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“The Kid”

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.2e68399b1f472302e1adc4f768c97a8b

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.thekid30

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., Inc, n.d. Web. 13 February 2017. 

“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.

Maniac Becomes Monster

“Maniac” or also known as “Sex Maniac” is a film directed by Dwain Esper an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat”. The film is about a mad scientist, Dr. Meirshultz, who is attempting to reanimate dead corpses. His has an ex-vaudeville assistant Maxwell. Dr. Meirshultz is in the process of reanimating a dead woman and he instructs Maxwell to kill someone for him to reanimate in an experiment. After this failure and a very angry scolding from the Dr., he then instructs Maxwell to kill himself so that he can revive him. Maxwell takes the gun and shoots the Dr. He then impersonates the Dr. and hides him in the walls of a chimney, much like the narrator in Poe’s “The Black Cat”. After the murder of Dr. Meirshultz, the film shows Maxwell’s descent into “insanity.”

The film is set to exhibit the different characteristics of “General paresis of the insane” including sourcing of The Chicago Institute of Research and Diagnosis. I feel that it is what was believed at the time, as an educational analysis of “insanity.” The “insanity” that they actually reference is a later stage of Syphilis. The symptoms are actually that of a loss of cortical functioning and dementia.

Most of the scenes started with some symptoms of the illness and shape how Esper wanted the audience to interpret the story. Maxwell decides to turn himself into Dr. Meirshultz, his final performance. Through this process, he becomes overly obsessed with becoming Dr. Meirshultz and “goes crazy”. He tries to treat a patient, Buckley who has hallucinations and injects him with something that worsens his condition and turns him even crazier who runs off and eventually steals and rapes the dead woman who was in the process of being revived earlier in the movie.

There is a cat from the beginning of the movie that Maxwell literally calls Satan and throughout the movie he becomes more and more stuck on the idea that ‘Satan’ has a gleam that is following him and is always followed by “demonic” imagery. For him, these triggers are the driving force that motivates him to continue to do wrong. Eventually he captures ‘Satan’ who seems to be following and tormenting him and pops out his eyeball and eats it- consuming “the gleam” paralleling Poe’s narrator who also rips out the cat’s (that also torments him) eye. After a visit from his wife requesting to speak to Maxwell and an increasing fear of Buckley’s wife and her alerting the police he pins them against each other. He tells one that the other is a mental patient and to stab the other to sedate them and they end up fighting and a neighbor alerts the police who eventually come and search the house. Upon entering the basement there is meow heard from within the walls where they uncover the body of Dr. Meirshultz with Satan sitting on his head.  

Cohen’s Monster Theory is being depicted throughout the movie. Firstly, Maxwell himself becomes a monster as he goes insane with being Dr. Meirshultz and behaves increasingly more crazed. The first theory of Monster Theory says that the “monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and projection, the monster exists only to be read.” Maxwell himself after talking to Buckley’s (the man with hallucination) wife says, “ Meirshultz would be missed, Maxwell never would.” The movie takes place during the great depression, a time where we all know there was immense poverty and general misfortune. The psyche of the American people could not be a positive one. A general sense of inadequacy and consequently isolation because of their depression was showcased during this time. Maxwell, an ex vaudeville actor-perhaps couldn’t continue his career because of the depression. The entertainment industry like everything else suffered substantially. He clearly felt that he was inadequate as his wife had left him and he was unhappy with his life, like many other Americans.  Maxwell projected these feelings into manifesting into the “crazy” Dr. Meirshultz to become someone else.

The gleam that Maxwell continuously mentions seeing either in Satan the cat, Buckley’s wife later or the look his wife gives talking to Dr. Meirshultz is a constant reminder of the acts he has committed. Not only of the murder of Dr. Meirshultz, but of Maxwell’s failures in general. The first time that “Satan” is depicted is when Maxwell goes out to look for someone for the Dr. to ‘reanimate.’ The cat is fighting with another cat.

