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Should we be thanking Mabel Normand for Chaplin's Tramp? 
18th-Apr-2012 09:14 pm
one apple out of the crowd
Likely to be of interest to some of my peeps: Who Invented Chaplin's Tramp?
Normand was an inventor of the movie star, the first woman allowed to be both sexy and funny. She was a high diver, a bareback rider, a race car driver, and a flapper a decade before flappers. Photoplay called her "a kiss that explodes in a laugh, cherry bonbons in a clown's cap, sharing a cream puff with your best girl, a slap from a perfumed hand, the sugar in the Keystone grapefruit." By the time the man who would become the Tramp walked onto her set, Normand had worked on sets for four years, and made over a hundred pictures. She was 22.

Shouldn't we credit the director, the one who decided to shoot 75 feet, for the success of the Tramp? Keystone didn't have writers in those days, but did the director of Mabel's Strange Predicament unleash the Tramp? Doesn't Sergio Leone deserve some credit for Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name? Doesn't the director dictate tempo and decide who gets the camera's attention? Isn't the director's job to seek out the hidden talents of his actors and make sure they end up on screen? Doesn't a good director jump on a happy accident like the Tramp and ride it with a prayer of gratitude?

What Sennett and Chaplin both neglect to mention in their memoirs is that Mabel Normand was among the very first stars to direct their own films, and Normand directed Mabel's Strange Predicament. Perhaps in the intervening decades they forgot. It was certainly in their interest to forget. Why diminish their own roles in creating the miracle of the Tramp?
I have no idea how valid an interpretation this is, and would love to hear thoughts from anybody who's more knowledgeable about films of this era than I am.

And, y'know, what with short attention spans and all, it's nice that the clipped scenes included are in the 10-30 second range. Ahem.
Comments 
19th-Apr-2012 02:59 pm (UTC)
I admit to very little knowledge of cinematography from that time period, but agree strongly that collaboration produces the best results. Should it not have been lifted or sold by the OPL there is likely a book there titled something like "The Myth of Solitary Genius". A good quick read, going into several cases where one person was credited with the creation of an epic, while in reality all of them did have one seminal named author but the work required layers of revisions and filters by other artists.
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