Dr. Rich Edwards

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

148 posts in this topic

One thing I thought was interesting was Syd's moustache and glasses, which would later become a trademark of Groucho (and today the glasses with moustache attached are still a dollar store item associated with comedy). Here the moustache works to hide Syd's mouth, as well, so all the acting is done with his eyes and eyebrows. Amazing how well can tell what he's thinking while part of his face is obscured (and specifically the part associated with making expressions). Good cover if you're prone to breaking on scene. :)

 

Also, liked the fact that Syd was determined to catch the Tramp in the act, and not accuse him before he caught him red handed. It's obvious that Chaplin (and maybe his dog) are the culprit (only logical explanation) but he continues to give them the benefit of the doubt, which works to further humanize his character, even as we are set-up to sympathize with Chaplin, too.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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?

 

Like so many others here, I'm going to disagree with Canby....   but for a different reason (though I only read through the last four pages of comments ~ forgive me is someone early on mentioned this)....  

As soon as I queued this clip, and the music started, it smacked of Bugs Bunny. As the scene progressed, it has Bugs written all OVER it....   Chaplin's fingers working their way across the counter, popping the cakes in his mouth, the beset counter man with his appearance and mannerisms. 

This, possibly not the the extent of the banana peel has been well carried into our lexicon of humor across the ages. So, in that respect, that modern humor still has a strong connection to its roots, I feel Canby is wrong.

Now, if one is talking "original" humor....   Times have changed. Humor has evolved.  Just as it evolved during the Silent era.  I think the visual humor of today tends more towards the over-the-top exaggerated.... where as the earlier humor was more subtle.  It's merely a matter of personal preference.

 

 

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 enjoy the middle distance placement of the camera..  but I was surprised that there were cut scenes to the dog and to the cop in the little window, at the end. And while I normally don't appreciate a lot of directorial censorship via over zealous editing, I will be the first to admit I did not notice the cop's window ~  I think I was too busy, like so many others, marveling at the amount of cakes Charlie scarfed. hahhaaa 

The setting was perfectly established, as someone else pointed out, so that the gent's back was to The Tramp.. otherwise the gag would not have worked.

Props were appropriate to the setting.  It allowed more focus on the acting. Very nice!

As far as the costumes ~ they were established / familiar and that might qualify as "ritualistic".  

Overall, I had a difficult time relating this to slapstick... This clip didn't really seem, to me, to meet many of our "criteria". It wasn't physical, exaggerated, particularly make believe or terribly violent; well, until the counterman beaned the cop! 

I suppose the tension of "probable violence" might count.... perhaps even more than the actual violence itself! 

 

 

 

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

This is a great gag and that it has been an influence on others, Bugs Bunny being my example, is undeniable. Someone else mentioned this scene w/ pies on a windowsill. Absolutely! That's been done from the Little Rascals to Gilligan's Island! 

As far as a contribution to slapstick...  aside from making us consider the tension of one of the aspects (in this case the looming violence for the thefts) as enough to meet the criteria, I don't really see this as slapstick.   Dang Chaplin.. he was too subtle. I missed it! hahahahaa

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am getting the 'unauthorized' message when I click on the link to the Daily Dose of Doozy #2, also.

 

For anyone who has been getting an "unauthorized" message, that has been fixed. If you go over to Canvas, you will be able to see Daily Dose #2. Thanks for the heads up that it wasn't working properly. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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?

 

Canby’s statement makes little sense to me.  In 1918 it was convenient, conventional, and cost effective to use the static camera setup that we see in this scene.  So you would invent a comic bit that would work well with this setup, and Chaplin did that.  So does that mean that we’ve found the “golden comedic formula” and that further experimentation with camera placement and movement, not to mention editing, is superfluous?  I think not.  Nor did filmmakers in 1918, for goodness sake.  By this time tracking shots, traveling shots, cross-cutting, etc., etc., were in common use.  This scene was simply one case where the old-school static setup worked well.

I believe Canby's argument here is that the old school had found something that worked. Then new people tried something new that didn't work and, instead of going back to something that did work they continued to use something that didn't.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 is difficult to agree or disagree with Canby's blanket statement because he gives no example of a then-modern comedy gag in a film that is broken up by editing such that the editing detracts from the audiences' understanding of just what the director is trying to convey.  

