Behind the Screen 1916: One of The Best of Charlie Chaplin Meta Shorts
Working as a props assistant, the Tramp causes havoc behind the scenes of a movie studio.
The plot in which striking stagehands threaten to blow up the studio, echoes similar elements in the bakery of Chaplin’s earlier Dough and Dynamite. Each time Chaplin drew on elements he’d used before it was because he felt he had something new to add to it, or a new way of getting bigger laughs from it.
It is understandable how a filmmaker finding his way in a new art form could become interested in depicting to audience how that art form worked. Of course, in Chaplin’s case, he couldn’t help but use it for comedy. Behind the Screen (Sac Lo: Phia Sau Man Anh) depicts the practice of the time of multiple films. A costume historical, a melodrama, and a comedy—being shot side-by-side. As noise did not affect the making of these silent movies. Chaplin’s cultural mentor Henry Bergman features as the put upon film director whose work the Tramp does so much to disrupt.
Chaplin’s Behind the Screen Is the Best of His Meta Shorts
A convention of silent comedy ably spoofed by Chaplin in Behind the Screen is the custard pie fight. The big names rarely indulged in this cliché—Buster Keaton never did. While Harold Lloyd didn’t, certainly outside of his Lonesome Luke shorts (many of which no longer exist). The pie throwing is presented (in an intertitle) as a ‘new idea’ being pursued by a pretentious, shades-wearing, beret-clad director.
Laurel and Hardy took the joke to glorious extremes in 1927’s Battle of the Century in which an epic pie fight erupts to consume an entire city block. The pie throwing gag can be traced back (in movies at least) to 1905. And through the 1910s the Keystone studio in particular had overused this ‘new idea’ so much that it had largely fallen from favour. Chaplin clearly felt that an inside movies spoof required a pie fight, so he ordered up 600 berry pies.
One of the best laugh producers that the world’s champion high priced film comic has done for the Mutual.
Invited to take part in the comedy film, the Tramp is set-up as the target of Eric Campbell’s pie thrower. A situation he’s none too happy about, so he proceeds to do it his way, not the director’s. The result is the kind of pie throwing orgy that was even then a cliché of moviemaking. Naturally, the pie throwing overspills the comedy film to impact on the participants in the costume drama, hitting such figures of the establishment and authority as the king and queen as well as an archbishop. Perhaps Charlie Chaplin was making a pointed comment? Ironically, as the intended original target. The Tramp is virtually the only one not to be his by a flying pie.
In playing the comedy trap door scene that precedes the pie fight. Henry Bergman had narrowly avoided a serious injury as he fell due to standing half-on and half-off the trap door at the time. He had the presence of mind to call for the cameras to keep rolling despite his mishap. As can be seen clearly in the Chaplin film (phim hai Sac Lo). He falls down with one leg on the solid floor. And only one leg on the trap door he was supposed to fall through. This was only one of the ridiculous things that happened to Bergman’s director in the short; others include living under the threat of being repeatedly thumped by a prop pillar the Tramp is moving about. And then being stood on by the Tramp in his attempts to keep the pillar upright.
One of the best laugh producers that the world’s champion high priced film comic has done for the Mutual. Chaplins are built for laugh-producing qualities