Literature & Life

Chaplin’s First Feature Film

The Kid

THE KID is one of the finest feature films made by CHARLES CHAPLIN. It is one of my most favourite films and probably Chaplin also loved the film very much and that is the reason why he has written about making this film in his autobiography called MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY. He describes in his autobiography how he discovered a child artist and how a new idea of a movie struck him after discovering the child artist.

Chaplin loved theatre those days. Therefore, whenever he had some leisure time; he used to visit the Orpheum Theatre to enjoy some beautiful performances live on the stage. There he found a 4-year-old boy named JACKIE COOGAN, who was performing on the stage with his father in a play. When the play finished and all the actors were about to take a Bow; suddenly Jackie takes a few comic steps and runs off the stage. This act was very strange and hilarious for the audience. The audience bursts into laughter after watching this and roars with claps. This innocent act of the child wins the heart of both the audience and Chaplin. Everyone thoroughly enjoys it. Chaplin himself enjoys the act very much and realises that the little Jackie had an engaging personality.

It was the early 1920s when Chaplin decided to make his own movies and he was looking for a new idea for his first project. He decides of making a movie by signing that 4-year-old boy Jackie Coogan, unfortunately, Chaplin didn’t have any idea for the movie at that time. While thinking about a new idea for a movie; one day he gets the news that the same boy has been signed by a filmmaker called Roscoe Arbuckle for his next film. Chaplin gets very upset to hear this but quite strangely he gets a new idea for making a movie the same day. The story was about a window mender and the kid accompanying him, and he knew that the story of a tramp and a boy is going to be very interesting. In this story, a tramp unwillingly adopts an abandoned baby. He cares for the baby as his own child and later on, after a few years they start working as a team. The child breaks the windows and the tramp being a window mender goes there to mend the windows and that is how they start earning their living. Chaplin was aware that his new idea was going to set the contemporary theatre on fire as his story was going to provide pure laughter to the audience, and Jackie Coogan was perfect for the role of the kid in the movie; unfortunately, he was signed by another filmmaker.

The idea of the movie was very exciting yet Chaplin was depressed for not having Jackie to play the role of the kid in the movie. However, he calls his company for rehearsals. The story of the movie was in its initial stages therefore Chaplin didn’t have any solid idea about what exactly to rehearse yet he calls all his colleagues for the rehearsals. There Chaplin tells them his story of the window mender and the kid, and his colleagues also like the idea very much. The colleagues give him the idea of replacing the kid with some other kid but Chaplin’s heart was not ready to accept it because he knew that only Jackie Coogan was going to give the proper justice to the role. He was the only one who was able to bring the exact emotions to the scene which Chaplin had wanted.

When they were busy in discussions and working on rehearsals; suddenly Chaplin’s publicist arrives there Who seems very excited and tells Chaplin that some mistake had happened. Arbuckle didn’t sign Jackie Coogan for his movie; actually, he signed the child’s father Jack Coogan.  That news brings new life to the team especially Chaplin gets extremely happy to hear that news. He quickly asks his publicist to contact Jackie’s father on the phone and also warns him, not to mention anything about the kid. The publicist calls the boy’s father and within a couple of hours, his father reaches there. Chaplin asks him about his son and tells him that he wants to sign him for his film. Jackie’s father seems a bit hesitant about his proposal but after trying so hard, Chaplin gets successful in convincing him. Finally, the movie gets a good start.

While shooting for the movie; Chaplin explains to the boy a particular scene in the movie. He tells him that the kid has to hold a stone in his hand to throw it on a window and as soon as the kid lifts his hand to throw the stone on the window his hand touches the button of someone’s coat and when the boy looks up to find who is standing behind him; he discovers that it’s a policeman! After finding out that a policeman is standing behind him; he has to throw the stone playfully in the air and then throw it away and walk from there casually and suddenly start running away from the place. Chaplin makes the boy rehearse the scene 3 to 4 times, and when he gets convinced that the boy could do the scene perfectly; he takes the scene and the result is extraordinary! The boy does an excellent job. The scene becomes one of the best scenes from the movie. However, things were not that easy every time for Chaplin because being a kid it was very difficult for Jackie to concentrate all the time and sometimes it became difficult for the child to act naturally. So, Chaplin had to face many difficulties while shooting with the kid.

Later on, Jack, the boy’s father started coming to the studio when his contract with Arbuckle was over. Being Jackie’s father, he proved to be very helpful to Chaplin. The movie had a particularly emotional scene and Chaplin wanted the kid to cry in the scene but it was getting very difficult for the boy to cry. After many failed attempts Chaplin gets tired and kind of upset therefore the boy’s father decides to give it a try. The scene was about two people who try to take the boy away from the tramp hence the boy needed to cry in the scene as the boy loved the tramp very much and he didn’t want to be apart from him. The boy was in a very joyful mood that day and that is the reason why it was getting very difficult for him to cry. However, Jack Coogan, the boy’s father approaches him and says something in his ear… and suddenly the boy starts crying! Chaplin takes the scene very tactfully and the scene goes perfect when the scene was over Chaplin asked the boy’s father that how did he make the boy cry? The boy’s father replied that he simply told the boy that the two men in the scene are really going to take him away from there and are going to send him to the workhouse. Chaplin feels very bad to hear this and therefore he lifts the boy in his arms and tries to console him by saying that no one is going to take him anywhere and the boy replied that he knew that his father was just fooling him. When Chaplin hears his reply, he quickly realises that he had chosen the right kid for the role.

This is how Chaplin’s first feature film was made and it became one of the most popular movies made by Chaplin. The movie is available on the internet as well. Please watch the movie “The Kid” and post your comments about the movie below.

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