 

Without understanding what Canby is referring to, we just have to accept his unsupported premise because he was the great film reviewer for the NYT. I do accept that he saw many more modern physical comedy gags than I have, but I can't think of anything that jumps to mind to support his opinion. It seems to me that he has a few variables to take into consideration when announcing such an opinion, not the least of which is what the writer/director is trying to communicate to the audience. Without that we don't really know how the filmmaker failed.

 

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 think this scene actually demonstrates silent film's failure to communicate fully the exact setting of the gag.

 

Canby calls the setting an "outdoor cake stand." The TCM caption of the clip calls it a "lunch wagon." Based on the sausages cooked and served in a skillet, it seems clear that TCM is correct. But, if Vincent Canby can't correctly identify the action, how much of Chaplin's ideas are being communicated, despite the full screen view of the wagon activity?  it is also possible to read too much into an amusing sketch.

 

First of all, other than hitting the cop with the salami, I didn't see much slapstick in the scene. The gag merely focuses on Chaplin's ability to filch a food purveyor's wares right under his nose with very little consequence.

 

Chaplin is funny and sympathetic because he is dressed so poorly, and his doggy is so adorable, and they are both so hungry. The audience is actually glad they are both getting something to eat. But we also feel for the lunch wagon proprietor.

 

He is trying to make an honest living, and obviously works hard. He is trusting his customers to observe his lunch offerings and buy them, not steal them. But he is so obtuse in not realizing that Chaplin is eating everything, despite the fact that the proprietor cannot catch Chaplin actually putting the cake in his mouth, the audience thinks that if he is that dense, maybe he deserves to be robbed of his wares.

 

As in the previous Chaplin clip, where he eludes two cops by rolling under a fence, here Chaplin also avoids paying the consequences of his theft by adroitly getting his two antagonists, the lunch wagon owner and the cop, to collide with each other. It is basically the same gag as the two cops and the fence. 

 

 

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

 

Since it is in effect the same gag, slightly restaged in the same film, and there is very little real slapstick in it, I don't think it contributes much to the art of slapstick.

I very much agree that we are drifting here away from "slapstick" into (or, as it were, back into) more sophisticated comedy forms. However, I would not hold Canby responsible for not identifying other examples, at least not in this instance. He is merely being quoted, not speaking for himself.
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not sure I can agree with Canby saying something is missing from today's comedy, because that sounds like saying that today's comedies are somehow less.  The difference I see, is essentially my part as the viewer.  

 

Today's films are performances for us, the audience.  In "A Dog's Life" as in many of Chaplin's films, we aren't so much the audience as we are in on the gag.  We can see what Chaplin is doing when he's sneaking bits of cake of the counter, or slipping through holes in a fence to evade the cops.  We're co-conspirators with Chaplin.  We're almost part of the gag.  I feel more involved in Chaplin's gags because I feel part of the performance not just a nameless, faceless member of the audience.  And, that, I think is missing from today's comedy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. I agree the gag is simple man is hungry swipes cake when propietor isn,t looking How many times can he swipe before he is caught.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. the small stand Chaplin doesn,t give us much to be distracted by.the whole scene is focused on the stand and the tramp with the dog so our focus is the same.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       3. Its simplicity you don,t need a whole lot to make people laugh and smile Chaplin did it with just a food stand and a dog

To this very basic point: people today are a bit more cynical, I think, and would have a harder time accepting that a "real person" would be so naive as to continue to allow his wares to "disappear" in this fashion. This because our comedy has become presented to us in more "realistic" terms to match our cynicism. All the more to the pity. Ah, to go back to Looney Tunes which were, essentially, drawn from the slapstick comedies.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with Cady. The silent comedies were simple and the viewer could concentrate on one thing. In this case it was Chaplin pulling a fast one by sneaking cake. Today's comedies usually have more than one thing going on in a scene, cut to other views or there is some sort of special effect. I enjoy slapstick both silent and sound but the simplicity makes it funnier.

