Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Doozy #2: A Piece of Cake: Charlie Chaplin

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Before I answer the discussion questions, I just want to say how much I enjoyed this particular clip. The dog, the cakes, the tramp character, the guy behind the counter trying so hard to catch the tramp in the act: Every detail worked so well, and I think the camera position was the least important detail in getting viewers to enjoy this little vignette. By the way, the camera may not move, but editing allows viewers to see that precious dog of the tramp’s in close-up shots all by itself, satisfied and full, and to see that police officer in the little window at the back of the food stand.

1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose of Doozy #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today’s visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

I disagree with Canby. I don’t think it’s an either-or decision: that visual comedy can be successful only when it’s not broken up into close-ups and cuts between images. Cuts and close-ups can be used to enhance the comedy, if they’re used judiciously. Chaplin and his dog were wonderful in the “Dog” clip, but it seems to me that the success of the clip is more the result of Chaplin’s talents and the use of judicious editing.
2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc.) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

The dog stealing the sausage out of the pan helps to set up the clip from the beginning. The dog is lickety-split fast: I had to watch three times to catch it in the act! Chaplin’s character seems to take a cue from his dog, and then he’s after the cakes. (Wouldn’t any human find cake tempting?!) And then there’s the appearance of the police officer. Chaplin takes off, and the guy in the food stand turns around to try to catch Chaplin in the act and ends up bopping the officer over the head. Chaplin gets away with something, and somehow he gets us to want him to get away with it. The camera in the “middle distance” puts viewers rather close to the action, but it’s Chaplin and his dog that get viewers to root for both of them in this clip.
3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

Gosh, I would say that this bit has inspired a million others. I can think of a pie right out of the oven cooling on a kitchen windowsill in front of an open window, and a child, a bird, a beloved pet making off with it. In one of their first shorts, one of the Little Rascals tried to steal tomatoes (I think they were tomatoes) from a grocer and gets caught by a police officer.

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Loved this clip!  My husband and I couldn't get over how many biscuits Chaplin had to consume during the filming of this scene.  It reminds me of an interview excerpt I read from Nick Offerman and Chris Pratt about how during the shooting of a Parks and Recreation episode, Chris Pratt decided to eat an entire ice cream cone during the course of the scene.  They ended up having to shoot the scene many times, so by the end of filming, Chris Pratt had such a stomach ache and sugar rush.  I can imagine Chaplin may have felt the same way shoving biscuit after biscuit in his mouth.  Again, what is so impressive about this clip from A Dog's Life is the comedic timing and commitment to the gag by both of the actors.  I would imagine that this scene had to have been choreographed and rehearsed ad nauseam to achieve such a high quality result on screen.  It really shows the dedication these slapstick stars had to their comedy and the high level of discipline required to pull off such a complicated visual gag.

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Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose of Doozy #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today’s visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

 

I think I'm going to have agree because, today's comedy is all about gross out humor. Sometimes there isn't any build-up nor proper execution. I really miss the subtlety and attention to detail that you saw in comedy from the past. This is just my opinion, so don't hold that against me.

 

Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc.) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

 

I think the social commentary works in the gag, because Chaplin had a brilliant knack for adding humanity and thought to the human condition. The more you watch moments like this, the more you understand the messages and truth hidden underneath the comedy. Real pathos can mix well with real comedy, especially if it is done the right way. Chaplin understood what it takes to make people laugh and feel emotion. 

 

What do you think a gag like this and it's brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

 

I think it adds to the reality of slapstick comedy and showcases real people during real times. When comedy makes people think, that's when you know that you've done your job. It increases the depth in slapstick.

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A comment and a question:

 

Relative to the second question posed with this clip, one of the elements of this gag that makes it funny to me is the fact that it crosses into the absurd: the hot dog vendor in the real world would have suspected and thrown Charlie out long before his entire plate of muffins (or cookies or whatever they are) is consumed. Similarly, anyone real trying to surreptitiously sneak a cookie or two would not have the gumption to continue to push his luck with eating cookie after cookie. The exaggeration and absurd set-up are an important part of Chaplin's and also Keaton's humor I believe.

 

This raises a question for me--clearly this is physical comedy. But is it slapstick? It is missing the element of violence. (Although it seems to have the other elements). If not slapstick, what is it?

