Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Music: Charlie Chaplin, played live by the Manchester Camerata orchestra
The Kid, written and directed by Charlie Chaplin in 1921, demonstrated comedy could go beyond quick gags and sustain a feature-length narrative with elements of drama as well as laughs. The showing of this silent movie at Manchester’s HOME is categorised not as a film but an event. Its significance being the soundtrack, which Chaplin composed for the film’s theatrical reissue in 1972, is played live by the Manchester Camerata orchestra as the movie is shown.
Rather than being screened in one of HOME’s many cinemas, the film is staged as a live event. It is broadcast onto a screen-filling the whole of the wall at the rear of the venue’s theatre while the stage is occupied by the 16-piece orchestra. This introduces a degree of compromise into the programme- the house lights are not completely extinguished as in a cinema and members of the orchestra intrude upon the screen so, rather than being an invisible source of music, one is always aware of their presence.
The event features the 2015 4K digital restoration of the movie and the quality is stunning. There are no flickers and the shades of black and white bring surprising depth to the images. Although famous as a comedy The Kid is also a shamelessly manipulative melodrama intended to promote tears as well as smiles. The Woman (Edna Purviance) gives birth out of wedlock and in desperation abandons her child in a car which is later stolen. The thieves leave the child in an alleyway where he is found by a Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) who, despite his best efforts to get rid of the waif, ends up taking him home. Five years later The Kid (Jackie Coogan) has become his adoptive father’s partner in crime- breaking windows for the tramp to offer to repair. But The Woman, who has become a famous entertainer and philanthropist, encounters The Kid and eventually realises he is the child she abandoned.
The humour in the film is not just a simple collection of jokes. Although an underdog Chaplin’s Tramp is a hardened survivor – a diamond in the rough rather than idealised hero. The Kid brings out the best in The Tramp but there remains a hard edge to the character who initially does everything possible to get rid of the unwanted baby and, when forced into a fistfight, has no intention of fighting fair and belts his opponent with a brick.
As the film is silent the jokes are inevitably visual but surprisingly eccentric. Heath Robinson devices feature – the baby is put at ease in a sling that cradles him and offers milk from a teapot and bedsheets become dressing gowns. When the Tramp’s pocket is picked and an unexpected coin located, he invites the pickpocket to try again to see what else emerges. The Tramp does not realise the woman with whom he is flirting is the wife of the policemen who has been chasing him all day.
As director Chaplin does not seek to promote pity for the Tramp or The Kid. The impression is given as long as they are together, they may never prosper but will be able to squeeze some roguish pleasure out of life. Their sudden enforced separation is, however, played for full melodramatic shock with The Kid literally dragged out of the Tramp’s arms.
The score underlines rather than challenges the atmosphere of the film. The opening sequence with the baby being abandoned features lush sentimental strings. The Tramp’s initial promenade is jaunty and carefree while his antics with The Kid are played out against a lively march. The enforced separation of the duo brings out the tempestuous racket of the Manchester Camerata in full blast.
The contribution of the score to the impact of The Kid is open to debate. The comedy sequences would likely have been just as funny without the music and the violence of the score in the melodramatic scenes comes close to pushing them over the top. But there is no doubt that the combination of a classic movie and a live performance by the Manchester Camerata constitutes a special event.
Reviewed on 16 June 2022