 

The placement of the camera in the middle did a lot for the scene. We didn't need close-ups of the dog or Sid to know what was going on but an overall picture. The props weren't over the top to add to the simplicity and Chaplin's costume fits the mood on why he is stealing cake.

 

Chaplin was a master of slapstick as was Keaton and Lloyd. The slapstick that has followed since is a proof of it by others copying the art of it. The gags may have changed but the original premise is there.

What an excellent point!!! Modern screenplays, even for comedies, usually demand that more than one action be taking place to keep the suspense going for more than 90 minutes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. The silent classics were created by comic geniuses, masters of their art. It would be interesting to see what Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon or Keaton would do today with our visual comedies.  I could see this "Piece of Cake" scene set at a modern food truck with a homeless person and his dog doing the same gag. The question of course is would it be as funny? would it be received by today's general audience?  and what would  sound cause to be changed in the gag? We know Charlie wouldn't be able to say much with his mouth full of stolen cakes.

 

2. Other things that make this gag effective include all three actors costumes... at first sight we know Charlie is the poor tramp, that the lunch wagon owner is pretty comfortable in his station in life (the actor playing the lunch wagon owner is Syd Chaplin, Charlie's half brother) and of course the uniform lets us know that the other character is a police officer. The way the set is designed allows Charlie to snatch a sausage or a cake whenever the owner turns his back, The back widow on the lunch wagon acts as the perfect frame for the police officer's face. The props help too as an example the cakes are on a little tray so the owner can move them away from Charlie quickly, the grease brush is funny in that not only does the owner grease the pan with it but he also greases his mustache with it. The use of the larger sausage as a billy club on the police officer is rich. In terms of acting the owners twists and turns and gyrations help keep Charlie on his toes and add to the laughs.

 

3. I think a gag like this again shows how much the geniuses of the time both in front of and behind the camera could accomplish with everyday objects in everyday situations that made people roar with slapstick laughter.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not sure I understand the premise of Question 2 that the camera is set in the middle distance. The clip I saw showed a variety of camera distances, close-ups of dogs, the policeman in the window, etc. I don't know what was done in one take, but the end result doesn't seem to be so different to me from film editing, and it makes sense that film-makers pretty quickly get the idea to be more creative and diverse with the camera. Someone said they were looking forward to seeing the whole movie, yeah, maybe. I wasn't able to view a lot of the opening night of TCM last night, but I wasn't very drawn to the "full-length", or maybe just longer-- at 30 minutes--features. So much repetition, boring action. Returning to an earlier question about the value of these documentaries, I think that the movies themselves leave something to be desired. It's these small "bits" wedged into the action that really make the films memorable. I'm grateful that somebody has pulled out a scene like this cake-eating one, to be enjoyed as a couple of minutes on its own. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I found the clip to be interesting. Having the camera in the middle distance made it feel like I was watching the gag on the stage, which I think enhanced the visual of the performance.

 

Has comedy changed since the original clip? I there something missing in the comedy of today? I can see it both ways. I think there's a personal connection to the older films because of the way they were staged that brings the viewer closer to the action. However, I feel the filmmaker had to create the film in that way because of the constraints of the time period. I don't think anything has been lost. I do think things have changed as people's taste in comedy have changed.

 

I find myself watching the clips with my husband, who has never seen any silent pictures. I wanted to see what he thinks of the films as we've been watching them. It's good to see that the gags still have staying power and that he can laugh at what he sees on the screen. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Those who haven’t are encouraged to see Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels” more for the theme than for anything else, because it serves the purpose of “messaging” about what really entertains, especially in regard to humor. And it did so, early enough in the “transition” period of filmmaking to make a solid point about the values brought over from the silent screen without having to hammer away about the silence.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. The silent classics were created by comic geniuses, masters of their art. It would be interesting to see what Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon or Keaton would do today with our visual comedies.  I could see this "Piece of Cake" scene set at a modern food truck with a homeless person and his dog doing the same gag. The question of course is would it be as funny? would it be received by today's general audience?  and what would  sound cause to be changed in the gag? We know Charlie wouldn't be able to say much with his mouth full of stolen cakes.

