Listen to the words about Charlie Chaplin.
“The Real Charlie Chaplin” starts off with the question: “Who was the real Charlie Chaplin?” Was he the same person or a different person? And it continues with how he made his way to the stop to becoming one of the greatest silent film legends, alongside Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Even if the last half hour lags, I’ve enjoyed this doc for exploring how the man went through the highs and lows of his life, how he knew his appearances, and how he transcended from silent films to the talking pictures.
This made-for-Showtime doc (narrated by Pearl Mackie) uses unused archival recordings, interviews and footage regarding Chaplin. And the movie also dramatizes those unseen moments by merging new footage with the original audio.
- Effie Wisdom was interviewed by film historian Kevin Brownlow in 1983 about how she knew Charlie when he was a little boy, and how she saw him on stage when he was in his teens.
- Chaplin was interviewed by Richard Merryman of Life Magazine in 1966, “one of the only times Chaplin allowed a tape recording within these walls.”
- And both those scenes look new with new actors, but they’re dubbed. It’s more about hearing them than seeing them that has us involved.
The million dollar question he’s been asked by journalists and lawyers is how he created the tramp outfits. Charlie sued impersonator Charlie Aplin, who was actually impersonating the famous Chaplin impersonator Billy West. Besides, who knows? Chaplin could have been impersonating his colleagues Kitchen and Ritchie (“I was the first, he says”). But they’re actually following the tramp tradition of tramp comedians, who are inspired by real tramps. Disclaimer: his attire wasn’t stolen, but assembled from different costumes.
I know this isn’t a school report, and I’m no film historian, but I still want to mention the topics the doc discusses. His humble beginnings start in London, and his acting abilities take him to America. His most famous films he’s directed and starred in include his breakout flick “The Kid,” the adventure comedy “The Gold Rush,” and the Nazi comedy “The Great Dictator,” in which he portrayed Adolf Hitler and the Jewish barber. And even if he didn’t need scripts for his comedies, as long as they were handled just right.
But everyone has their dark clouds. His family was poor with his mother losing her career and voice, and then being placed in the asylum. He was married four times, and three of the wives were teenagers. And the only archival recordings the film has for us to listen to comes from Lita Grey, who wrote the memoir “My Life With Chaplin” and described him as a “serial adulterer,” who flies into rages and has his way with women. But the media described her as a “child bride,” “slut,” or “idiot woman.” And he was a target of the FBI, who accuse him of being a communist.
“The Real Charlie Chaplin” was directed by James Spinney and Peter Middleton, the two behind “Notes on Blindness.” Together, they stay focused on Chaplin’s life, and how they show the comparisons between his impersonators and Hitler himself. Yes, it can be confusing with them, but it can also be outspoken with how young his wives were, how they were treated, and how society treats people, famous or non-famous.
To see this doc is know his material-the ones that made him famous-and to know how time has made these icons legendary. You have to know your past to know you’re future. I know that’s said a lot, but it’s true. There’s a certain combo of joy, anger, and sadness that really absorbs us into the true story. It’s a contemporary take on how Chaplin lead his life, and it’s rather an interesting one.
And on a goofy side note, I’ve recently entertained my folks at lunch with the famous potato dance. Only this time, I sued steak fries. Obviously, Chaplin did a better job at it than I did, but it still works.
In Select Theaters This Friday.
Premieres on Showtimes December 11