Intermezzo – Cinema Of The Romantic

Thoughts On: Intermezzo

This is one of the greatest romances ever conceived. It centres around a love affair between a piano teacher and her student’s father, exploring the idea of a mistake and of the intermittent.

Intermezzo

I absolutely adore this film. I know it’s a remake of the Swedish film that Bergman also starred in, but I’ve never wanted to see it. I don’t know, maybe just in the hope that it’s not better than this. I don’t know what that says about me. Anyway, this film is a masterpiece in my opinion. It’s stood the test of time, but not in the respect it deserves. To me, this is… get ready… this film is Citizen Kane meets Casablanca meets Gone With The Wind meets The Magnificent Ambersons meets The Wizard Of Oz. What the shit did I just say!? Yeah, I said it. And to be honest, this film trumps all but two of those mentioned – The Wizard Of Oz and Gone With The Wind. Citizen Kane is a masterpiece, truly brilliant – you’d be a fool to deny it. On a technical level, I’d say that it’s a better film. But a film is not a mathematic equation. It doesn’t all come down technical detail. Let’s go into the cross-overs though. In the same respect Kane deals with longevity and collapse, so does this. It’s also very divisive, Kane has its Rosebud and Intermezzo it’s camera. The link to Oz is in the idea of fantasy and its conflict with reality. Moreover, the musical influence on both film’s narrative draws them very close tonally. The Magnificent Ambersons connection comes with the idea of family, of mistakes and how to handle them. Again, tonally, there are links here, but through the moral teaching and incite. The Gone With The Wind elements come with the sweeping romantic beats and the questionable nature of attraction and of love. Finally, Casablanca. This is an undeniable classic. A brilliant film. But Intermezzo blows it out of the water. No question. Not one. Intermezzo and Casablanca are the same story, but told from different perspectives. The Bogart character is, in part, Edna Best who played Leslie Howard’s wife. Bergman is Bergman (Anita), and Leslie Howard (Holger) is an amalgamation of the Bogart and Henried characters. Both films deal with the idea of cheating and doing the right thing. The romance elements of Intermezzo make the Casablanca love scenes boring. We all know the Simpsons joke of Casablanca being an old person’s film that bores younger people to death. Well, show them Intermezzo. It’s better paced, better structured, with stronger romance, more poignant questions and a much better pay off–a thousand times more enjoyable as a whole. I would happily watch this film over Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Magnificent Ambersons any day. Any day. Moreover, I could talk about this film for an age longer, I could easily dive into much deeper analysis. For this, Citizen Kane and Casablanca can keep the spots as best films of all time, but only because treasure shared is treasure lost. To me, this is undeniably the artistically better film.

For me, this film represents something imperative to cinema – romance. I’ve said it a thousand times, but cinema is fantasy –  and romance is just that. Some of my favourite films of all time are the likes of The Shining, Requiem For A Dream, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Lord Of The Rings, Godfather, Repulsion, The Good The Bad The Ugly, Donnie Darko… the list goes on for quite some time. But for each Requiem For A Dream there is The Crowd. For each Taxi Driver there is Gone With The Wind. For each Lord Of The Rings there’s an It Happened One Night, My Man Godfrey, The Lady Eve, Some Like It Hot, When Harry Met Sally, Indiscreet, My Fair Lady, Before Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Roman Holiday… again, I could go on and on and on–but I might just end up blushing. It’s in the middle of Die Hard or The Raid that I like to stop myself and say, ‘but you really love Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans–and a bit too much’. Strange, but enough about me. Intermezzo is a quintessential romance. I dare say possibly the best ever. Yeah,  I know there are a trillion other candidates, I’ve probably named a fair few, but what makes the likes of a Titanic, Gone With The Wind or even Casablanca great is the supporting elements of adventure, scale, thrills and action. Boil it down to your core romances like Pretty Woman, Brokeback Mountain, Bridget Jones(ish), Blue Valentine or Lost In Translation, and Intermezzo rises to the top. This is because of what Intermezzo represents. No, it’s not just love, rainbows and kisses, but romanticism. It’s the rainbows, birds, poetry, dazzle, splendour, undercurrent of melancholy and pretension all stuffed into duvet cover of chocolate, comfy socks and snuggles, all on the brink of a whiplashing cringe, but so enchanting that you’re easily lulled away from violent reflex. A great romance is one of the hardest things to pull off. This is because of the recoil an audience is so easily prone to. Yes, you could argue the opposite – that romances are easy because of the malleability of a romantic audience – but I said great romance. Great romances must win us all over. This is why the category dilutes itself when reaching high – it’s also why audiences are split. Again, Titanic, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca. They have guns, action and male leads that appeal to both male and females alike–no, not in that way–but… Clark Gable? Leonardo DiCaprio? Let’s not kid ourselves. Anyway, the films become more universal or they split an audience. I for one hate, HATE, The Notebook. I can’t sit through it. I know others who feel the same way about Pretty Woman, so, yes, I understand how you don’t get a person liking so many romances but not The Notebook.

