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The Birth of the Tramp

CMCI cultural historian Dr Harvey G Cohen spent most of the last week of June at perhaps the most enjoyable conference he has ever had the pleasure of attending: a conference celebrating the centenary of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, sponsored by the Cineteca Bologna in Bologna, Italy. The most famous Chaplin scholars attended and participated (such as Kevin Brownlow, Chuck Maland, David Robinson, etc), as did various film professionals, DVD companies, international film festival directors, and world-famous film directors (such as Mike Leigh and Alexander Payne).

Cohen contributed a paper written for the occasion, “Charlie Chaplin’s America: The Essanay and Mutual Era, 1915-1917,” which will be developed into an academic journal article. The paper argues that Chaplin’s best and most lasting work started during this period and tended to occur throughout his career when he combined his comedy with real life “bittersweet” issues, particularly those concerned with the downtrodden and marginalised of the period — such as immigrants, women, the working class’ efforts to unionise, and Chaplin’s challenges to Victorian middle class morality of the period, the latter of which caused critics on both sides of the Atlantic to label Chaplin a “social menace.” Festival organisers plan to put Cohen’s presentation on the web; keep checking this blog for further details.

One of the highlights of the conference was a screening of four Chaplin classics accompanied by a live orchestra outside before thousands of people in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, including “Kid Auto Races at Venice” (1914), the film that first premiered the Little Tramp character, in a newly restored version that included a few seconds of previously unseen footage. Before this film started, conference organisers passed out thousands of life-size replicas of Chapin’s face to the crowd, and took a picture with almost everyone putting the Chaplin mask in front of their faces. Quite a sight! One could definitely feel his spirit hovering over the occasion…



  1. Great! I live in Bologna and will be attend this event. But what about The ‘live cinema’ conference : Why should not be held in Bologna by that occasion or/and Why not in Riccione by the fair -trade?


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