Charles Chaplin, USA, 1935
Charlie and the ‘Girl’ are slung together by misfortune and unhappy circumstance, lurking at the bottom end of society. They’ve both come to know hunger and prison on many occasions. By an unexpected turn of luck Charlie lands a job as the night-watchman at a big store. The Girl joins him on his first night at work, where they are closed off from the outside world and locked into the world of the store, which is both distinct from reality and strange. The sequence is broken down into two sections, reflecting two levels of the store. The first is the toy department and the second the luxury bedding department.
The grand store allows them to enter into a fantastic world separate from their own brutal, poverty-stricken reality, allowing them to play fleetingly at being someone ‘other’ than who they are. They find themselves alone in the store, outside of opening hours, in the night. The space allows them to enter into their own worlds of fantasy, using the items around them as they please, furnishing their world of make-believe. It’s just like a fairy tale, where we’ve crossed over the line from our reality over to a world where all of our desires are met.
They forget themselves, their age and their poverty by getting lost in play with the toys of the toy department. Charlie chooses a pair of roller-skates to play with, which leads us into a scene of dizziness and suspense. Charlie’s eyes are covered and skating around on the floor near to a massive drop, he risks a fatal fall over the edge, of which he remains oblivious.
The scene is obviously rigged, it’s not real, Charlie is skating in a perfectly safe studio environment, the drop has been added in later on in post-production. It takes nothing away from Chaplin’s ability to skate with such acrobatic precision that he’s able skate down a line on the floor within a hair’s width.
The most moving scene is the one where the two characters play at being the exact opposite of their social standing in the luxury bedding department. They play at being rich, in a large, comfortable home, where she could wear fur coats and sleep in a great big comfy bed.