 

Good question! You're right and I think it has all of the other elements of slapstick.  I do think that there is always the threat of violence (if he is caught by the cook, or worse, by the police officer) against the Little Tramp. As I'm writing I'm remembering that, at the end, the cook does end up hitting the cop in the face with a large sausage, having really meant to finally give the Little Tramp his due! So there actually is violence, just not toward the intended target! :)

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As I mentioned in a prior post, film was barely a toddler in 1918, and young performing artists were eager to see what they could do with this new medium. Here we are several generations later and, thanks in part to the innovations of those artists and in part to advanced technologies, contemporary film makers have new tools to work with, and new colors to paint with. Every generation desires to make their mark by doing things that haven't been done before, but quite often we end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Just because something is "old" doesn't necessarily make it "old fashioned". Many of today's directors seem to be of the belief that the audience requires a higher level of stimulation, so naturally they employ the use of hyperbolic special effects to clobber (excuse the pun!) the senses, and while fast edits and severe close-ups were made fashionable by Sergio Leone and Bob Fosse, et al, they can be useful for dramatic effect but not always necessary for visual comedy. So I think that what I feel is missing in today's comedy is a regard for the intellect of the viewer, confidence on behalf of the film maker that we will get it- we KNOW what is funny! In the example of today's clip, Chaplin allows us to take in all of the information with his camera shot, so that we can decide what is important or interesting. He cuts away only for a brief moment so that we can see the dog licking his chops. Charlie and Syd probably performed this gag on stage at some point, but now with film we can see more intimately the raising and lowering of Syd's eyebrows, the vague and vacuous expression of the tramp, the sleight of hand as he pretends to "brush" the cake tray or catch an invisible fly. And speaking of brushing, did you notice that Syd brushed his beard with the same brush that he used to grease the links? The rhythm and the timing that we all know took hours and hours of rehearsal and preparation looks and feels so natural- something that I never feel with CGI. 

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I disagree with Canby.  I don’t think there’s anything missing in today’s visual comedies but rather that the addition of dialogue gives the viewer something more to focus on.

 

The gag in this clip is brilliant.  It demonstrates how important timing and cohesion between the players is. Chaplin and the counter man are marvelous. Chaplin's ability to stuff so many cakes into mouth without seeming to have anything in his mouth is remarkable.

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    ​ Chaplin was able to give us, in his films, the combination of humor and sensibility.  With great simplicity and savings in resources, He creates a comic situation that simultaneously inspires tenderness. The characters are Humanized, and acting with naturality. and the dog acts as the tramp.  There is much of Pantomime in them gestures and in the movements to take them cakes in the time just and act pretending indifference when corresponds do it.  The final gag, with the blow to the police, gives a bright and humorous finishing touch to the scene.  Out of Chaplin, not is has preserved that construction artistic, much less in the cinema current, more linked to the action and to the effects special.

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I also disagree with Canby as those close ups and cut away shots only add fuel to the visual comedy. When done right, they can make it even funnier than it was intended.

 

The props add to the hilarity in the scene; the pan that the dog steals the sausage out of, the twitching eyebrows and mustache of Syd Chaplin as he eyes the dog, and those rapid fire moves of Charlie swiping the cake and eventually Syd trying to catch Charlie in the act.

 

The timing of the gag makes it the most fun to watch, especially near the end when Syd is determined to catch Charlie in the act of swiping the cake, and these rapid fire movements are one of the things that has contributed to the history of slapstick comedy.  

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Many of today's movies depend more on CG and shock in every genre, while not stressing plot, writing, story line, etc.

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1. I don't fully agree with Canby, but what is often seen in modern film comedy is over thinking a gag by adding 'enhancements', whether it is editing, camera angle or movement, or dialogue, which often came be a distraction from the core gag itself.  Often, simpler is better.  Does the scenery have to be realistic to make a scene like that from A Dog's Life work?  No.  Does the camera need to be at different angles, or move, to show different perspectives?  No.  Does the editing need to alter the dynamics or dictate pace?  No. 

Nor are any of those needed, and the performance will set all those components, and does so nearly from a single long take - with the exception of a couple of closer shots of the principals.  The rhythm is dictated by Charlie and Syd, and expertly so.

