Chaplin's 'The Kid' Plays Clifton Park

Local Screenings

August 07, 2009|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,michael.sragow@baltsun.com

A Charlie Chaplin movie like his early masterpiece "The Kid" (1921) is an ideal choice for an open-air urban screening like the one at 8 tonight at the Clifton Park band shell. That's because Chaplin combined unparalleled high jinks with nonpareil sensitivity.

Chaplin's combination of balletic grace and robust iconoclastic farce has never been equaled. He might have carried himself like a European aristocrat in his later years, but his hardscrabble London background was the prime source of his pathos-laden humor. His mother, Hannah, was a mad soubrette who couldn't handle the pressure of facing an audience or the obligation of supporting Charlie and his half-brother, Sydney. She went in and out of an insane asylum, while Charlie endured a workhouse and a pauper's school.

That Dickensian upbringing informs the pratfalls as well as the substance of "The Kid," the slapstick tragicomedy about Chaplin's unsinkable persona, the Little Tramp, raising an abandoned boy from infancy into a resourceful, streetwise childhood (he's played by the 6-year-old Jackie Coogan). In the 1992 biopic "Chaplin," featuring Robert Downey Jr., the film clips from "The Kid" were overpowering because of the connection between Chaplin's own early years and his sublime fantasy of a tossed-away child finding a loving surrogate parent. But even if you don't know the background, the sight of Chaplin's eyes filling with tears as he embraces Jackie Coogan isn't sticky or embarrassing. It's transporting.

The Hexagon continues its adventurous "Free 16mm Film Night" on Wednesday with a bill of early animated shorts, including Winsor McCay's "The Sinking of the Lusitania," a fierce documentary cartoon made 90 years before "Waltz With Bashir." The schedule also features a choice Betty Boop cartoon from the Fleischer Studios, "Betty in Blunderland" (1934) - yes, everyone's favorite animated flapper doing her sassy, dizzying song and dance all over Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" - as well as Dave Fleischer's "In the Good Old Summertime" and, to top it off, "A World is Born," that portion of Disney's "Fantasia" starring dinosaurs, volcanoes and Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring."

If you go

The Clifton Park and Lake Montebello film series unspools at the Clifton Park band shell off St. Lo Drive. Call 410-366-2222. The Hexagon's Free 16mm Film Night takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday at 1825 N. Charles St. Go to hexagonspace.com.

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