There are many other subjects that could be discussed such as the dehumanization of the mentally ill and society’s depiction of them. Overall most of the themes, I felt, were statements about society and mental health, but interestingly enough this movie was not marketed that way. The taglines are “strange love exposed, a subject seldom exposed” and within the advertisement it is sure to say “adults only” making it seem much more scandalous than it really is. There is a scene of mild nudity, but that’s about it. I would argue that the movie has nothing at all to do with romance for that matter, I don’t quite understand why it was marketed in this way.


The movie did not seem to do very well, I can imagine in part because of the advertising. It made the movie seem like something entirely different from what it really was. I can imagine during this time in watching movies was not something that the general American public could afford to do.
Film Information:

Film: “Maniac”

Director: Dwain Esper

Writer: Hildegarde Stadie

Cast: Bill Woods, Horace B. Carpenter,  Ted Diller, Phyllis Diller, Thea Ramsey, Jenny Dark, Marvelle Andre, Cella McCann



Early Cinema, The Symbol of the Unconquered: A Story of the KKK


Director: Oscar Micheaux

Producer: Oscar Micheaux

Screenwriter: Oscar Micheaux

Release date: November 29, 1920

Cast: Iris Hall, Walker Thompson, Lawrence Chenault, Mattie Wilkes, Louis Dean, Leigh Whipper, Jim Burris, E.G. Tatum, James Burrough, George Catlin, Edward Fraction, Edward E. King, Lena L. Loach

Link to film:

“The 1920s was also widely known for … a period of African-American literary and artistic cultural growth.” (pg, 1 Rosenberg).  Oscar  Micheaux, is recognized as the first successful major African-American filmmaker of the first half of the 20th century and one of the most profound producers of race related films. Micheaux’s films were created during a period of change and growth within the black community, because they depicted the lives of Black people during this era. He used his films to address racial injustices, racial tensions between Blacks and whites, and the obstacles Black people faced while attempting to establish themselves in society. His films often highlighted the severity of lynching, white mob violence, job discrimination, sexual and economic exploitation. Micheaux films provided a counter narrative to the ideals constructed by whites that emphasized negative stereotypes about Blacks.


Oscar Micheaux’s 1920 silent film,The Symbol of the Unconquered: A Story of the KKK opens with Evon Mason a fair skinned African American woman inheriting her dying grandfather’s, Dick Mason land and home in Oristown. After traveling from Selma, Alabama Evon decides to stay in the Driscoll Hotel, but unbeknownst to her, the owner Jefferson Driscoll has a strong hatred for people of African descent and as a result makes her sleep outside in the barn when he discovers her race by looking at her eyes. Jefferson Driscoll is a mixed race black male who has been passing for white ever since his mother revealed his race to his white significant other when he was younger. After suffering outside through a storm, Evon meets a young prospector named Hugh Van Allen, who just so happens to be her new neighbor and offers to help her find her grandfather’s home. Driscoll sells stolen cattle to Van Allen which leads to a fight between the two. Driscoll seeks revenge with the help of Ku Klux Klan member, and continually leaves threatening messages outside of Van Allen’s place to get him to move out of his home. Afterwards Van Allen learns that his land they wanted his land because of the abundance of oil fields. He later Van Allen has become one of the oil kings, running his own company. Evon comes to deliver a letter from The Committee for the defense of the colored race that reveals Eve’s black parentage, something that Van Allen was completely unaware of. The film ends with Van Allen learning the truth and the two of them declaring their love for each other.


Through the lens of gender, this film illustrates the gender performances of heterosexual men and women in connection to race during this time period. Judith Butler argues that the performativity of gender, is not a singular act but repetition and ritual through the naturalization in the context of the body (Butler pg. 6). Meaning that men and women are boxed into specific categories and are expected by society to behavior in a manner that is associated with each gender. In the film, I counted a total of 4 women, 2 white women, Evon and and Jefferson’s mother and the rest of the cast were men so it was easy to analyze to the gendered performances. In the film, men more specifically white men are depicted as authoritative figures and more dominant in contrast to the women and Black men. In this case the KKK are trying to prove that they are superior by sending threatening messages and coming to attack Van Allen’s home in search of him to lynch him for not “following” orders. There is also a huge difference in the way men are dressed, the majority of them wearing nice pants and constantly fighting to prove their manhood.  While the women all are wearing dresses, heels and faces full of make-up. Throughout the movie Evon slept outside in the storm, rode on the back of a horse, and slept in a cabin but her hair and makeup remains intact.


