December 4, 1916 [The Rink, The Pawn Shop, One A.M.]

It seems that every time I go to the cinema, there's Chaplin, tossing himself (and often Edna Purviance) at us with heedless grace, always new-born, and (so far) unbreakable. He is a wonder on roller-skates, atop ladders, or up and down staircases, drunk or sober, in love or a pickle. And he is anything he needs to be: the flirt, the innocent bystander, the combatant, the gentleman—and above all the consummate self-preservationist. Even his cane functions variously, from support to prosthetic to weapon. The hat, the moustache, the cane, the out-turned, over-sized clowns' shoes: They are everywhere. And yes, Arbuckle and the Keystone Kops are just as ubiquitous as the little Englishman; but it's Chaplin I have yet to tire of.

And while I might admire his increasingly "delicate" touch (that insistence on small gestures punctuating the greater explosions), I'm becoming more aware of a sense of balance—and not merely physical (although his essay of the double staircase in One A.M. would impress the Alpine Club). Chaplin knows that the trick to riding a bicycle is to keep moving, and his films, while not matching the headlong rush of the Kops or Arbuckle's rapid-fire pummeling, seem to know when to move on to the next gag—and more: the gag becomes the picture. Chaplin is a legendary roller-skater; however, in The Rink the skating is not so much a display of skill as it is a means of transportation of the plot, one that can be told only on wheels. His inebriate in One A.M., determined to settle down for the night, is thwarted not by his environment but by his own drunkenness. And the flimsy articles of The Pawn Shop may remain commodities—but their capital is comic, not monetary. A new rhythm is being introduced to the screen comedy, anticipating our restlessness and seeking always to keep something new at our disposal.

I'm a little concerned that the search for constant novelty will eventually jangle us into numbness, that we'll desire the new even before what's before us is fully formed, let alone "old." The world, it seems—at least in the cinema—is spinning more quickly; and while the giddy rush is exhilarating, it may one day cast us off with centrifugal unconcern.


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