July 1, 1925 [The Gold Rush]

Of Chaplin’s many routines--among them the Inebriated Almost-Fall, the Accidental Dénouement, the Challenge to (and Inevitable Triumph of) Gravity--the best are “life-tropes”: experiences that run deeply in one’s past, all the way to the beginning; in The Gold Rush, it's eating. I watched my children in their earliest hours on this Earth, and they did as they always will, as we all do: squall at the necessity of waking and doing--then cast about madly, seeking refuge and comfort--and finding it here and there; but first of all in eating, grunting at their mother’s breast, all turmoil instantly stilled.

What a pleasure eating is for a child!--Yes, for all of us, but watch the gusto of a child at table, every preferred food an instant balm, pitched down in primal joy. And if there is something children love more than eating, it’s watching the act--the laden table, the flashing cutlery--the perfect freedom of indulgence. And some artists know this, remembering their own child-minds, and so feed their characters. Lewis Carroll’s Alice is often eating or drinking (or hearing about it)--although, occurring as they do in an almost-nightmare, her adventures through the looking-glass and in Wonderland involve deep anxieties, even about eating, from the jostling of the Mad Tea Party to the eat-me/drink-me quandaries--and the mushroom nibbled, and the melodic, dark irony of turtle soup--and the ultimate discomfort: those trusting, tasty oysters, coddled, comforted--and cozened, until the Walrus and Carpenter had “eaten every one.”



Chaplin, though, sees eating not as a nightmare endured but a wish fulfilled. Watching him deal with the cooked shoe in The Gold Rush, I immediately remembered the pancakes in The Kid, stacked high and waiting. But the shoe, now: closer to Alice’s dream-food, an appetizing dish André Breton’s Surrealists might appreciate. Breton begins his Manifesto with a nod to children, who “set off each day without a worry in the world. Everything is near at hand, the worst material conditions are fine. The woods are white or black, one will never sleep.” Well, children do have their worries, some of them quite profound. But Breton--and Chaplin--know that logic’s only proper use is to lead one into the dream, for the “waking state” is “a phenomenon of interference,” to be overcome with whatever is at hand--even if it is a boiled shoe in a frozen wilderness, carved easily, enticingly, laces twirled like spaghetti, the harsh reality--physical, moral, whatever--munched into nothing. Even the unyielding boot-nail becomes a handy toothpick. Chaplin, then, stands at an artistic vanguard, but he does so as a tramp-clown--with a culinary bent--kidding all academies, even those of the Surreal.

Comments

  1. Food, heavenly food, sings Oliver in Oliver!.

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    1. I'm just now seeing this! Oh, yes! "Hot sausage and mustard!"

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