2. The configuration of the lunch wagon helps to introduce additional elements to this scene.  Having the plates, cookware and stove at the back of the wagon forces the cook to turn his back to Charlie, The table/bar on the front centralizes the action, staging the pan of sausages and the plate of cakes between the characters, as well as serves as some cover, out of view of the cook.  And the window in back sets up the conclusion of the scene, as it is used as a porthole for the cop to catch Charlie in the act.  

Let's face it, Charlie's ability to speedily cram a cake in his mouth and then hide it is the core of the humor, without camera tricks to maintain believability. 

3. I think a scene such as this emphasizes that the gag is core and where the audience focus needs to be.  Keep it central and simple, and let your talented performers execute the humor.  Don't distract from it with embellishments, just because you can.

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I'm not sure if this is happening with anyone else, but I haven't received my Daily Dose, neither in my e-mail or on the Canvas site.

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1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

 

It makes sense that compared to the silent era, today's comedies are missing the visual comedy. I believe it's likely due to being able to verbally get to the joke instead of the physicality. If the same clip was created in today's moden comedy, the chef could have confronted Charlie instead of the physical ways of trying to catch Charlie in the act of stealing the cakes. I think Canby could be right with his statement, however, could a physical silent movie be made today and be successful without the verbal jokes? Yesterday, I pointed out the movie "Silent Movie" by Mel Brooks. Granted, it was more of a spoof of that genre but it's still funny and made in a more modern time, 1976 (a mere 46 years after the silent era had ended).

 

2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

 

I would say the chef's reactions and attempt to catch Charlie. The constant looking behind, turning in circles and his faces he makes at Scraps the dog while Scraps was licking his face. Also just as funny is Charlie's way of eating the cakes. A little over exaggerated, but still funny nonetheless. Just how was he able to stuff all those cakes in his mouth without swallowing for a while?

 

3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

 

It's definitely a constant in the classic animated short series. When we see Tom chase Jerry or Jerry trying to hide the baby elephant that he's panted brown like Jerry, the gig of being innocent and the guilty party hasn't done anything has been a staple of comedy far beyond slapstick.

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I'm not sure if this is happening with anyone else, but I haven't received my Daily Dose, neither in my e-mail or on the Canvas site.

 

Sorry for the delay. The Daily Dose for Tuesday, 9/6/16, is now up at Canvas - you can access it that way.

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Another great clip to mull over. I don't agree completely with Camby's comments concerning something missing from today's (1989 and before) comedies. One of my favorites came out in 1988: Naked Gun: From the files of Police Squad.These films have visual gags that can be read from many levels where you truly have to be watching to see the strange bits that fill the fore, middle and background.

But looking at the perfect set design, great costuming and impeccable timing of this scene from a Dog's Life, it still makes us laugh over a hundred years later. Will more modern comedies hold up through the years or will they fade because they are based on topics of the moment?

The acting by all parties, including the dog, works so very well together that you are held in suspense over just how far can Charley go before getting caught. The near misses are perfect and add to the tension, and hilarity. And when the cop sees him and comes charging around only to get smacked in the kisser with the sausage "club" meant for the tramp but aiding in his escape instead...that truly made this scene complete for me. Perfectly executed gags like this one enrich the environment for all future comedies. A lesson from a master. And Russell K., thanks for the link to Camby's article.

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It's not letting me in. It says I'm "unauthorized", even though I'm enrolled in the course.

 

Where are you getting the unauthorized message? From Canvas? Just make sure you are logged into Canvas.net.

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The timing and choreography in this film clip are wonderful!!  It needs nothing else to make it more complete; we just had to sit back and watch master craftsmen at work!!

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I'm logged into Canvas.net. I'm getting the error message when I click on the link to the second Daily Dose. The first one works just fine.

 

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1. I agree with Canby when he says that there is something missing in today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. This is because today's comedies are so different in style than silent films. What makes silent films so unique, relateable, and hilarious are the physical cues that make or break a joke. Especially in this week's clip the audience can see the playfulness in Chaplin's eyes and body language. These two factors are present in today's comedies but they are sometimes covered up by overproduction, wordiness, and overdirection. By this I mean that there are two many other aspects in the show or movie that grab the audience's attention, preventing them from appreciating the simplicity of the joke. Jokes are still recieved by the audience but I feel they are recieved through a much different and complicated fashion. 

