I chose to study “The Kid” which was written, produced, and directed by Charlie Chaplin. In eighth grade I studied Charlie Chaplin for almost two months, so I felt comfortable with his style and really enjoyed his films.
On January 21st, 1921 Chaplin released “The Kid” as his first full-length feature film. The principal characters include Carl Miller as “the man”, Edna Purviance as “the woman”, Jack Coogan as “the child”, and Charlie Chaplin as “the tramp”.
This film was widely successful at the time and was the second-highest-grossing film in 1921. Today, it is seen as one of the most memorable silent films in history. It was awarded in the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board, USA in 2011. The film had an estimated budget of $250,000 with a gross income of $5,450,000 in the United States (IMDB).
The film takes place during the “Roaring Twenties”. Some historical precursors of this time include World War I 1914-1918, the Henry Ford Assembly line 1914-1920, and the prohibition of alcohol 1920-1933. Another very important aspect to consider is that the Great Depression began in 1929 which is only a few years after this film.
Cultural aspects of the 1920’s include unique forms of literature, art, music, film, and style. The famous authors in this era included F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Himingway who were cynical from post-WWI and wrote about the pitfalls behind the “American Dream”. The Harlem Renaissance and Jazz Era were other important aspects of this time period. Lastly, the film industry and Hollywood skyrocketed in the 1920’s as sound-synchronized motion pictures slowly replaced silent films.
In addition, the government passed a monumental amendment in 1920 that allowed women the right to vote. This new freedom led to the sexual empowerment of the “flapper girl” in addition to the progress in different forms of birth control.
All of these historical contexts are very important when examining “The Kid”.
The story begins with a woman abandoning her newborn child who eventually falls into the hands of Charlie Chaplin. The setting for the rest of the film moves to an impoverished neighborhood where the tramp finds the baby amidst debris. The two become best friends and con-artists together.
Through an identity lense, specifically social class, the viewer can see how Chaplin emphasizing othering in an circus-type theme. Similarly to the circuses, this film is intended to entertain and amuse people who may not be in the best situation. Also, the characters and circus members can both be perceived as poor con-artists who use their talents to support themselves financially.
The elites finds discover that the child is an orphan, so they attempt to take him away to the “county orphan asylum” which is run by a rich, mean man. This shows that someone of a different identity–such as a higher social class–can take advantage of others and deem themselves superior.
The duo escape, only to be separated by a kidnapper motivated by a 1000 reward advertised by his real mother. Greed causes this unknown man to steal a young child which is especially important considering they are in a poor neighborhood and this movie is a predecessor to the Great Depression.
Then, the tramp is rudely awoken by the cop but taken to the mother’s fine estate. The kid runs into the tramp’s arms, and they become one big happy family. Once the mother recognizes her regret, she used her wealth and power to bring back her child when she pleased.
While the film tells a rather depressing story, there are many instances of comic relief such as the fights, chases, and quirky relationship between the tramp and the kid. Chaplin attempts to make light of very dark subjects like poverty and abandonment. The opening scene embodies this theme with the introduction as “A picture with a smile-and perhaps, a tear”.
The thesis of this film can be described as finding comedy in tragedy which exactly corresponds to the themes in the circus. The chapter entitled “The Circus as a Historical and Cultural Process” discusses the hierarchy among participants (Davis 2002). In “The Kid” the wealthy woman, orphanage owner, and policeman are at the top of the social structure, while the tramp is at the lowest level because of his economic standings. Despite these economic hardships or abnormalities, both the tramp and the circus members aim to entertain. And deeper than that, they all wish to belong to a sense of family.
– Maya Vrechek
Davis, Janet M.. Circus Age : Culture and Society under the American Big Top. Chapel Hill, US: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 13 February 2017.
“The Kid.” The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com, Inc, n.d. Web. 13 February 2017. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0012349/
“Section 1 Timeline: h110sdsu”. Time Rime. 13 February 2017.
Rosenberg, Jordan. “Essay Topic – The Roaring Twenties”. HACK IT! Deconstructing the Historical Narrative in the Jumbo Classroom. 19 March 2015.
CHARRAHHARDAMON. “Hack #1- 1920’s- You keep the baby, I will take the job”. HACK IT! Deconstructing the Historical Narrative in the Jumbo Classroom. 12 February 2015.