This screenshot shows Charlie Chaplin in his most famous persona of “the tramp” in the 1914 film, Kid Auto Races at Venice. At this time, Chaplin was 25 years old and then was his second film. His fame and iconic look–baggy pants and bowler hat–spread quickly. Not only did they spread fast and quickly, but he endures as an avant-garde icon in parts of the world far from Hollywood.
My friend took this picture on the street in Tiblisi, Georgia two months ago–100 years after Kid Auto Races. To be familiar with Chaplin today is hardly surprising. But Chaplin has a life as an avant-garde symbol dating from his first film. Despite two World Wars followed by a Cold War, Chaplin infiltrated deep into Russia and Eastern Europe, becoming an avant-garde icon even as access to films was limited and sporadic. Chaplin comes up surprisingly often in avant-garde journals, designs, and collages–adding an often-lacking bathos and humor.