Peter Middleton and James Spinney (NOTES ON BLINDNESS) return to our screens with a superb documentary on the life and work of Charlie Chaplin. Narrated by Pearl Mackie, the film brilliantly combines archive footage, interviews and recreations to explore this most complicated genius. Most importantly, the doc contains extracts of an audio interview Chaplin gave to Life magazine in 1966, which gives texture and insight to cinephiles who feel they already know everything about Chaplin.
The picture that emerges is one of a highly driven, hard-working perfectionist who had a real love of working class people, born of his own experience of poverty in South London. Even when he became the most famous and richest entertainer in the world, he refused to give up his socialist beliefs in moving beyond nationalism to build a better world of equality and justice. Of course, this went down like a shit sandwich in an America hysterical about communism, and despite Chaplin taking a stand to condemn fascism in THE GREAT DICTATOR, rather than seeing him as an asset, Hoover's FBI and his lackey Hedda Hopper hounded Chaplin out of the country and into exile in Switzerland. It was a brutal end to a brilliant career.
Of course, in doing so, Hoover was helped by Chaplin's shady personal life, and this film covers that with great delicacy and an absence of labels. The teenage lovers, apparent coercion to abortions, the slandering of a wife who sued for divorce, if not by Chaplin then by his admirers. And yet, and yet, I always wonder at the apparently happy and enduring final marriage to Oona Chaplin, also with a large age gap. Although as their daughter Geraldine points out, she wrote and documented so much, but not a single interview survives. The women in Chaplin's life are therefore largely silent or traduced.
THE REAL CHARLIE CHAPLIN has a running time of 112 minutes. The film played Telluride and the BFI London Film Festival and does not yet have a commercial release date.