[Above: this is the book I mentioned in class concerning the metamorphosis of the concept of a ‘hero’ to one that changed the purpose and identity of the masculine ideal to better align with popular American beliefs about ‘evil’ and manifest destiny.]

Charlie Chaplin as ‘The Tramp’

Chaplin made silent films in the style of ‘slap-stick’ comedy from 1914-1952 (source: wikipedia). His films often depicted himself as living in poverty or ‘working-class poor’, in ill-fitting clothes, stumbling all over himself while trying to ‘get by’ throughout his daily adventures. While most of his films depict this slightly down on his luck yet blissfully ignorant character, his movies became more overtly political from the middle of his career onward (up to his 1952 film ‘Limelight’ which was pulled from American screens due to his stance on American political issues).

Films like ‘The Gold Rush’, ‘Modern Times’, ‘The Great Dictator’ (to name a few) highlight Chaplin’s criticism of American greed, poor working conditions, poverty, and the horrors wrought by tyrannical regimes. All of this was delivered with Chaplin’s style of satire through physical comedy, and stereotypes of bourgeois and poor working-class lfe, politicians, dictators, and masculine and feminine identities of his time.

The Thesis of ‘Nothing Isn’t Free’

The title ‘Nothing Isn’t Free’ should be somewhat of a clue into the role of capitalism at play here. In the title screen ‘Nothing’ and ‘Free’ are underlined, and the double negative of ‘Nothing Isn’t’ seems to negate the popular American trope ‘Freedom isn’t Free’ or ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’ though a bit closer to the line from the Kris Kristofferson penned ‘Me and Bobby McGee’…’Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’. Being that the notion of freedom is a relatively new concept and a particularly American one at that, I found it interesting to play with these notions especially given what I present below as my interpretation of the movie I made.

Part of the film competition was entry into the running to win a $10,000 grant from Elfenworks Social Justice organization so when I was considering what to put together, Chaplin came instantly to mind. Granted I am concerned with and keep myself informed about matters of social justice (especially with respect to income inequality, the pervasiveness of neo-liberalism, and the role that bankers, investors, politicians, and corporations play in bringing this about), but in addition to this, I happen to love the style of satire and the overall aesthetic of filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton (lest we forget my interest and mention of the $10,000 grant above…paradoxical as it may seem).

That being said, I also approached this film with a sense of the lack of understanding and acknowledgment among strangers, especially strangers belonging to different soci0economic classes. So the first point I am trying to make with this film (via physical comedy and the estrangement of stop-motion animation and pre-programmed xbox kinect graphics) is that while people who are living in poverty and unemployed may need assistance, they are not necessarily “looking for hand-outs” (the woman character innocently mistaking the mans coffee cup for a beggars coin cup, her showering him with gifts upon his leaving her much bigger/nicer place). This tension is further established with his appropriating of the $7 ‘honor system’ coffee without paying, the hurting of his pride upon being given a ‘hand-out’ by the woman who also ruined the coffee he didn’t pay for, his subsequent gift of two broken flowers (also taken without permission) for the woman, and the ruining of the orange he acquired in the woman’s house by roaches he carried in from his neck of the woods.

The second argument I want to make with this film is that while these two people come from different socioeconomic backgrounds (he lives in a little shack surrounded by weeds, briars, and junk; she lives in a big house full of stuff, with a kitchen, stove, fruit, etc…) they are still trying to connect (albeit unsuccessfully and not without some boredom) and at least being congenial and (in their own way) generous to one another. That is, while these two strangers do not have much in common, they still find it rewarding (and redeeming) to interact and show respect the best way they know how.

The third point I want to make which aligns more with my capstone work is that of the role of civil inattention and the tension created in the presence of so many unfamiliar people and places. These two characters are trying to externalize their thoughts and identities though purely physical means (a constraint of the films aesthetic) and not very successfully doing so. They seem to be looking past one another, while both struggle to maintain their interest (during the kitchen table sequence, the use of headphones, the body language of boredom, the dream sequences, the exchanging of niceties) in the other. This may also say something about the relationship and sense of connection between disparate socioeconomic classes, but I think the metaphor can also speak to acquaintances or strangers from the same socioeconomic class. There is a mixture of politeness and ambivalence about their interaction, which is the sense I am trying to capture while designing prototypes, concepts, and theories for my capstone work.

I would also like to explore the notion of ‘heroism’ and the roles of the masculine and feminine ideal at work in this film some other time.