Intermezzo is a great romance. I wouldn’t stretch to say it’s nearly as popular as it maybe should be to be considered great, great, but… semantics. However, what I want to talk about with this film quickly is the idea of romance and how modern romances aren’t much in the face of the classics. I’ll preface this by saying the Before trilogy is one of the greats as is Blue Is The Warmest Colour and Blue Valentine. Classics are always a mark above the average films of its time and usually act as an amalgamation of all that’s great about them. But, the three modern classics just mentioned aren’t very conventional. Not at all. If you wanted to argue a modern romance that represents modern cinema you could say The Notebook, but, as is obvious, I don’t agree. What my point here is, is that modern cinema can’t produce great romances like the 30s, 40s and 50s. Two words: screwball comedy. Compare that to romantic comedy–which is the same thing, but in modern terms (as well as seriously lacking censorship)–and something falls flat. Spoilers, it’s the rom-com. More than that, what really kills modern romances is their audience. No, I’m not attacking them, but the direction filmmakers feels they have to aim. One of the biggest demographics of classics films, of the cinematic golden age, were considered to be women–they always have been to be honest. What has changed is the age bounds. Classic films were more mature, but for the sake of family. Modern films less so. Yes, we get sex and nudity, but that isn’t maturity. How you deal with it is maturity. That doesn’t matter. I don’t want to fall into semantics here, merely say that romance has dumbed down, have appealed to a specific niche of teens. This isn’t a point that really needs proving though. Firstly, Twilight. Secondly, one word: poetry. Where has that gone? Yes, cinema and numerous other forms of ‘easier’ entertainment killed poetry off (in a general sense) but look at the dialogue in this film. Come back to Casablanca here even. ‘Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine’. Compare that to ‘You, complete, me. You, complete, me’. It’s kind of reduced to an ‘I love you, I love you, I love, I luuuuuuuve you’ from Singin’ In The Rain, no? What I mean here is that poeticism has been lost a little. Eloquence is often met with a scoff–or at least all attempts toward it–in modern cinema. Short and concise. That’s how we want it. What this links to is the pop song and the deep dive into this film…

Music is a key feature of this Intermezzo, as it is in many romances. You can even look at 50 Shades Of Grey. They decided to stop the film for 3 1/2 minutes to have a helicopter buzz about, drowned out by some crappy pop song. It’s a terrible film, but the point stands. I know very little about pop songs of today, let alone throughout the ages, but the dumb-down paradigm has obviously struck in this region too. I mean, compare Mozart to Miley Cyrus. Unfair, but who do you think would have more twitter followers? Here we can link together the two key elements that make this film brilliant. There’s the music and then the mature, controlled tone. I don’t just mean music in the sense that Bergman plays the piano and Howard plays a violin–we’re not going to end up talking about Dirty Dancing or the band camp elements of American Pie, don’t worry. The film itself is like a piece of music. Before getting into that we have to quickly go into something else. The biggest down falls of romances are that they are romantic. Romanticism is icky and, as has been said, it’s very hard to hit the sweet-spot just before cringy and clinging but just after cold, distant and creepy. Just think of the three words, I love you. Have the likes of Orlando Bloom–Orlando Bloom in Troy–whisper that in your ear. Whilst some may swoon, it’d get weird and uncomfortable for most. On the opposite end of the spectrum imagine Steve Buscemi (in Fargo) saying he loves you–yeah, most of us are running away. We’re getting off point though. What I mean to say is that romance can be hard hard to swallow, but at best it’s predictable. But, that’s the joy. We all love the boy meets girl pictures because we know were getting what we paid for. We don’t usually like a Romeo and Juliet sprung on us without warning–why’d you think rom-coms are so popular? Coming back to it, the musical elements of Intermezzo come with its beat. You can almost feel the screenwriter tapping to a metronome. The same goes for the acting. Now, we all pretend to know what good acting is. Suffice to say, I probably don’t, but I am aware of style. You become very aware of this by watching older films. Modern acting has to be as real as possible. Classical acting is more akin to the stage with emoting being primary. You can see this best in Bergman. If you watch closely–which is no task–you can see her mannerisms crossing over her pictures. You can also see a hint of the cogs working behind her eyes. The same goes for romance in general. You can see the inner workings – the beats to come. This is the musical element of this film.