 

2. Other things that make this gag effective include all three actors costumes... at first sight we know Charlie is the poor tramp, that the lunch wagon owner is pretty comfortable in his station in life (the actor playing the lunch wagon owner is Syd Chaplin, Charlie's half brother) and of course the uniform lets us know that the other character is a police officer. The way the set is designed allows Charlie to snatch a sausage or a cake whenever the owner turns his back, The back widow on the lunch wagon acts as the perfect frame for the police officer's face. The props help too as an example the cakes are on a little tray so the owner can move them away from Charlie quickly, the grease brush is funny in that not only does the owner grease the pan with it but he also greases his mustache with it. The use of the larger sausage as a billy club on the police officer is rich. In terms of acting the owners twists and turns and gyrations help keep Charlie on his toes and add to the laughs.

 

3. I think a gag like this again shows how much the geniuses of the time both in front of and behind the camera could accomplish with everyday objects in everyday situations that made people roar with slapstick laughter.

Those of you who have been anywhere in the vicinity of an actual food wagon in your lives…try to imagine this scene being rewritten as comedy today. Just try. It is impossible, or at least nearly so, because the culture has changed so dramatically. What we have, today, is George Costanza and The Soup Nazi, instead.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In reference to today's questions:

 

1. Obviously what's missing is the need to use visual cues to let the viewer know what's going on since. If we accept that scene is perfect as is then an addition of dialogue, street noise, etc. would be extraneous.

2. As pointed out previously, the window in the back of the cart if even noticed at first is probably for ventilation. It's then  conveniently in place for the cop to see what's going on.

3. I think that this is a textbook case for the ritualistic aspect of slapstick. It's The Tramp's job to steal the cakes and it's the owner's job to protect them, but as part of the ritual, (even though he knows that cakes are disappearing) unless he can figure out where they are going he can move the platter but he can't remove it from the counter.  We also see Chaplin's anti-authoritarian philosophy well displayed. We root for the Tramp who is stealing and when the cop tries to intervene on the owner's behalf he gets hit by accident for his efforts.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1.  I definitely agree with Canby that something is missing from the visual aspects of today's comedies when compared to the comedy of the silent era. When viewing many of the great silent performers, it was their skill, presence, timing, and physical prowess that made their films so endearing. They did not do multiple takes, there were no editing miracles, the action was fast, and there were limited special effects. Today's visual comedies are heavily laden with special effects, camera tricks, and editing pizzazz. One must also consider the role of stunt men in today's visual comedies. The silent performers were great actors and the courage to do their own stunts.

 

2.  Going back to my days in college theater, the set design allows for the very effective use of various levels of the stage. Chaplin and his dog are downstage, the strongest position. The cook, the antagonist, is center stage, allowing Chaplin to engage in antics when the chef turns upstage. We view the action from Chaplin's perspective. Finally, the upstage position allows the policeman to peer through the open window unseen by both the cook and Chaplin, but the audience is privy to his presence. While the placement of the actors and their movements are easy to follow, it is the perfection of the timing that makes this scene work so well. As mentioned, this was done in one take with constant action, no close-ups, and no camera cuts. The rest of the setting, including the costumes and props, just add to the reality of the setting.

 

3.  While it might be easiest to focus on the nostalgia and historical aspect of this clip, I was amazed by the artistry and humor of Chaplin. This film is so entrenched in the reality of that period and it is a depiction of the times. It is a look into the past, and it like watching family films of baby's first steps. However, I am not sure that comedy ever got better. It got different ... it became appealing in different ways (some purient) ... it relied more on special effects ... the scenes sometimes rely on fantasy ... but I do not think it got better. This gag has been replicated and duplicated many times over the years, but it is amazing to go back in time to see it when it was fresh.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. Yes I do agree with Canby that in today's visual comedies something is missing compared to silent classics. Classic are the classics and to each their own. Today's comedies are focused on more verbal then physical. I think if you combine these two elements of comedy; you will have a masterpiece.


