The Chaplin Project/Tramp 100 2014

The year the whole world is celebrating the first appearance of the most beloved and enduring of film legends – the character that best incarnated the essence, changes and contradictions of the short twentieth century – there have been many occasions to watch that miniature masterpiece Kid Auto Races in Venice, and with every viewing something new is discovered. The first long horizontal dolly shot preceded by the intertitle ‘The Grand Stand’ is particularly hypnotic. It gives us a closeup look at the heterogeneous crowd – like the one that would follow Chaplin on the big screen for over fifty years – that on January 11, 1914, was watching the pedal car race in Venice. The camera’s slow pace reveals the spectators’ different reactions to this new mechanical marvel: two women (the first wearing a feathered hat, both of them gloves) cover their faces with a white handkerchief, others smile standing still as if posing before a photo camera, and some avert their eyes. Seated at the bottom of the crowd, the Tramp is just another spectator, but the moment he stands up he instantly captures the attention of everyone, piquing curiosity, surprise and laughter. The seductive power of Kid Auto Races in Venice gives us a glimpse of the mysterious and powerful bond Chaplin forged between the Tramp and audiences across five continents – which is partially responsible for the character’s immortality. “Chaplin figured out that moving and living on the screen was a difficult, new and special art”, wrote Diana Karenne, the brilliant Polish, director, actress and producer, at the end of the 1910s, “his acting demonstrates that the expressiveness of film depends on every gesture, on the costume, on the smallest details (the walking stick, the bowler hat, the shoes, etc.), on the variety of dramatic situations, on knowing when to stop, on the internal and external fusion of his character, and, probably the most important of all, on that elusive quality of art, which immediately creates a bond between the artist and spectator. Every art has something entirely elusive about it”. The three-day conference celebrating the Tramp’s 100th anniversary explores this legendary character and his maker: the complex indecipherability of Chaplin’s art hidden behind an immediately recognizable costume, the artistic influences he reinterpreted, a historical analysis of his character, secrets from his archive, the reproduction of his work in film and in other art forms (and so much more). The conference and its related events have been co-organized with Association Chaplin/Roy Export, partner of the Cineteca since the late 1990s for the complete restoration of Chaplin’s films and the cataloguing, digitalization and study of his paper and photo archive.

(Cecilia Cenciarelli)