With acting and story you come to expect a rhythm and rhyme and get it. What then becomes primary here is execution – which can only be judged by how much you enjoy the film. For me, this resonates deeply, when I watch it, it almost becomes an old friend. (I don’t know what that one says about me). The same goes for the downfalls of romance. It’s largely about reception–if it creeps you out in a Steve Buscemi sense or it gives you those unwanted Bloom chills or… I don’t want to fit a simile into the last one–something about McConaughey or DiCaprio that doesn’t make me sound gay. So, by getting the rhythm of the film right, what matters next is tone. This is where that idea of maturity comes back in. This film features incredibly enraging themes. No one much likes a cheater or someone who abandons those who love them – the film is fully aware of that. This is what makes the film artistically brilliant. It’s easy to say don’t cheat and treat your family right. It’s in this sense that it’s easy to be a romantic. What makes Intermezzo work however, is it’s fall away from romanticism (in the guise of true and/or eternal loves). What modern and more basic romances do is appeal to the son and daughter’s mentality in this film. The boy hates his father for leaving with the piano teacher. He refuses to see him as a person who makes mistakes, that risks stupidity. This doesn’t justify anything, but allows the film to say something true. The idea here is that despite the intermittent, family still clings together. The ending of this film doesn’t affirm that everything will be all right, simply that the family is willing to try. More than that, the film makes clear that family cannot be entirely broken from. This is a common theme in romance, just look at Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans. This is also why Holger and Anita eventually have to part. Family ties become an inevitable wall. The mature and toned-down approach to this common idea is what separates it from your average romance–the same goes for Casablanca, but Intermezzo does the better job. Ingrid Bergman said it herself when she didn’t expect the picture to have done so well. What allowed it to do so was the strength of that core idea, the style and execution–but all bettered by Intermezzo. Rosebud was Kane’s crux, his link to childhood. The camera in Intermezzo isn’t featured as heavily as rosebud, but is just as effective. It’s a symbol of the image itself. Of a captured moment of the past, as opposed to current and living. The girl wants a camera to remember her father, but in getting it will only be short-changed. Her accident in the end of the film, though clearly a writer’s device, is justified by what it means. Had she received the camera, her father would be nothing more than a picture on the wall–like she sees him as. But through tragedy, the family is brought together. This is the Us vs. Them elements explored in Sunrise.

All in all, it’s the constant movement of plot, of sound, of emotion coupled with the romantic lighting, the soft, angelic glow (given what is probably the most beautiful women ever filmed) and the eloquent, mature conduct used to handle what is little more than bad conduct that makes this film great. It sums itself and romance up best with its one word title. Intermezzo. A connective piece of music, light, yet dramatic. Romance binds reality with hope for the sake of entertainment. What makes it poignant is not weight, hard notes, big trumpets or a thousand piece orchestra, but that one violin and accompanying piano. If it resonates, it resonates. You just have to get the tuning right and then hit the correct notes.

 

 

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The Survivalist – Alone

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The Survivalist – Alone

Thoughts On: The Survivalist

This contained sci-fi thriller stays with a man, the survivalist, in a world where the population has plummeted and food supplies are scarce, leaving only the adept and resourceful left to scratch their living. All until two women show up and threaten the survivalists precarious existence.

