In this feature, I’ll be taking a look at the films of Charlie Chaplin. I’ll be including the shorts (where possible) and will hopefully delve into what makes him such an indomitable social and cultural figure to this very day. As with my Hitchmania feature, my approach will be somewhat haphazard. Things will run chronologically and there may be an essay or two to further discuss a particular period (for example, the Keystone period and so forth). I hope you’ll join me for what should be a lot of fun.
Shot in a day and running at just a half reel, Charlie Chaplin’s Recreation is a trifle. This 1914 silent short comedy features the cinematography of Frank D. Williams and is one of Keystone Studios’ park movies. It was released alongside an educational short called The Yosemite.
By the time Recreation was released, Chaplin’s pictures were in regular distribution. Audiences were attracted to his work and would attend repeat showings, which meant theatre owners had to do very little legwork to put butts in seats. According to James L. Neibaur’s Early Charlie Chaplin: The Artist as Apprentice at Keystone Studios, this pleased produce Mack Sennett immensely.
In Recreation, Chaplin plays a broke and alone man thinking about jumping off a bridge. He spies a pretty lady. She’s talking to a seaman (Charles Bennett) and a scuffle ensues for her affection. There is some brick throwing and some punching. The police (Edwin Frazee, Eddie Nolan) show up and there’s watery chaos.
As you may have guessed, there’s not a lot to Recreation. It is essentially a condensed version of the more chaotic Chaplin efforts from Keystone Studios and anything resembling a purpose is left aside. Even Williams’ framing seems off, giving the whole affair a very slapdash appearance that confirms it was made on the quick.
Some astute observers, like Ted Okuda and David Maska in their Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp, have noted that the protagonist’s suit jacket bears a paint stain – the same paint stain acquired in The Face on the Bar Room Floor.
There is one considerable gag that finds Chaplin trying to jump off the aforementioned bridge. He lifts one leg up, then tries to lift the other and falls down to the ground. His character can’t even kill himself properly, which speaks to the overall calamity that awaits.
Everything’s old hat, from the brick-tossing to the punching to the typical Keystone bit where a woman is decked after the man in front of her ducks a punch. It’s very routine.
There does appear to be some disagreement with respect to the woman in the park. Neibaur’s book lists her as Peggy Page, who features in a number of Chaplin shorts for Keystone. Conversely, Okuda and Maska suggest that the girl is Gene Marsh. The Internet Movie Database lists her as Helen Carruthers.
It says something about a picture when the lion’s share of the discussion pertains to peripheral details, but there’s so little to Recreation that it’s hard to come up with much to say. These inconsequential observations reveal the hurried background of Chaplin’s film, a movie that’s short but certainly not very sweet.