2. Aside from the menacing actions and foolish pranks, I find the actor's attitude to be the factor that makes me want to keep watching. In this weeks clip with Charlie Chaplin, its not what he is doing as much as how he is doing it. Chaplin's wandering eyes and light resting of his head on his hand, as well as the shoving of pastries into his mouth that is clearly chalk-full of food, makes this classic film exactly that; classic. 

3. This gag contributes a classic example of slapstick in its most natural state. A viewer just can't ignore the classic execution of a story with such a simple performance... I guess I should say that Chaplin makes it look easy. I know I couldn't shove that many cakes in my mouth and look so mischevious and innocent at the same time. It gave me a good chuckle!

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1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

I would agree that there is visually, a lot missing in today's movies, not only in comedies but in all the film genres.  The use of multiple, rapid cuts in editing seem to be the choice of current generation filmmakers rather than carefully crafted and choreographed actions.  

2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

The actor’s facial expressions are key to visual style of this reel.  What’s lacking in dialog is visually communicated in what each character is feeling or thinking vividly by their body language and facial expressions.  Also the blocking or actors movements are especially effective visually as each character moves or counters to the other and interacts, almost like watching a tennis match.

3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

I believe these types of gags were the building blocks for the time period as each studio, filmmakers and cast experimented to find out what would work in a particular setup and what wouldn’t.  They were the pioneers and were establishing the boundaries of their individual crafts. 

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1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

Once again, I have to agree but partially. I believe that some visual comedies do indeed have that magic and pay great tributes to the classics, but it all depends on the content you are watching. Most visual comedy now a day, tends to rely more on words rather than actually physical comedy.

2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

I believe that the innocent aura of it helps along with the setting. The fact that you also didn’t need them to speak in order to understand what’s going on. You can’t help but also feel for both Tramp and the sweet dog he was carrying, you almost want him to just take the whole plate of biscuits and run. Another thing that makes this so effective, as I am sure is mentioned by other’s is the impeccable timing of both Chaplin brothers, the policeman (played by Tom Wilson I believe) and even the dog.

3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

I think it contributes by influencing future generations, it gives you a greater appreciation of comedy, the lengths these legendary actors would go through just to get a laugh. It not only helps with actual live action humor, but with humor captured in cartoons and even in video games now a day.
 

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  The focus of this clip is that the performance is "king." "King" Chaplin provides a richness to such a simplistic scene in this clip and captivates our full attention.  The passive camera here is merely an "eye" or recorder that picks up on the performance, this provides a purity to the performance. Today's film comedy is not necessarily performance driven as many rely on camera maneuvers, more complicated routines, editing and sound/light variations. Performance is not necessarily "king" in these current films, it becomes just one part of a bit. I do think there is a purity or foundation being formed in this early Chaplin film. Chaplin provides the nuts and bolts to future film slapstick. The tempo, the supporting characters (and even the dog),  detailed set, and of course, the sublime and deft performance by Chaplin, leave room for future slapstick ventures in both performance and technical creativity.

  Today's films may rely too heavily on CG and fast cuts but if done right these can provide a different experience for the film-goer and maybe not just something better than Chaplin's venture, just something derived and different.  So rather than participating as a passive "eye" as the camera has in these early comedic silents and letting the performer be "king," latter comedies allowed the cameras to become more active or participatory, sharing a portion of the celluloid kingdom.

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Q 1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing in1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

 

The point has been made that early comedy was as only as good as the comic's ability to keep it unique and fresh, without replicating what other slapstick comics had already done. When considering the silent classics of the era, it appears comedians were not inhibited by the constraints of political correctness or health insurance issues or other factors that by today's standards, restrict the type of violence depicted and/or dangerous stunts they were able to pull off in those times.

 

Q 2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?
 

This may sound like a simplistic response, but other elements pertinent to effective visual comedy are a comic's commitment to his craft, lots of practice, and the ability to act well.

 

Q 3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

 

The fact that the camera did not 'cut away' or go into close-ups was a brilliant move on Chaplin's or Keaton's part.  In today's comedic movies there is so much going on (like trying to catch all the Disney rides at once), that it detracts from the point the actors are attempting to make and from the comedy itself. With the camera focused in place on the one scene, Chaplin ensures that the gag that is meant to be funny (and the point he is making) will not be missed by the audience. Chaplin made political statements about human nature and existing circumstances, delivering his message through the medium of slapstick comedy. 

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