The Survivalist

This is one of those pictures you stumble upon, a film that reminds you that there’s always good material out there. This came out almost precisely a year ago – in a year that was quite good. 2015 gave us Inside Out, The Martian, Sicario, Brooklyn, The Revenant, Hateful Eight, Creed, Anomalisa and Straight Outta Compton. Three of those really blew me way, but the best film of 2015 was definitely The Lobster. Check out the link and please find the film if you haven’t seen it yet. The Lobster was, for me, another one of those gems you stumble upon and are just blown away by. I feel this is because you feel a sense of ownership over more obscure films – especially when they are good. That said, that doesn’t mean my expectations for such films are lower than blockbusters or for better know pictures, I go into all films with the hope that they’ll be good, but braced for crap. At the same time however, I think those who really love cinema prefer to have their favourite films be more obscure. This is what I meant by a sense of ownership – it’s like not wanting all the other kids to play with our toys. We just like to keep some things to ourselves. Anyway, this is a brilliant film. It’s only downfalls come with the long haul it prepares you for with its tremendous atmosphere and control of pace, but then almost abrupt end. Straight off the bat it’s made clear exactly what this film is, you know you’re going to be alone with this guy, in silence, trapped in wilderness. I didn’t even know that the two women were going to come along. I always like to go into films entirely cold. I don’t read or watch reviews, I skip the synopsis and refuse to watch trailers (as much as I can). I sometimes even wish I hadn’t know the title of a film as they can sometimes misrepresent it as a whole, merely implying it’s premise. Two recent films come to mind with these ideas. The first is Hush which came out a few weeks ago and is about a deaf, mute woman who is trapped in her house by a murderous psycho. Not a bad film, but what has ‘Hush’ got to do with much? Yes, the woman is deaf, but Hush implies the film is about the woman hiding. My hope was that we’d follow the bad guy, and be forced to prey on the woman, leaving the title a sadistic nod to the audience. Twisted, but interesting. On the other hand, I think the film would have been a lot more interesting if we just stayed with the woman–were completely put in her world. Instead, direction splits the action, giving both characters equal sway and so, what you get is in spite of the title – which kind of makes sense, but merely feels like a trigger. I won’t spoil anything, but suffice to say the film isn’t about damsels in distress and is an objection to logic in horror films–a subject for another time however.

The Invitation is also a film that came out recently and is, in concept, the same as The Gift – which came out late last year. A guy and his new girl friend are invited to his ex-wive’s home for an awkward, possibly malevolent, evening. Again, not a bad film, but this one is quite floored. Like in The Gift, the film wants to lead you on a twisting path, always whispering that something bad is going to happen whist showing the opposite. The problem with this is mainly that I don’t like mysteries. These are active stories, they require an audience to participate, to guess what happens next. But, there’s keeping you guessing, and then there’s walking away a second before climax, leaving you high, dry and frustrated. In other words, this film teases way too much. The problem with this, especially when you go into the film blind, is that you’re given expectations. I walked into The Invitation thinking the intriguing aspects of Eyes Wide Shut were going to meet Funny Games or Saw. Instead, what you get is a sit down and talk film something more akin to A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof or Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (without the great acting–still, not bad). You can feel that maybe the picture belongs on the stage, but don’t mind that it’s on the screen nonetheless. But, the problem in The Invitation is that it tells you over and over and over and over that that’s what it is (a filmed stage play with a few cinematic elements) when you know it isn’t, when you know there’s going to be blood and carnage either at the second act marker or the half way point. *Spoilers* It holds out to the third act. *Spoilers over* But, knowing what to anticipate with this film makes it better. You can sit down and absorb the narrative – something that won’t happen unless the film is half spoiled for you. The Invitation has quite a few interesting ideas, but I just couldn’t get into them because of how much the film wanted to distract and lead me on. I mention these two films (Hush and The Invitation) because I didn’t feel there was enough in them for me to want to write a whole post about, but also because they reflect what works so well in The Survivalist. Firstly, the title is spot-on, not elaborate or too deep, but well suited. Secondly, as I said before, you know where you stand with this film from the get go. You shouldn’t need trailers, reviews, a synopsis to have a film work. I think it’s perfectly fine to go into films having seen trailers and so on, but if it can’t stand on its own, then the screenwriter’s made a mistake. Hence my issues with The Invitation. I may make a return to it though as with second viewing I’ll be able to digest it better (not have the sly nature of the writing annoy me) but, we’ll see if it pops up in a later post. Anyway, on with The Survivalist…

