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Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners
Posted May 17, 2011 to photo album "Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners"
Mike Mills poignant portrait of a father and son relationship inspired us to look back at how films from Chaplin to Beginners have handled this paternal subject.
The Kid (1921)
Ironically, the first great film about a father-son relationship is not about an actual father and son. In Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, the bond between Chaplin's Little Tramp and the title character, played by Jackie Coogan, is all the more moving because there are no blood ties that bind the two. At the start of the movie, a baby boy is abandoned by his mother (Edna Purviance). After finding the enfant in a garbage can, the tramp rescues him and takes him in as his own. The two become inseparable. When it is discovered that the Tramp is not his real father, however, they are wrenched apart. The scene in which the cherubic waif Coogan is taken away from a distraught Chaplin is one of the most heartbreaking in all cinema, and the events surrounding the production make it clear why father-son separation was so painfully resonant for Charlie Chaplin. A few months before making The Kid, Chaplin's wife, Mildred Harris, gave birth to their first child, Norman Spencer Chaplin, who died when he was just three days old. Chaplin's reaction to this devastating event was to throw himself into his work, conceiving and then making The Kid. A few weeks after his son's death, he was auditioning babies for the film. However, The Kid was not simply a cathartic response to this tragic loss. It also addressed Chaplin's feelings about his own father, Charles Sr., a singer who was often on the road and with whom Chaplin had little contact growing up. Certain scenes in the film, played out by Chaplin and Coogan, were directly taken from Chaplin's experiences growing up except that, rather than his mother being the sole parent present, as was the case in young Charlie's childhood, this time it is the father and son who grow close as they laugh through tough times together.