I’ve taken up the task of watching as many classics as possible this season. I feel it takes some time to get used to the old way of treating films. But once you learn to assimilate them, it opens a whole new ocean of experiences.
I’ve been told that all the films by Sir Charles Spencer are fairly easy to relate to. And indeed they are. The simplicity of the narrative and the lack of dialogue remove the barriers for someone like me. Once I played the film I could not look away from the screen for even a second.
Some quick interesting facts:
1. It was the second highest grossing film of 1921
2. It is considered as one of the greatest films in cinematic history
3. Many of Chaplin’s admirers regard The Kid as his best and most personal film. Yet it seems to have been born out of a state of acute emotional turmoil in his private life.
4. The inspiration of the film’s story is a tragic real life incident in Chaplin’s life – Mildred (his wife then) became pregnant and gave birth to a malformed boy, who died after only three days. Chaplin evidently suffered acute trauma from this loss. Only ten days after his own child was buried, Chaplin was auditioning babies at his studio. He was absorbed and excited by a new plan for a story in which the Little Tramp would become surrogate father to an abandoned child. The film would be called The Waif. (I like the name The Waif better!)
5. In the end Charlie had filmed more than fifty times the length of film that appeared in the finished picture. Such a shooting ratio – it was precisely 53 to 1 – was far higher than for any other film he ever made. Working with kids was difficult for the tramp as well!
6. Jackie Coogan, at 7, became a world celebrity, honoured by princes, presidents and the Pope himself when he embarked on a European tour. He enjoyed a brief film career as a child actor, but, as Hollywood wits declared, senility hit him at 13 years old. As a young adult he found himself penniless: his mother and step-father had mismanaged his childhood earnings, and what little money was left was eaten up in legal battles. The one good outcome was that Jackie’s much publicised problems led to the introduction of a law to give financial protection to child performers: into this day it is known as The Coogan Act.
The premise forced me to look into the story of Krishna in the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. For saving Krishna from his uncle Kamsa Krishna’s father Vasudeva had to leave him with Yasoda in Gokul. Yasoda brought him up as her own ward. After everything was settled, it raised a question – who is Krishna’s real mother?
Rather than falling into this debate what I take back from this is, the one-line of the story could be similar. But only the setting in which the story takes place is different. It simply changes the possibilities. The evil Kamsa is replaces by urban evils such as poverty and unemployment. Also, this story is told from Chaplin’s (Yasoda’s) perspective. It makes a whole lot of difference.
This film in particular will hold a special place in my heart because of one strange coincidence. In the afternoon I was reading about the famous story of a Muslim child raised by a Hindu father in Lucknow. And I happen to watch this film on the same night. It was a beautiful accident and I’m sure it will stay with me for a while.
The movie is available on the Internet Archive and you can watch it over here.