 


2. This gag uses a dog as a character and a prop. Everyone knows that everyone loves dogs. So having an animal in this will extract interest and give a little more comedy to the film especially when he eats the sausage. So cute! Set design looks like its outside in the streets of an old town possibly New York City but I'm not sure. There is a food vendor standing in his little cart cooking food. The food looks real and good enough to eat. Costumes give the sense of each character and where they come from or who they are, what they do for a living, etc... Brings the characters to life. Props are simple and easy things to point out like the frying pan, food, Charlie Chaplin's hat and more. The acting between Charlie and the cook is great. I love their facial expressions. Everything and every little movement is great.


 


3. I think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes tremendously to history of slapstick comedy in so many ways. I can't say it enough that a classic is a classic and who doesn't love a classic. We take away so much from watching these films and gain a lot by incorporating them into our daily lives. I have to say thank you to all the actors, directors, producers, everyone that is involved with silent films and in all films. They entertain us, teach us, and we all have fun doing it.


  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the fix, Doc.

 

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?

 

My response: I have to agree with that statement, because there is something missing in today's visual comedies. There's a certain punch in execution that many gags in silent films had that made them timeless and hilarious to the point where a lot of filmmakers today are doing similar concepts that don't hold up as much. Silent film stars like Charles Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, and others were practically one-of-a-kind, and when they were given a gag to do, they did it to the point where no one else can perfectly emulate it with the same response.

 

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?

 

My response: The acting and the use of the dog is what made this gag effective, because when the chef sees that some of the cake is gone, he begins to have a sneaking suspicion that the dog is to blame, when it's really Chaplin who is eating pieces of the cake while his back is turned. Eventually, he starts looking back while doing his duties as Chaplin immediately and quickly retracts his hand to make it appear that he's innocent. The fact that the camera is set in the middle shows that we're not focusing on one of the two characters, but both of them at the same time.

 

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

 

My response: A lot of us can learn from the classics, and gags like this, especially when done by Chaplin, contribute to slapstick history in many different ways. It's a simple, everyday scenario exaggerated to where it wouldn't normally happen in real life, all for the sake of laughter from the audience.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm a little late posting so the only thing I would like to add is I was very impressed with how Chaplin reminded true to the title “A Dog’s Life”. I found the parallel between the dog stealing food and Chaplin stealing food both amusing and touching. I have a dog who can sometimes be a little bit of a food thief and the way Chaplin did it is exactly the way she does it. Remaining true to how things are in real life made this scene effective visual comedy.

 

I'm not sure that I agree with Canby that something is missing by not having full-figure framing. I think different would be a better description. In “A Dog's Life” we are in essence looking through a window into the life of a man and his dog. In today's comedies we are being told a visual and verbal story. The camera angles can assist with that story. Plus, as I learned in this class slapstick grew out of earlier stage performances so the audience was probably more accustomed that format.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Truly a master of slapstick to be able to eat all that cake and still make the gag look so easy. It is easy to see how these classic slapstick films led to the inspiration of many comedians yet to come such as Lucille Ball in the famous candy factory scene in I Love Lucy and Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation trying to decorate the house as some others mentioned as well.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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?

 

So much of todays comedies lack the set up to the gag. They lack the exaggeration and make believe the classics have. I agree with Canby. Today's film makers could learn a few things from watching the classics.

 

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?

 

Chaplin is a master of keeping a straight face. He is eating all the cake but the proprietor only suspects he is eating the cake and tries to keep an eye on him. The placement of the camera is essential in gag. Chaplin taking a bite and the proprietor turning around to try and catch him to only get Chaplin acting innocent and keeping a straight face.

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 shows what we all have a secret desire to do in real life and it is still funny today..

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As for something missing in today's comedy films, that may not necessarily be true. As for a scene being shot in one master, with no edits, of course you get the gag and the reaction in the same shot. In this particular gag, the timing of the sneaks Charlie makes works better if it's not cut up. However comedies today sometimes still use a one-shot:

      In Christmas Vacation, there is a dialogue scene in bed between Clark and his wife. The joke is that he is trying to read a magazine and the sap from a tree makes this all but impossible, with pages being torn, sticking to his fingers, even his wife's hair and a lamp. It is in one shot and works because we see the wife's reaction to the sap. However in the same film there are visual jokes that require a cut. When Clark and his family stand around the perfect tree out in the woods, and his son says 'Dad, did you bring a saw?' [cut to] the car driving down the road, tree on top with the roots. That's a gag that only works because of the cut.