This film, as should be pretty obvious, is about being alone. Start to end this film is quiet and controlled. This allows for it to be enthralling when little is happening, but very intense when things get… let’s just say this film is quite graphic. It isn’t graphic in a exploitative sense, but realistic–you’re alone in the forest and nudity doesn’t much matter to you. But more than that, there are quite a few teeth grinding moments, one in particular that you will definitely be aware of if you’ve seen the film. Those elements I felt were all handled well though. Like I said in the beginning, the only real problem with the film is the run time in face of atmosphere. I could have easily accepted half an hour, maybe an hour of more story in this film, but it’s only 100 mins long. This left the end abrupt. That’s not to say it wasn’t satisfying or right for the film, but, tonally, the director (Stephen Fingleton – this being his first feature) didn’t handle the arc of the story too well. The climax didn’t rise high enough to obviously be a climax–but leaving me want more isn’t much of a criticism. Let’s get into this though. Here on out I won’t be censoring story elements like I did for the other two films discussed as this is both a year old and I don’t want to merely review, but explore. Anyway, one thing good survival films remind us all is that we are doomed if that zombie apocalypse really happens. As in the film everything will be brought down to a very primitive level. What really makes this film work is it’s frank pragmatism. The young thrive (get by), men are the hunters and the protectors whilst women have to employ more devious means of surviving when they can’t get on with men. This of course translates to the two women (one old, one young – mother and daughter probably) only being able to stay with the man in exchange for the younger of the two having sex with him. In a modern context, that rings all the bells and buzzers as women are strong and independent. Which they are, which leaves me utterly astounded knowing that people would object to the younger girl exchanging sex for food. Does that not take strength? Is that really so unfair? Both men and women are using each other, but in equal return. If there is any unbalance it’s in the fact that the man is literally trading away his life (food) for sex. But, in my opinion that’s nonsense–as the film makes clear.

Bringing everything down to a need and want level could alienate some as the film has traits of a romance–but that it is not. The film doesn’t devolve into romance to illustrate a point of human need. This is beautifully portrayed on-screen with as much dialogue taken out of the scenes as possible, replacing words with action as to conjure the atmosphere of a pure cinema that the film perfectly understood it required. Character action and intent is clear as day allowing the pragmatism of the film to delve deep into a tug of war between personal existence and surviving as part of a group. This comes back to the idea of food vs. sex. It’s the film in a rough nutshell. It’s life in a rough nutshell to be honest. You simply can’t disagree with the man who has been in the forest for 7 years (alone in part, but with a brother who died early on) wanting to keep a young woman in his company. At the same time, you can’t disagree with an older woman wanting to kill him to take over his farm and secluded home. What the film argues is primarily in juxtaposition to the idea of equality that we are so fixated on. Women and men are shown to be different in this film (which they obviously are). However, in the end we need each other. When the predators come lurking, the man is there to fend them off. When the man is hurt, the women are there to tend his wounds. When night comes and both are alone, they are there for each other. Men and women have been objectified, but for the purpose of objective. To de-objectify or un-objectify either is to lose sight of the primary goal, of the objective: survival. Alone both suffer. This is becoming more and more relevant in a society of growing individualism. I’m not against this, but it’s clear that we need reminding of that zombie apocalypse. In my opinion, this is why The Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones, Hunger Games (all the other Y.A dystopian adaptations on top of that) and GTA V are the most popular genres in each of their fields respectively. What intrigues us is the idea that we are not equipped for their chaotic worlds. In the same way Grug, the caveman in The Croods, paints cautionary tales of individualist adventure on walls, we’re making films that require us to adapt a few of his mannerisms before his whole character arc. This isn’t a devolution, but reminder that we must be adapted to our environment.

