked King Kong as a visual experience but I thought the story was poorly done or maybe that Jack Black was just overacting a little bit too much. He has a habit of doing that.

            It is true that you could make a sleeper hit with sparse sets and story line. I cannot think of many in the past few years though.

            • I loved Jack Black in the film. The character in the other two versions are so terrible. And his long suffering assistant was just perfect. But the main thing was how they brought King Kong to life. When he dies, you cry. It’s devastating. When they dance on the ice, it’s so beautiful. The only part of that movie I have a problem with is the insect lair. It’s really well done, but so creepy!

              Sleeper hits don’t come around often. But they do. Have you seen Happy Texas? I love that film!

              • The answer to any question involving “have you seen X movie” is probably going to be no. It took me three years to watch the first Spiderman movie because I am usually distracted by reading a book or for about eight years, constantly working. But Netflix has Happy Texas so it is going to be watched tonight after I get away from work that I did not expect to be doing.

                I did love King Kong in the movie, they made him seem quite real.

          • “Empire” looks great in the original. It’s really pretty. Just sayin’.

            The opening scenes with Gandalf intoning doom to the hobbits in “FOTR” are very well done; I love them, with the forced-perspective stuff. Once they leave the Shire, it’s sort of a downhill slide for nine hours.

            I’m a fan of the truly twisted Jackson stuff. “Dead Alive” is up there. It’s a shame he got rich, because it seems to have broken his brain.

            I couldn’t watch “Kong” because at the time I knew somebody working on an early version of modern 3D (the company failed) and all they could talk about was how much they hated trying to convert the CGI monster-battles in “Kong.”

            I’m not in contact with that person anymore, so maybe I should give “Kong” another go.

            Plus I tend not to like CGI anyway. There’s not enough actual dynamics of how objects have momentum in most of it. If something moves in the wrong way, it seems fake, even if the graphics are lovingly rendered. Early CGI used old-time claymation artists to teach the computer whizzes how monsters and spaceships should move; now believable motion is out the window. (Sandra Bullock has to let George Clooney go because he’s tugging at the end of her space-walk tether. No, no, no!)

            • What’s so great about it is that King Kong seems alive. He really seems to be dancing with Naomi Watts. In the other two versions, Kong always has the same stupid facial expression when he’s dealing with the Fay Wray or Jessica Lange. And the Carl Denham character is just so much more believable here. In the original, he’s far too reasonable to do the stuff he does later in the film.

              The problem with the LOTR films is that, well, the stories just aren’t that compelling. I thought they looked great.

            • LOTR had one benefit and one only-I managed to get through book one and half of two. Otherwise they are scenery porn.

              I know way too much about medieval battles to enjoy the second two movies. I was like “U R DOING WAR WRONG.” Well except for Karl Urban. He is such a hot guy and so nice!

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