Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin

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Biography Documentary hosted by Sydney Pollack and published by Others in 2003 - English narration

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Image: Charlie-The-Life-and-Art-of-Charles-Chaplin-Cover.jpg

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"Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin" attempts to present the man's warts and errors, as well as the film and comic genius, in 131 minutes. Although one suspects it would be impossible to do this completely in anything less than six hours, "Charlie" does an excellent and absorbing job.

The film doubles back to some pertinent details from childhood and tacks on clips from home movies shot in Switzerland and on vacation in Africa by a daughter in the 1960s and '70s (charming but of negligible interest and value). It also notes the honors bestowed at Cannes and the Academy Awards late in his life. But its primary arc goes from 1914, when Chaplin began acting in Mack Sennett comedies as a contract player two years after arriving in the U.S. on the vaudeville circuit, to 1952 with the release of "Limelight" and the family's permanent exile to Europe.

The central conceit of Schickel's take is Chaplin's love-hate (though mostly love) relationship with the public. Hunger for the crowd, and fear of the crowd, drove his life, according to friend and "Limelight" costar Norman Lloyd. Chaplin grew rich playing the poorest of men, and spoke with embarrassing fervency on behalf of the common man in the final speech of "The Great Dictator," yet also talked of the headless unpredictability of the mob in "Limelight." Apart from the intermittent messes of his personal life, Chaplin did a creditable job of fighting to keep his artistic integrity and humanity in the face of superstardom and mass adulation, his son Michael argues.

"Charlie" spends time analyzing the quasi-tramp figure's first appearance in the entirely improvised and nearly plotless "Kid Auto Races at Venice" (1914); offers examples of innovative camerawork, plotting, and gag design in his Essenay and Mutual shorts; and notes the subject's startling ability to transform one object into something totally different (for example, a plant leaf into a toothbrush, or a fire engine into a cappuccino machine).

As "Charlie" is not shy to indicate, Chaplin had difficulties (serious ones) with women, government agencies, and eventually his public. It mentions the child brides, the ghastly Lita Grey divorce that halted shooting on "The Circus" for 9 months and created an underground bestseller of the lurid 42-page complaint detailing Chaplin's infidelities and irregular sex practices. Joan Barry's armed break-in and subsequent paternity suit (which a blood test, legally inadmissible at that time, showed was groundless, but Chaplin lost in court anyway and dutifully paid child support for a kid that evidently wasn't his) also gets a mention.

One of this documentary's greatest strengths is the extra attention it gives to the lesser known and more prickly works of Chaplin's oeuvre: "A Woman of Paris" and "Monsieur Verdoux," both of which it spends more time on than "The Gold Rush" or "City Lights." Scorsese is especially generous and useful here. He praises the decadence and eroticism of "Woman," and says "There's a calmness about it that's terrifying. . . . You know it's all gonna go bad." He describes a favorite shot or two of "Verdoux," praises its depiction of "eloquent and elegant and absolutely horrendous behavior," and almost cackles as he tries to imagine how its initial viewers reacted to it. "No one liked it! It's a beautiful, but it's also a very ugly film." According to Scorsese, its implicit challenge seems to be: "how far can I push you and you'll still love me?"

"Charlie" includes some vaunted unseen and/or unreleased material rehearsals and outtakes for famous scenes, an Oona O'Neill Chaplin screen test, color footage of the giant World War I cannon and closing rally sequences from "The Great Dictator" shot by a family member, newsreel clips of Chaplin on vacation in Hawaii and Asia with Paulette Goddard, the aforementioned home videos from his golden years, and a party video of Chaplin in a toga, juggling a globe in an anticipation of the "Dictator" globe dance, but none of them is particularly vital or memorable. The film's true strengths are its writing and analysis, its cast of guest commentators, and the classic clips that inevitably inspire awe.

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  • Source: 2003 DVD rip
  • Video: XVID, 512x384, 25.00fps, 1241Kbps
  • Audio: MP3, 48KHz, stereo, 128Kbps
  • Part 1: 682MB, 58 minutes
  • Part 2: 679MB, 69 minutes
  • Subtitles: English, Dutch, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Greek...
  • Ripped by: AEN

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