Thursday, May 03, 2007

The dharma of the tramp

Remembered those afternoons in my childhood years when Charlie Chaplin's silent movies were a staple of my tv viewing habits. Color televisions were still far from being the norm in our barriotic neighborhood then. So the Tramp's blurry vintage films were as good as any of those old, black and white Pinoy movies, those prime time cartoons, soap dramas or gag shows, or those late night French movies that took up most of my early boob tube mediated learning experience. Looking back, there was a certain enigmatic quality in those Chaplin films that attracted a young mind, reflected in the Tramp's composure and dignified demeanor amidst adversities.

Years later, thinking of VCDs to watch at home with my daughter, thought of buying this boxed set of eight to ten Chaplin classics. Not able to muster enough will to charge my overused credit card, had to content myself with paying in cash for a single VCD, The Gold Rush. Some more years later, and after watching The Gold Rush one or two times during that period, would finally decide that it was a good buy. Don't remember if my eldest daughter ever watched it with or without me around. My second daughter, who still can't get over her fear of those loud opening sequences, would be running out of the room as soon as she hears the narrator's baritone voice describing the gold prospectors' hardships in the snowy Alaskan landscape. That leaves just me in front of the monitor, hypnotized by Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr.'s performance.

A memorable sequence had the Tramp ("The Lone Prospector") and Big Jim McKay (played by Mack Swain) freezing and starving in a mountain cabin. The Tramp calmly cooks one of his boots like a professional chef, carefully pinching and checking on the stewing leather, while his would-be "customer" incredulously awaits their not-so-ordinary meal. With that famous facial expression -- stoic yet able to elicit much comedic pathos from viewers -- the Tramp lets Big Jim choose between the upper and lower portions of the cooked shoe, puts salt over his own piece, separates the shoelace in another plate, and gingerly eats the lace like some kind of black noodle or pasta. In another scene, the Tramp makes elaborate preparations for a New Year's Eve party with his love interest, Georgia (played by Georgia Hale), and her friends. Waiting for his guests, the Tramp imagines entertaining them with his famous dancing rolls routine using two French bread rolls speared with forks.

The Gold Rush is said to be one of Chaplin's favorite work, one of his films wherein the story was already laid out and written before actual shooting began. The film was shot within a 15-month period between 1924 to 1925. First shot as a silent film, it was later re-released with added narration and music in 1942. Guess who the narrator was? Yup, it's Sir Charles himself. And dig this, he also composed and arranged the music. More on the film here. The boot-eating scene took three days and 63 takes to shoot. The dancing bread rolls sequence became so popular with audiences that projectionists in European theaters sometimes gave in to demands to stop the film and replay the scene. More trivia here.

Few can go through life's ups and downs with the same unruffled intensity as that of the Tramp. While almost everyone seems to be busy looking and settling for some place or realizations as "home" or as basis for some enlightened state, the Tramp shows how anywhere can serve as home and how one can find peace with the search itself.

No comments: