Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)

*. If you’ve heard of this movie at all it’s likely because it’s usually held to be the first appearance on film of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp.
*. Historians can argue over that one. What I find interesting is the way Chaplin looks like the Tramp, but he’s not the Tramp character yet. The Tramp as we came to know him was a subversive, anti-authoritarian figure, but here he’s more brazen, surly even. He doesn’t just want to survive, he wants to take over. And while we like the Tramp, can we say we like this guy?
*. Peter Ackroyd: “He [the Tramp] sets up a direct relationship with those who are watching him, both mocking and conspiratorial. He does not care that the auto-races are a public and communal occasion; he is absurdly solipsistic, as if to say that only he matters. Only he is worth watching. Chaplin would maintain these sentiments for the rest of his film career.”
*. It’s a curious dynamic. Why does the Tramp here want to be filmed? He’s not really performing, though he does do some comic bits like lighting a match off his shoe. He doesn’t have to perform. Instead, he precociously understands that the audience or crowd at the race isn’t what’s important. The only thing that matters is the camera. What’s important is what the camera sees and records. What’s important is the camera’s ability to transform you from a shabby-genteel comic figure into a king, or The Most Famous Man in the World (which is what Chaplin would become in under a year).
*. And so this is a short film about filmmaking. Not the technical aspects of filmmaking, but what it does to people, how it makes them behave. Because what would you do to be a star? Would you shove children out of the way? Would you take a beating and keep coming back for more? And most of all, how would you feel toward this new medium? Would you court it? Of course. But you’d hate it too. You’d hate it for the power it has. For what it could turn you into.

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