More than reminding us where we sit in the world, this film expresses just why we are individuals in modern society. Individuality is an illusion. You’re only allowed to dye your hair blue, wear tattered jeans, and cruise about on a long board because of the huge system around you. Humans are closer than ever, this is the paradox of the modern information age. Yes, industrialisation took us away from our physical roots, from the countryside and into cities, but only because countries as a whole were learning to look after each other. It’s because we have a vast network of commodity whirring about us that we can ignore the fact that we are so dependant on each other. In the film’s world everyone is hostel, willing to kill to get by. Sure you might say you’d kill to get the last pack of muffins in the store, but come on. This is the likes of which Game Of Thrones and Hunger Games speak to. They, like this film are anti-individualist for the sake of the individual. You are a human in these worlds. Nothing more. You are alive with a gun or knife in your hand or you are dead without one. There are are no long boarding, blue haired, snowflakes. This is the social commentary of the film. Forget who you are and remember what you have, what you can do, who is standing by you. This is what so many films are screaming at us, check my film list and you’ll see that so many films are about you, but ‘you’ as an idea, as a human. We refuse to look at ourselves in this light so often. This sucks away all pragmatism, all sense, all ability to analyse truth beyond moral or opinion. I cite In TimeSunrise: A Song Of Two Humans and Grizzly Man here. Names matter, but only to a select few. This explains the end of the film. It doesn’t matter to us what the survivalist’s name was, or what his baby will be called. It’s none of our business. What matters is his actions. You could say that he was a selfish person, that everyone in this world is savage and immoral, but, firstly, grown up, and secondly, what else are we supposed to be? We are our actions, not that sound people make so we turn our heads. I don’t mean this in a ‘you be you’ sense. I mean this is a tree fallen in a dark woods sense. We shouldn’t care what people have done, who they claim to be, but who we know them as, what we have seen them do.

All in all, The Survivalist makes the fundamental of utmost importance, reminding us that characters are actions and that we are all indeed characters in ourselves. Dependant or independent, in our world, as a human, you still need others. Before you go, click those links up there if you’ve not read the posts. Or, the ones below for more Thoughts On: film essays like this one on a wide range of films…

 

 

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The Kid – Chaplin’s Fourth Wall

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Intermezzo – Cinema Of The Romantic

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The Kid – Chaplin’s Fourth Wall

Thoughts On: The Kid

Chaplin’s debut feature-length film is about a Tramp who finds an orphaned boy and raises him as his own son. This is ‘a picture with a smile – and perhaps, a tear’.

The Kid

If anyone is in need for an introduction to silent cinema, Chaplin is the place to start. For me, true cinematic magic is embodied by silent films. Their purity, their simplicity, makes for something more real than the realist films such as Saving Private Ryan, 12 Angry Men, or Departures. Films that are supposed to capture reality, make you feel like what is happening is more than flickering frames, do so by putting you in the action, by using cinematic language. We can take a recent example of The Revenant here and see techniques adapted from Saving Private Ryan. Both films characterise the camera. You’re a soldier or a frontiersman. Both Inarritu and Spielberg force us into constant POV, using natural lighting and a ‘head on shoulders’ kind of camera movement. This is done through handheld and steady cam, after all, life is perceived little more than a steady cam long shot. But, the realism in cinema has always chased after, especially since the birth of talkies and films being considered more than moving pictures, is, in some respect, pointless. The Kid is one of the most realistic films of all time because, like Saving Private Ryan or The Revenant, it employs cinematic language to present a type of perception we are so familiar with. Without steady cam, without eloquent cinematic diction, The Kid does something magical. We are made to be a fly on a wall. The beauty of this film is in the way the camera is a silent bystander. This is true of all cinema, but the further back in time we go the more instinctual it becomes. This is easily explained through the idea of giving someone a camera and telling them to ‘go ahead’. Give a camera to someone who’s seen a film, that watches T.V, uses the internet, and what you will probably get will be a film without nuance – Star Wars in a back garden, Die Hard in a park. Give a camera to someone who’s never heard of cinema, a camera, T.V, video and you may well presume you’ll get something like a simple shot of people getting off a boat, walking down the street, leaving work, a train coming into a station. There is little nuance there too at face value, but where would they place the camera? How would they light the shot? How would they frame, block? They’d work by best guess, by how they think they’d see things. This is why silent films are flat. First, they mimic theatre, allowing actors to perform to a camera. But, what they better represent. especially with outside of sets, is the bystander. We can see this with The Kid. We stand at the corner, across the road, on the opposite side of the room, with inserts being used to indicate focused attention. The magic of silent cinema comes with blurred line between the literal everyday and the manufactured everyday of modern (post 30s) cinema. The magic is in their acceptance of the fact that they’re a film – and with the movement over the last 90 years away from the ‘lie’, the accepted ‘artifice’, that was early cinema, only came fabrication. This is because cinema is inevitably fantasy. That, however, leaves early cinema, to the modern viewer, as alien at worst, but pure and true at best as it accepts that fact.

