February 13, 1921 [The Kid]

Chaplin understands the movies: a space in which aggressive sentimentality will always be forgiven--and more: where it is encouraged, and partnered with anything else--genuine pathos, broad comedy, social commentary--that will put up with it.

Or maybe it's just Chaplin's brand of sentimentalism. After all, he is the master of the small touch: In the midst of catastrophic merriment he flicks a cigar-end or pauses and stares, with just enough dexterity to surprise or just the proper stillness to register the moment--and to engage us in that moment, as sappy as it might be. The Kid brings this tendency closer to perfection. Between Chaplin's Tramp and Jackie Coogan's Kid, I wasn't sure which was which, and didn't care.

Again, I'm enamored of the little things:

The Tramp entering his abject hovel--but not before daintily wiping his feet.

The Kid aiming a window-destined rock--and stopping in mid-swing as he realizes a cop is standing behind him.

The Tramp eager to stop the Kid from brawling--until he sees that the boy is winning, and he switches without a beat to applause and encouragement.

The Kid making a formidable stack of flapjacks--and tearing off a tiny corner of one of the drooping fried disks to sample the flavor, delicate as a master chef appeasing a miffed soufflé.

And I will not ignore the pathos, surprisingly affecting. Coogan cries magnificently, and Chaplin reveals himself as a philosophical clown, inclined to moral musings and all-but-tragic heights of loss and regret--while not ignoring our need for flight and capture, with nimble rooftop-hopping tossed in--mingled with a Tramp-Kid reunion that had the audience sobbing.

What hath Chaplin wrought?


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