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Selected Short Subject: “Recreation” (1914)

Charlie Chaplin, Peggy Page
Charlie Chaplin, Peggy Page CineMuseum

The 12th film on the new Mack Sennett blu ray collection.

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“Recreation”
Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Charles Bennett, Edwin Frazee, Eddie Nolan, and Peggy Page
Released August 13, 1914. Running time: 5:24

While the Mack Sennett Collection focuses on Sennett, it features all of the top stars with whom he’d worked during his tenure as producer. Charlie Chaplin is one of those stars. Already represented in the long lost “A Thief Catcher,” the collection also offers this quick production Chaplin did as something of an extra between two other films.

Charlie Chaplin's Keystone films are often dismissed as mere stepping stones to better productions. However, his Keystone period offers a lot of brilliant comedy. Only months after joining Keystone, Charlie Chaplin’s first films were an immediate sensation. Theater owners kept asking for more, so Sennett tried to keep up with the demand. Chaplin had ideas that extended beyond the studio’s creative parameters and eventually his success, and his ambition, had him also writing and directing his own subjects.

“Recreation” is an interesting one because it was shot very quickly just to appease the demand for more Chaplin product. Thus, due to Chaplin not taking a lot of time with it, "Recreation" has often been considered something of a throwaway. As a Keystone comedy, it is typical. Set in a park, featuring a situation where Charlie and a sailor are fighting over a girl, extending this battle to include flying bricks, “Recreation” is amusing, but unremarkable. However, the necessity of its having to be produced is an indicator of Chaplin’s immense popularity so early in his career.

The timing of the performers, the execution of the gags, the cheerfully violent slapstick, and the rapid pace all combine to provide some basic amusement. But while Chaplin’s direction by this time was usually more careful and studied (e.g. his careful composition of shots for “The Face on the Barroom Floor,” which preceded this movie), it appears that his only direction for “Recreation” is telling the cinematographer to keep the action in the frame.

While it might not be the most essential Chaplin film, it is a good solid Keystone comedy, and that is merit in and of itself. Keystone’s methods were pretty well established by now, and were also quite popular with moviegoers. Critics of the time appreciated “Recreation” as per an issue of “The Cinema” which stated: “Charlie has a peculiar manner entirely his own, and the way he tries to extricate himself from an awkward position is very whimsical.”

Recreation” has a good, rowdy manner as per the usual Keystone production; while Chaplin’s popular method added another element. That it also has some historical significance makes it important beyond any aesthetic limitations when compared to other efforts.

CineMuseum’s restoration of “Recreation” on the Mack Sennett Collection on blu ray is the best this film has been seen since perhaps its initial release 100 years ago. Obtaining footage from a variety of sources, some of the scenes in this movie look positively stunning.