Butler asserts that one is considered a woman if she functions as one within the dominant heterosexual framework and if a woman questions this, she could lose a sense of place in gender (Butler, pg. 2). This is really interesting because it hold a lot of truth when talking about white women but historically has not been the case for women of color. For example, Jefferson’s white significant other was shown as being fragile, and pure she did not speak much at all just sat gazed into her boyfriend’s eyes and was dependent on Jefferson of course taking into account the fact that she taught he was a white man. Similarly, Evon is a vulnerable character that is frequently in need of a man to help her navigate her way around the new city and expects Van Allen who is a stranger to protect her from danger. 

Butler argues that the construction of race and gender work within the constraints of one another thus setting the stage for racial gender norms. (Butler, pg. 7).”Gender norms (ideal dimorphism, heterosexual complementarity of bodies, ideals and rule of proper and improper masculinity and femininity, many of which are underwritten by racial codes of purity and taboos against miscegenation) establish what will and will not be intelligibility human, and what will be considered “real” (Butler, pg. 8).” 

 The Symbol of the Unconquered: A Story of the KKK was created for an African-American middle and lower class audience and played in segregated “colored only” theaters but it even reached white audiences (THE SYMBOL OF THE UNCONQUERED, 2017)  It was advertised to black people with slogans such as “ come see the annihilation of the Ku Klux Klan” which was an extremely bold move in the 1920’s. This film challenged the values within Black and white communities but it also got a lot of backlash from the press and even state censors and was not as popular as it is now back then (THE SYMBOL OF THE UNCONQUERED, 2017). The movie itself did not receive any awards but Oscar Micheaux received an abundance of awards such as the Oscar Micheaux Award for excellence and a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame.



Butler, J. (2008). Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

Oscar Micheaux, THE SYMBOL OF THE UNCONQUERED (1920). (n.d.). Retrieved February

13, 2017, from

The Symbol of the Unconquered. (1920). Kino Lorber Edu.

“The Freshman”- 1925


Movie Title: “The Freshman”

Release Date: September 20th 1925

Directors:  Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor

Main Cast: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, and Brooks Benedict

Screenwriters: Sam Taylor, Ted Wilde, John Grey, Tim Whelan


This film was quite interesting to watch. The main plot is about a student who goes away to college, and wants to be the most popular among his peers. He achieves, at least he thinks he achieves this by partaking in a number of different things that bring attention to himself. I tried to look at this movie with a few different lenses, mainly trying to focus on gender theory, and American culture/ the American dream.

In a previous class of mine, we discussed gender theory throughout a number of different books from different time eras. None of the books we read were from the 1900s-1930s though. It was fascinating to watch this film from over 90 years ago, and compare the roles and expectation of gender over time. The time period this film was made in was before the civil right movement in the 60s, and before the large womens movement in the late 60s/ early 70s. This movie heavily reinforced stereotypical gender roles. The main character (a male college student) was portrayed in the beginning of the film as being very successful for his age. Having raised a significant amount of spending cash for his upcoming college years, as well as having a number of different things he was bringing to college that the average student didn’t have. Throughout the whole film, all the positions of power were played by men. There was only one female job throughout the whole film, who worked as a cleaner/ front desk receptionist in her family’s place (this is the girl who the main character later falls in love with). In a  lot of modern movies that come out now a day’, job distribution, as well as distribution of power is evenly split between males and females. Like Butler talks about in her article, there shouldn’t be a ‘gender norm’, in society, which this movie strongly contradicts. I feel like this is largely influenced by the time period it was made in. This also leads into my next lense focusing on American culture.

