Today was my first day working as a front desk runner at a restaurant. My job is I take people to their tables, give them menus, clear the extra place settings and then, as I think I mentioned in the past, I have to clean windows during the down time. Bathrooms, too. I’m just now sitting down with a notebook at a bar by my house, drinking a $4 beer that will put my checking account into the red, and I’m noticing that I smell like a sweaty kitchen, that my shoes are tighter than they were this morning, and that my calves are throbbing, my thighs and my ass too, and all of this, frankly, is influencing my attitude toward The Gold Rush, which I saw a couple days ago and didn’t really like. But Charlie Chaplin’s physicality is way more impressive to me right now. Apparently Chaplin’s boot, which he eats at one point in the movie, was made of licorice. After so many takes, and so many licorice boots, Chaplin was hospitalized to have his stomach pumped. Then there’s all the jumping and dancing and punching and skittering about. Looks like he put everything he had into this role.
I was expecting the movie to really blow me away because I loved those Buster Keaton movies so much, Our Hospitality and Sherlock Jr, and had read that Chaplin was basically doing the same schtick (which isn’t exactly the case) and, on top of that, the Book says that The Gold Rush is the movie on which Chaplin hoped, in his later years, to rest his legacy.
My friend Pavel is a movie critic, much savvier at this kind of writing than I am, and I vented to him recently about how angry I was with the new Blair Witch movie, mainly cuz I just didn’t enjoy it (even though I appreciated some of the risks it took), but also because I’m a big fan of the original Blair Witch Project and felt like the legacy was tarnished. The trailers for this new installment were blurbing reviewers who said that it totally lives up to the original, that it’s the new Exorcist, a masterpiece of the genre. It’s none of those things. Not even close. I didn’t hate the movie, but I felt cheated. Pavel’s attitude is basically that I should know better at this point than to (1) get excited about a reboot and (2) trust a movie trailer.
So The Gold Rush and Blair Witch are a couple movies I watched in the span of three or four days that show my propensity to ruin a movie by reading a bunch of stuff beforehand and letting myself expect something more than what’s being given. More than what’s even being offered (although, in my defense, the Blair Witch trailers basically vowed to traumatize me and I feel like its failure to do so warrants a refund).
Gold Rush has its moments, memorable gags, but the heart of it revolves around a long sequence in the cabin where Chaplin and Mark Swain are starving and trapped by a blizzard. Having just recently watched Sherlock JR, which Buster Keaton edited down to 45 minutes, I kept thinking that, in better hands, The Gold Rush would have realized that these scenes in the cabin were its strongest and trimmed everything back to highlight em. The tangential love story should be gone, I think, and its culmination on a cruise ship is so baffling I won’t even try to describe it.
I guess it’s kinda fucked up to suggest that Chaplin’s big mistake in this movie is that he isn’t being more like Buster Keaton – but I’m not saying that one should mirror the other in terms of comedic style or timing or anything. Just editing. In truth, however, I didn’t laugh much in The Gold Rush outside of those cabin scenes. And while there are definitely some comedies that don’t make me laugh, but that I enjoy for how they look and feel (e.g. almost everything Woody Allen has made since 1990), I’m definitely being more judgmental here. Probably because I feel a need to stand up for Keaton in the light of Chaplin’s surpassing fame.
Almost definitely because of that.