All of that coupled with the ideas about character and audience I explored with Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans makes The Kid astoundingly powerful. When it says it’s a story with ‘perhaps, a tear’ you better believe it. Like Sunrise it deals with the theme of relationships, but The Kid explores this idea with focus on the fourth wall. Of course Chaplin was one of the silent era’s greats, especially in regards to comedy. But, who he is always compared to is Buster Keaton. Both were silent clowns. Keaton is thought of as indifferent to his audience, he didn’t want their sympathy for it was through self-derision that he got laughs–he was almost laughed at. Chaplin was the first to create a truly sensational character that was known nationally and internationally–his Little Tramp. Chaplin wanted the audience’s sympathy, his films were manufactured to have you fall in love with his character. In short, he was the better story teller, but Keaton was the better filmmaker. To understand this we only have to look at a masterpiece such as Sherlock Jr and compare it to The Kid. I won’t go too deep into that though because Keaton’s and Chaplin’s worlds are very different and so I’ll have to look into Keaton’s at a later date. But, to get into the meat of The Kid we need to look at Chaplin’s fourth wall and the way he made films in regard to character and situation. Most average movie goers under the age of twenty, probably would have gone to Deadpool and seen a whole new way of making films. To a 12 year old who snuck into Deadpool, breaking the fourth wall is something you see in cartoons a lot, but film is a completely different thing. That 12 year old however would have seen the post credit scene and not had a clue what was going on (probably), whilst anyone familiar with the 80s obviously would have got the Ferris Bueller reference. And, to most, Ferris is the prime example of a fourth wall breaking character. Someone a little more versed in cinematic history would rather point to Goddard and the French New Wave for the revolution in film underpinned with movie references and of course fourth wall breaks. But silent cinema is where it all started. From the very get go, Chaplin played with the camera. You can see this with the fourth wall being broken as the gag to Kid Auto Races At Venice. So, yeah, Deadpool is not a new way of making films as this has been done for over 100 years (in film alone). That’s so surreal in my mind as I’m sure it would be in the mind of that 12 year old who snuck in to see Deadpool.

Anyway, we’re not just going to talk about breaking the fourth wall, but the whole idea of walls in Chaplin’s films. It’s from Chaplin that we can best learn how to make characters loveable, to embrace the audience and emote. Everything from the Looney Toons, to the French New Wave, to Ferris Bueller, to myself has it’s roots in Chaplin and his style of filmmaking. This is because, as flies on the wall, Chaplin can turn to us and say that he needs us, ‘look at this’, ‘WTF?’, ‘can you believe this?’, ‘help!’ and so on. He forms a relationship between us and himself in a way that transcends narrative whilst enhancing it. This links into the similarities between books and silent films. Books imply with words, they can never truly show you an image of a character in a literal sense. Instead they give you the feeling of them. Silent films can’t give you a character’s voice, but makes up for this by letting them speak with body language in the same way characters in books have their mind and thoughts put on the page. It’s with ambiguity that an audience member can substitute themselves, or the things they like, into a character and make it their own. We can see this idea manifest itself in modern cinema with a respect for an audience. An example is that Inception trusts an audience, assuming they can and will follow the complex plot. The likes of The Avengers or the later Mission Impossible films also show respect to an audience in their attempt toward self-critique. It’s Hawkeye pointing out the absurdity of a guy with a bow on a floating city, fighting alien A.I things (I might be mixing movies up). Either way, it’s also Benji or Hawkeye in a suit without a bow explaining away questionable plot devices like swimming away from bullets by floating a light in a direction opposite to you (fun and self-aware, but, not enough for the writer to have just written something better). By breaking the fourth wall, by leaning on the audience, we grow closer to characters. This doesn’t always work though. If we stay with Marvel, they are constantly leaning on the fourth wall. The whole concept of a comic book movie shatters walls. By this, I mean to talk about fan service. A Marvel film knows you want Hulk to smash and them giving it to you leans on the fourth wall like Chaplin allowing character nuances, such as the cigarette kick or the Tramp’s walk, to pass over all his films does. But, pure fan service doesn’t always work and we all know examples of this and so shows that you can lean a little too much on a fourth wall sometimes.