American culture is an extremely broad topic. There are so many complex components and parts. Something that this movie really made me think about was how culture changes over time. Not just relating to gender roles, race, sex, etc, like mentioned above, but in a number of other social aspects as well. American culture, which is directly related to the American dream, often includes success , or higher education. This film main setting is a college campus, and college life is a part of American culture. It was interesting to analyse the college life in the film to the environment here at SDSU; seeing how some things haven’t changed over the past 90 years, while some thing dramatically have. Just to mention a few similarities, football and sports are largely important, people want to be viewed as ‘popular’, and people care about success. Some major differences include the gender expectations- jobs and roles, the party atmosphere and environment, and the dating culture. Before watching this film, I knew things were different 90+ years ago, but I didn’t know what extent. And this video showed me that American culture can, and has been changing over time, and can be perceived differently by anyone, that is why it is so hard to define.

I must admit, I didn’t have very high expectations for this film before I started watching it. I chose it because I felt like I may be able to relate, and it was a comedy. It’s not as funny as modern comedies, but without words and dialogue, it still had me laughing at a number of parts. I would definitely recommend this movie to someone else.

“Born for Man’s Happiness”

Metropolis is a German silent film directed by Fritz Lang. It is about a futuristic city, which is very divided into the working class, who live underground where the factories that run the city are located, and the upper class, who live above ground in the vast city. The story follows the city’s ruler(Joh Fredersen)’s son, Freder, who falls for a working class prophet, Maria, who believes Freder is a mediator to bring together the separate classes. This film illustrates the fantasy of what the future might be like and it seems pretty accurate at points for a movie that is close to a 100 years old. The busy city with highways, human like talking robots, surveillance cameras in the work place are all things in the movie that we have today.

The film originally premiered in Berlin on January 19, 1927. The response to the film was very mixed. The film was one of the most expensive films made in Europe and was hyped up and this kind of backfired on the film because expectations were set high. Some people were appalled by the representation of the working class abandoning their children and flooding and destroying their own homes while others were disturbed by the revolt of the lower class and the representation of the upper-class being sex crazed.

The movie ended up being pulled and redone for the US release in March of 1927. The film was shortened by an hour and most of the content was pulled. Because most of the film’s impacting portions were taken out it was relatively well received by the audience in the US. However the film was quickly forgotten once sound film started to be released later that year.

From the beginning of the movie women were portrayed as vulnerable, sexualized and as objects. In one of the first scenes Freder’s helper is searching for women to please Freder. He states, “Which one of you ladies shall today have the honor of entertaining Master Freder?” and the women are told to model their bodies to see who is “good enough” for the Master. As Butler quotes, “Gender emerges as the congealed from of the sexualization of inequality between men and women…sexual hierarchy produces and consolidates gender.” The inequality between men and women define their “place” in this city. Women are considered inferior and are even said to be “born for my happiness” by men. These women who are there to “entertain” Freder are dressed in revealing costumes and are told that this is an honor to be pleasing the Master. Women are conveyed as objects that the men just choose based on looks and “use” for sexual purposes. Not once are women shown operating any of the machines or doing any sort of work besides Prostitution.

During the 1920s there were significant changes for women with the 19th amendment being passed. Women felt empowered the age of the flapper began. They dressed in more revealing clothing and went against the norm by “flouting sexual norms by dancing provocatively with men.” This is conveyed through the Maria after she in transferred  into a evil robot by a scientist named Rotwang who is working with Joh. She lures in these men and dances in her revealing fringe clothing and gets them to fight each other for her. This was also the time of the “Roaring 20’s” characterized by partying and excitement. In the film the upper class is shown having a good time and partying in a Japanese Red District inspired nightclub called Yoshiwara.

This gender hierarchy has influenced American culture till this day. Women are still not as paid as much or get the same opportunities as men. There are advertisements that oversexualize women and portray that men above women. Some men even still have this idea that they own their women and they are there to serve them. Although it is slowly getting better this is still a big issue around the world.

Links: (Cast, Producer, Screenwriter)