Kid Auto Races at Venice

Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 16, 2015

Boom! This is really just a one-trick pony, a one-joke film. It starts well, incidentally gathers some vivid documentary footage, then pretty completely peters out at the end. No matter, because not only a star is born, but comic modernism—as opposed to the inexhaustible direct-address bounty of the ancient commedia tradition—is born too. It’s like it emerges, fully grown, right out of Chaplin’s head. Not only does he keep looking at the audience, but he reflects, in his narcissism and in his sufficiency, in his obliviousness and in his long-suffering, so many of the disadvantaged and striving individuals that comprise that audience.

More, here are modernism—”uncovering the apparatus,” as the saying goes—and democracy both. Their meeting, here, is incalculably and even unspeakably important. The character that Chaplin has just so freshly coined, in only his second film (!), is on the periphery of power and even of pertinence. In almost all of the dozens, the scores of films in which he essays this Tramp character, Chaplin will be cut off, marginalized, ignored or outright persecuted. But Chaplin the director will put this character right in the centre of his every frame, such that the world will be unable to ignore him, or his kind, every again. A vagrant yes, but just as much the salt of the earth, or maybe even the writing on the wall.

Ready or not, here he comes!  Check that—ready or not, here he is!

On the commedia dell’arte

The British Film Institute, giving a sense of how large this guy is: