Jul 15, 2020 in Review

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush (1925) by famous actor and director Charlie Chaplin is about the search for gold in Alaska, which turns into a comedy farce on human desires and passions. Chaplin tried to use the potential of silent film to convey the idea that man is ready to do anything for gold. This situation is typical in twenty years, when certain preconditions to the Great Depression were forming, leading to one of the greatest economic crisis in the US. However, the main thing is that Chaplin again used the image of Tramp as the most concentrated archetype for expressing both personal artistic talent and socio-cultural situation. This essay will explain how Chaplin’s exceptional presentational acting tools help to underline both comic and dramatic element of the story, using circumstances, physical and emotional choice of the character, relationships, environment, and obstacles.

This story is a vivid example of silent movies where the actor’s play and the construction of stages fully expressed the main idea. Silent films existed when there were no sound and professional artists, and thus many members of theater, circus, and variety often performed the roles before the First World War. In this case, pantomime was a very effective method in silent movies. Accordingly, the acting and charisma tried to compensate the lack of high technology required for a sound film. The Gold Rush fully expressed the essence of silent film with its hyperbole and symbolism. Regarding this picture, it was only one comedy that Chaplin shot according to the script. Therefore, all the scenes and acts were designed by line, and the director particular used a mathematical precision in placing the accents of actors.

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Charles Chaplin did not pay the viewer’s attention on how he makes a particular scene but focused on the same stage. Therefore, the most important in the director’s attention were the given circumstances that must express the narrative construction in The Gold Rush. It defines in which way the character behaves, and then decides to make a decision. For Chaplin, it was important to simulate real conditions for a plot. For instance, the past given circumstances (Past Given Circumstances) explain why the Tramp was in the house. He was there not by chance because overcame the cold to search for gold. Besides, one more reason why the character came to the house was that the Tramp caught in a storm, and thus needed a shelter. Perhaps, he made a mistake in direction when followed to the north, which led him to this result. Nevertheless, Chaplin presented his character as a frivolous person as opposed to other characters in the film. He differs from a man in the house who has found a piece of gold, and thus ready for any anti-human action. The scene of a conflict between two guys shows that people are willing to kill each other for survival.

Actors must always use themselves when creating and building a character, and Chaplin decided to make the emotional choice for creating his character “with a decidedly different personality or psyche from himself”. He formed the image, which has sentimental/comic and dramatic psychological features, making it as a canon for many generations. It is important that Chaplin shot his films with the open ends, and thus the protagonist is unchanged from story to story. There are enough scenes that reveal and complement this image, particularly in the context of searching gold in Alaska. However, the scene where the Tramp comes to the Monte Carlo dance hall perfectly describes who is the main character. In fact, he is not only funny and awkward person, but also a very lonely man who tries to find himself in that world. In this case, Chaplin transferred his psychological condition and proved that “the camera hangs on your every word, your every look”. In the physical plane, it is also his alter ego: he is polite to women, and very romantic person. Thus, Chaplin almost brought himself to the character and did not try to separate them.

The objective and subjective interactions between the Tramp and other characters are also important for understanding the idea. In the first case, the Tramp built friendly relationships with two dangerous criminals. Being in the house, they both survived without a single piece of food. Moreover, the Tramp even managed to cook a boot for the Thanksgiving Dinner. This episode shows that different people can create a strong alliance in difficult survival conditions. There were no deep emotional ties, but only the alliance to achieve a common goal. On the contrast, he met one girl in the Monte Carlo dance hall. She said: “If I could only meet someone worth – I’m so tired of this place.” The Tramp thought that he is a real man for this beautiful person, but, in fact, it was unrequited love. There is no doubt that he had deep emotional feelings to her, which a very sensual dance expressed this state. These psychological relationships between the characters contributed the following events. It is not surprising that the Tramp decided to return to the house for gold, trying to win her heart in such way.

The environment in which the Tramp lives is also important in the film. The house during and Monte Carlo are main settings that define the nature of actions in space and time. For example, the Tramp and criminals tried to survive in the house, and thus four walls limited their activities. When the house finally was on the edge of the abyss, the Tramp and his colleague tried to survive despite the starvation and conflict. However, the house also stimulated actor’s creative imagination. In the most severe stage of hunger, Big Jim imagined the Tramp in the form of chicken. This humorous episode shows how the physical environment can influence on the characters. It also represents the limits of human potential, which is also useful for the disclosure of the characters. However, the actions in the dance hall are more uninhibited. Thus, a large space allows for more variation events and topics.

The Tramp overcame many obstacles “as the core of the drama” in achieving his objectives for the beloved woman. The character removed all obstacles funny and surprisingly. For instance, in the dance hall, he eliminated his competitor by accident when the clock fell on his head. This episode proves the fact that the Tramp has charisma, and thus he is not afraid to be funny in extreme situations. That is what eventually helped him go on with his beloved on the ship. Besides, the obstacles also define what actions should do the character realizing an aim. It is the basis of drama, and there are many key events in The Gold Rush. One of the most crucial episodes is when the Tramp and Big Jim try to survive in the tilted house. It is a significant example of a physical act that creates the most dynamic scene. Caine accurately notes: “By wielding the subtlest bit of body language, the actor can produce an enormously powerful gesture on the screen”. Therefore, Chaplin perfectly showed his physical acrobatic abilities and pantomimic gestures for expressing the drama. 

Despite the fact that The Gold Rush had a script, it is equally an example of the presentational acting. Chaplin did not try to examine certain emotions or facial expressions artificially, but missed them through his personality, and therefore won a large audience. He identified with the Tramp and the discovery of his actions through a series of films. Most of the emotions are “truthful and honest”. Hence, the viewer could experience his emotional state on himself/herself. In this case, the most convincing scene is when the Tramp came to the dance hall and tried to find someone. His behavior is sincere and direct because it reminds a confused child. Many critics compared Chaplin with a naive child that distinguished from representative performances of that time. Caine mentions that actors came to the movies from a theatrical tradition, and thus their performances were artificial. However, Chaplin often all his life tried to break artificial mechanisms and to create a vital image that is not different from his personality.

In conclusion, The Cold Rush tells the story of the search for gold in Alaska. However, the historical background has transformed into a dramatic conflict between different people and social classes. In fact, the Tramp is opposed to most people who are interested only in financial issues. On the contrast, the Tramp is interested in something different, namely love and friendship. Thus, he decided to use gold not only for profit but also as a method of charming. Chaplin makes maximum use of the potential of silent film to pass the internal state of the character through pantomime and gestures. It seems that he used the representational acting similar to many other silent actors, but he was one of the few who practiced the presentational model. The Tramp is sentimental, sincere, sloppy, yet bold and soulful character. With these qualities he expresses the universal human values that are still relevant in spite of the time.


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