   So there are times for one-shots, and times for cuts. Also, I think sitcoms use the one-shot a lot, even if movies don't.

 

What makes the gag effective is the impeccable timing, of both Chaplin and the butcher. The gag only works with split second timing. If we believe Charlie could have been seen, we don't buy into the scene.

 

What this gag contributed first is a cliche, which has been repeated over and over again. How many times have we seen this gag repeated.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am not sure that this clip would translate into today's terms.  It works because of the simplicity and also the split second timing that has to go into the taking of the cakes.  Isn't one of the conditions of slapstick the make believe or the suspension of belief.  There was one quick thing that I noticed the cook at one point combed his mustache in between all of the disappearing cakes.  The dog reminded  me of one that was in The Little Rascals.  I think there was a scene of him stealing food also.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There is an innocence and even a bit of naiveté in some of the early slapstick that in today's comedies have become trashy and bordering on bathroom humor.  

 

The set definitely set the scene to where food was going to be involved.  Very simple slapstick, but the timing between Chaplin stealing the food and the cook turning around was impeccable...totally perfect.  The dog was really secondary to the human actors aside from the cute factor.  It's almost as if Chaplin were comparing the plight of a hungry person with a dog...eating whatever it can get without being caught.

 

Finally, the scene goes to show that slapstick in all its forms, if executed brilliantly, can be enjoyable to watch.  Sometimes if the gag is embellished or "improved" upon many will perhaps enjoy the original as opposed to a "re-imagining."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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?

That’s an oversimplified view.  Canby’s assumption is based on audiences never changing.  That could not possibly be the case.  Over the past 100+ years, audiences have unfortunately lost an appreciation for the simple joys in life.  We’ve also lost our sense of patience.  We couldn’t sit through seeing the same gag repeated over and over as it is in this clip.  That’s really too bad.  Another unfortunate loss is that fact that most of us have become gluttons.  We simply fail to appreciate a character having to steal and/or use his wits to grab a few morsels of food for mere survival.  Thankfully, this character’s needs are not relatable for most of us.

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 hole for the cop to peer through is obviously essential to the bit.  Another essential that is oft overlooked is the suspension of disbelief.  We have to overlook the fact that the cook would have to be an utter moron to let Charlie go on as long as he did.

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

It reinforces the necessity of repetition and one character having to outwit another.  It also delivers a huge payoff as the bothersome authority figure gets his in the end!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The split-second timing of this sequence and the one inside the employment agency, comes from more than just practice and instinct. It comes from somene being able to give verbal cues during filming (not possible in a talkie), and from the cameraman's skill at seamlessly adjusting his cranking-speed just enough, at precisely the right time, for precisely the right duration.

 

In Ben Model's live presentation on the subject, he used the employment office scene to demonstrate how the film was undercranked (slowed down) during the filming, just as each person zipped up to the counter ahead of Chaplin. When projected, this added an extra burst of speed, resulting in movement that is impossible in real-life.

 

I recognize the same technique in this "lunch-wagon" sequence. The camera is undercranked for each sudden turn and near-miss. Watch closely, and you'll notice a little spurt of speed, each time.

 

Adjusting the cranking-speed was a common technique in the silent era, and it was used in dramas, as well as comedies, to add or remove speed and the apparent weight of onscreen people and objects.

 

Try imitating Harold Lloyd's little "Step right up and call me Speedy!" jig-step, from "The Freshman". You'll discover it's impossible. Why? Because it was shot slightly undercranked. When projected, it not only makes the jig-step a slight blur of fast movement, it make Harold appear almost weightless as he does it,

 

If we could get Ben Model to do his presentatation for this Slapstick course, or as a TCM Original Presentation, it would be one of the most amazing things we've ever seen, and it would exponentially add to our appreciation of the skill that went into these films...and which was lost with the coming of sound and its requirement that all frames be shot at a uniform speed.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us