You may be thinking that marketing and knowing your audience has nothing to do with breaking a fourth wall, and it doesn’t directly, but making a blockbuster is all about you – and you are the fourth wall. Most films have the standard fourth wall, quite a lot have one you can lean on – you find these mainly in comic book movies, horrors and comedies – and a select few have a wall of their own. Chaplin, Keaton, Goddard, Fellini, Truffaut, Tarantino(ish) all have unique walls in their films. Chaplin’s is characterised by most of the things we’ve discussed so far. There’s the forced perspective, the breaks and the consideration of the audience. Mix this with the image of the Tramp and there, more or less, is Chaplin’s wall. But, what matters and to understand the point of having this wall, we need to consider it in relation to the film’s themes. The Kid is about the concept of parenthood (click here for more on this theme). More specifically, it is about being a parent. The film opens with a mother unable to care for her child. In an attempt to give him a better life, she leaves him in the car of a rich family. However, the car is stolen and the baby abandoned, giving the Tramp opportunity to take him in. Meanwhile, the mother feels she has made a mistake and goes back to reclaim the child – only to find that the car and baby are gone. This film is a metaphorical projection the mother’s anxieties. Without a father, without money, raising the kid would be very tough – she may have to resort to crime to feed and clothe the child. This is the Tramp’s situation, but veiled in levity. Despite the cold mornings, chasing police officers, empty pockets and gas metre that had to be broken into, the two get on in life. Circumstance is transcended by the bond the two share – the same bond that made the mother want to take her boy back. The film is then a sequence of growing conflict about the father and son culminating with the heart wrenching scene where the Kid is taken from the Tramp and he has to fight to get him back. To me, is the most powerful scene cinema has ever produced (if you disagree, tell me yours in the comments). This is because of the bond Chaplin established through the idea of parenthood. We all have parent figures and some of us have children. We are all hard wired to understand this concept. But, let’s not jump ahead, after escaping the authorities, only to have the Kid taken from the Tramp as he sleeps, we come to the fantasy sequence.

I know I started this by citing the realism of film, but only meant this in terms of direction and camera placement. So, the fantasy scene is again another projection of an unforgiving world for a parent. This mirrors the mother’s short journey and the Tramp’s–it’s also quite surreal and, to the movie goer who doesn’t much care for meanings and interpretations, it’s quite the non-sequitur. But, what the fantasy sequence does is project a heavenly world whilst implying that the Tramp has died–possibly committed suicide or just succumbed to cold and the bitter nature of poverty because he’s lost his son. In giving up, the Tramp can dream, just like the mother, sat on the bench in the beginning of the film having just abandoned her child, supposed and hoped. The Tramp sees an idyllic world where he is alone, but with his boy nonetheless. He quickly comes upon a young girl–a lover, a possible mother for the Kid. She however is naive and young. She succumbs to demons and cheats the Tramp, leading him into an authoritative trap. The police man and stuffed bully represent the cycle of violence and incarceration found in dire situations of extreme poverty like those of the mother and Tramp. The world seems to be against them. This is what the film tells us three times over and is a universal feeling we all share time to time–some more than others. The cycle however is only broken when from tragedy comes success and from struggle comes a gem of the past. In other words, the mother goes onto be a successful singer, but ultimately unfulfilled because of the scar of leaving her son. However, by chance, her baby was saved and the Tramp did what she probably couldn’t have done at the same time as raising the boy. With The Kid, Chaplin asserts that people need support despite their circumstance. After all, in 1910s/20s, impoverished single mothers or unofficial surrogate and single fathers wouldn’t have received much aid in raising their child. You could argue the same of today. It’s with these earnest, tragic, but not fatalistic, concepts Chaplin’s fourth wall really shines. He appeals to most empathetic parts of ourselves without seeming desperate. (Fan service doesn’t work at times for this reason – desperation). Character’s can’t be sympathised with without concepts that we all understand–that may say the obvious–but that are presented in a complex and emotive way.

Bringing everything together, Chaplin’s direction, his acting, character and situation building, his lack of shame to look into the camera and ask for help, is what imbues his pictures with magic. All in all, Chaplin’s tone and understanding of who the audience is in relation to himself and the Tramp is what will make his last forever and his contribution to cinema echo throughout the ages.

 

 

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