Throw Back Wednesday: The Gold Rush

Charlie Chaplin

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Image found at slidefinders.com/Actors/quotes/Chaplin

“Get out of the picture,” are the words any viewer can imagine the cameraman and the audience, by extension, screaming as a disheveled ruffian clamors for the gaze of the lens, disrupting the filming of an automobile race during the silent picture of Kid Auto Races at Venice (Henry Lehrman 1914).

With a runtime barely over six minutes, the cinematic skit is largely experimental, a showcase to advent of cinema technology. The film’s narrative, if one could call it that, is fairly simplistic, featuring crowds of people watching a race while a seemingly drunken man stumbles, fights, and, for all intents and purposes, gets in the way of the filming.The rather obnoxious buffoon, though un-credited, is none other than the infamous Charlie Chaplin, donning an early incarnation of his enigmatic persona of The Tramp.

Chaplin’s iconic performance as the Tramp, whose popularity grew with each role reprisal, allowed viewers a true glimpse of the actor as something beyond a screen image that functioned a nothing more than an instrument of the film apparatus – providing audiences with one of the first examples of stardom.

The Gold Rush

Chaplin’s acting style within The Gold Rush is characterized by what Naremore terms as “Expressive anarchy” (Naremore 76), meaning Chaplin’s performance is typified by bodily incoherence as demonstrated in his attempt to maintain proper behavior when greeting Georgia in the saloon (77). Yet Chaplin’s erratic gestures are not his only means of separating himself from other actors. The Tramp never seems to truly speak as the other actors do, their dialogue established by title cards; instead the Tramp mimes his emotions with easily recognizable gestures. He rubs his stomach when hungry and pulls his arms close to his chest when cold. These gestures, though overt serve two purposes: they provide the audience with humor while also convey meaning for the character.

The narrative of The Gold Rush is two-fold; the first part of the film follows the Tramp as he is faced with harsh conditions of the territory, illustrating the theme of man against nature. Opening with documentary- style footage of miners trekking across the snow in hopes of finding gold (Naremore 114), the film’s first comedic element is introduced as the Tramp appears behind a line of prospective miners dressed woefully unprepared for the journey ahead of him. As the narrative unfolds, the Tramp is always set apart from the other characters, particularly Big John. Big John’s gregarious size and acting presence serves as foil for the almost child-like Tramp who boils a shoe for food and runs wild around the cabin. Indeed, after the meeting between the Tramp and Big John, the narrative descends into a series of skits designed to showcase the comedic skills of the two actors; the true humor of the film lies in the contrast of Chaplin’s pantomime versus the almost Delesartian poses of Big John – noticeably seen in the chicken scene.

While the first part of the film is largely centered on humor, the second part of the film focuses on the Tramp’s seemingly doomed courtship of Georgia, a woman who is far above him both financially and socially. This shift in plot turns the narrative into a romantic comedy, allowing Chaplin to display greater emotion than simple comedy. Chaplin, unlike his co-stars, blends moments of comedic spectacle such as the dinner roll scene with moments of great pathos; the scene where the character wakes to find Georgia will not becoming for dinner, for instance, downplays comedic effect in exchange for high narrative significance (Naremore 76). The expressions on the Tramp’s face reveal his inner pain and disappointment. Chaplin is, thus, able to shift from such moments with complete ease, demonstrating his range as an actor.

References

Naremore, James. Acting in the Cinema. University of California Press: Los Angeles, 1988. Print.

Ask: Are you Chaplin Fan or Buster Keaton Fan?

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