top of page

Tango Tangle (1914)

Tango Tangle 2.jpg

Orienting the Audience

By Amir Faress • 12/25/19

The notion of “orientation” did not come naturally to the early pioneers of cinema. It is something they learned through trial and error. Watching their films, it is not readily apparent how one setting stands in physical relation to another, whether the hypothetical Room A stands to the right or left of Room B. Tango Tangle illustrates the extent to which the early pioneers were oblivious to orientation.


Although the basic plot is straightforward, one constantly finds oneself disoriented, especially when viewing it for the first time. Without an establishing shot – which, judging from the number of extras, the filmmakers would have been able to afford – the audience must try to guess how the three settings (the stage, the stairs, and the dance floor) relate to one another.

The first two are easier to figure out: the stage is to the top right of the stairs (the screen top right). But it is not clear how the stairs setting stands in relation to the dance floor. When a fight breaks out on the dance floor, we see people standing in front of the stairs looking directly to their left (screen right). Seconds later, we see Charlie thrown from the dance floor into the same setting but from the left side of the screen, or the opposite direction.

Charlie Chaplin, the star of the film, was not yet directing. But he was clearly taking notes. A few months later, when he assumed the role of director in addition to acting, Chaplin deftly avoided the prevalent mistakes of the time, a big one being orientation. The film that comes to mind is His New Job (1915), which remains a master class in orientation. Although the film takes place in multiple rooms, the audience at all times knows exactly where each room stands in relation to the rest. One could hence focus on the plot and humor of His New Job without the distraction of having to consciously orient oneself. In fact, aspiring filmmakers would do well to watch His New Job (and do so repeatedly) to hone their orientation skills.

As for Tango Tangle - and most of Chaplin’s debut films – I would recommend them only to film historians and Chaplin completists.  

bottom of page