Director: Charles Chaplin
Screenwriters: Charles Chaplin

Institute History

  • 1989 Sundance Film Festival


Sunnyside is the Chaplin short with the famous woodland-nymph dance. In 1919 when the film was made, Chaplin had been a movie figure for five years, and the words “balletic” and “genius” had become attached to his name. Fifty years later in The Silent Clowns, Walter Kerr complains: “For all that you may have heard about the sequence, a glance at the film now will at once reveal the dance as aimless, shapeless, unfocused. It is not truly effective because it has no function in the comedy other than to let Chaplin display a talent with which he has been credited.”

Mr. Kerr’s book is a remarkable work with some very valuable and provocative reflections upon Chaplin’s tendency toward self-consciousness. But here he is dead wrong. The dance, while maybe a touch too long, is a true hoot—as silly dancing and as satire. It’s also poignant, dreamed, as it is, by a much abused farmhand.

However, Sunnyside is a sloppy film in many ways. It is confusing to follow what’s not. Compared to, say, Keaton’s tow-reeler Playhouse, there’s no careful interconnection between dream and reality, just narrative coupling. And yet, along with some wonderful physical knockabout sequences and the dance/dream, there is new and subtler heartbreak terrain for Chaplin here. Within six months he would be at work on The Kid, often cited as a turning point in his attitude toward emotion and sentiment. Question: Do the outdoor locations sometimes muddle Chaplin’s pace, and make things less clear than stagelike interiors? Again, compare with Keaton.

— Tony Safford

Screening Details

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