Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)

There's something to be said about the silent greats like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. They were visionaries who made due with what they had at the time, and the resulting filmography they provided us with was legendary. It might help the viewing, after such a building up of their works to my younger generation, growing up long after their time, that their characteristics are built on larger-than-life gestures or larger-than-life scenarios. To the cinema skeptic or the realist who does not bend to his imagination too much, it might seem melodramatic. To me, and I hope to viewers all over the world and all over time, it's kind of a dramatic tale made out of ordinary adventures - a celebration, a presentation of life as an epic, rather than just as a drudge.

The Tramp is without a doubt one of the most memorable characters of cinema. I love silent characters as a rule (In sound films, the silent character usually took my heart the most - Chomper from The Land Before Time or Ocula from Small Soldiers - And these were just when I was a child). Almost all of the modern day silents owe themselves to the Tramp - but his style and influence did not just mark over the modern silents who needed to know how to bring out emotion and character without using dialogue. It spanned over the romantics, the gentlemen, the dreamers, the victims, the jokesters - all of these common attributes were immortalized when we came to know and love the Tramp. And the costume is just defining of who he is, a reminder that he's had better times, his shoes and uncomfortable clothing a strict opposite of his upper-class mentality when he plays the gentleman. His adorably small mustache the clown paint to him, a call to his face so we can watch his sadness and his laughter.

Thanks to the Criterion Collection's release of The Gold Rush, I was finally able to view the best possible quality and restoration of the original 1925 silent version of the picture - nearly lost due to Chaplin's unfortunate discarding of the original print after he had made a more (to him) definitive version, making cuts of subplots and utilizing a new score and narration by Chaplin himself to describe the action and the feelings of the character.

While, the narration of the 1942 version has its humor, its beat, its vibe that I enjoyed, it also had the effect the narration of Blade Runner's theatrical cut had on me. Namely, it described stuff that was obvious on the screen. The spirit and the attitude of the narration (I love Chaplin's voice, don't get me wrong, it's absolutely lovely - I particularly am fond of the John Wayne-esque cadence of 'That kinda noise Jim don't tolerate...') kept it from becoming as much of a nuisance as Blade Runner's, but it was still distracting and could've been done without. I preferred the 1925 version...

I also understand that Chaplin had preferred to shoot in the actual outdoors, but had instead been forced to shoot on a set. Well, to be honest, the set happens to work best for me. While picturesque landscapes would've been a wonder on the screen, particularly with this very impressive restoration I was watching, the set in itself was a sort of character to the story: When it teeters during the climax at the rim of the cliff, it takes control of the show, not the Tramp. It holds its own during the gag of Black Larson (Tom Murray) trying to force Chaplin's character out, but the wind making it a stubborn effort that the Tramp really doesn't want to go through anyway. It's not in the outdoor snow of the Klondike that we see the Tramp's relationship grow with Big Jim (Mack Swain), but instead within the walls of the cabin of Black Larson. It even turns into a plot point for Big Jim's return to his 'mountain of gold' to rely on the location of the cabin.

'Girl, you somethin'. I wish I was just sayin' dat, but the pussy game ridiculous.'
(Yea, this is the type of half-assed captions I come up with at 4 in the morning. Forgive me.)
Speaking of characters, take a look at Georgia Hale. Not only quite attractive, she's a danger in her not understanding whether or not she truly reciprocates the Tramp's feelings for her. This was one of the subplots that took such a blow when Chaplin cut it out of the 1942 release. What the fuck, Chaplin? This must've been how all those hardcore fanboys felt when Greedo shot first. But moving on, her hypnotizing looks keep The Tramp dreaming for her love, one particular notable dream sequence being that of the famous dinner rolls dance.

I had witnessed a previous Chaplin dream sequence with the 1921 picture The Kid, a wonderful movie, but it felt unwelcome deep inside me, as it was not the reality of the situation put to the Tramp at the moment in the film. In The Gold Rush, it actually felt fitting. This was a meeting The Tramp looked forward to and the only true fulfillment of this wish, this anticipation, was in his fantasies. It's a very sad sequence, but it's still got the same spring that The Tramp keeps in his step when he moves about.

The Gold Rush is a movie of moments. Even if you don't care about the plot or are too distracted to pay attention (in which case, shame on yo ass) to it, there are moments which can't help but be stuck in your memory, just because they are made out of the magic that makes cinema such a wonderful device for storytelling. Even if you have only heard of the movie, you definitely know about the famous boot-eating scene, the slurping of the laces like spaghetti. The giant chicken the Tramp becomes in the eyes of a hallucinating and famished Big Jim, the incredible movement involved to match the Tramp and the Chicken and make them one. The opening sequence of travelers lining up through the mountains, and a bear giving some company to a map-reading Tramp.

If one gets access to the Criterion Collection release, I heavily recommend the featurette 'A Time of Innovation: Visual Effects in "The Gold Rush", a very great look at the techniques brought to the camera eye through the direction of Chaplin and the cinematography of Roland Totheroh. Pretty much most of the features on the DVD are worth it (as well as the mk2 release, even if the movie quality themselves are pretty unsatisfactory).

So, I kind of decided to outright reject my out of 10 style of rating now, cause I've come to the realization that I'm kind of bipolar when it comes to rating movies. Stupid obsessive compulsion. Still, the fact remains that this is a movie that is timeless and should be viewed by everyone at least once so go do it.

When one looks at the Tramp's full exploits from Chaplin's filmography, one can see that the man's kind of romanticism is not very much hopeless or blind. Maybe naive and easy to trick, but no. In a glass half-full sort of manner, one can instead look to him as hopeful, love of all kinds pushing him to extraordinary exploits. He's not only a social commentary in most respects of his films, but the personification of the everyman's wishes, sometimes failing and sometimes reaching the goal he wished to reach. While he reached a bitter end with Modern Times, cinema characterization doesn't forget its debt to the Tramp for being an early character to love, particularly at a time when it was about images more than stories.

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