October 26, 2021


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Peter Middleton, director of ‘The Real Charlie Chaplin’, James Spinney

3 min read

After leaving the United States in 1252, Switzerland became the home of Charlie Chaplin, so perhaps the Zurich Film Festival hosted the European premiere feature documentary “The Real Charlie Chaplin”.

Playing in the festival’s documentary competition section, “The Real Charlie Chaplin” is a fancy montage from a personal archive of movie clips, behind-the-scenes footage, unavailable audio recordings, dramatic remakes, and the movie’s first and arguably the biggest icon. Meteor rise in Hollywood stardom and eventually exile.

The darker side of Chaplin’s life has also been explored, starting with his ex-wives (his second wife, Lita Gray, who was only 15 when their relationship began) with his strange work ethic.

The film is directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney, who won the British Independent Film Award for Best Documentary for their acclaimed 201 debut debut feature doc “Notes on Blindness”. The dock caught the eye of producer Ben Limburg, who secured access to his personal archives from Chaplin’s estate, including his home movies.

Middleton and Spinney both live in south London, where Chaplin grew up and trained to be an acrobat first. They were drawn to the project as an opportunity to explore Chaplin’s extraordinary wealth story and his status as the first modern celebrity. “He started making films in 1914, and in two years he was the most famous person in the world – and so famous that no one had ever been before,” Spini said. “There seems to be a straight line from there to this day. He was the first person that people felt had a relationship with them that was mediated through a screen.

For Middleton, Chaplin’s films and creative output maps were also interesting events in his life. As well as being the first modern celebrity in the 1910s to raise his profile in the 1920s, his films of the 1930s – such as the “Modern Times” – responded to the politics and economics of the era. He confronted Hitler and fascism in the 1940s, before “The Great Dictator”, before being identified as a communist, and banned from the United States in the 1950s.

All of this, of course, has been explored in detail in countless chaplin books and documentaries. “We were aware that we had to try it from a different perspective and find a new perspective,” Spini said, adding that they wanted to make a film that could be an entry point for people who know Chaplin. Chaplin was not familiar with his work when giving lovers something new. “We wanted to try to do something that reflects how confusing, interesting and difficult to find how we found Chaplin.”

This explains why Doc begins with a quote from Chaplin’s friend Max Eastman, who suggests that Chaplin has an unknown quality. Eastman writes, “Enjoy any Charlie Chaplin you have the good fortune to face.” “But don’t try to connect them with anything you can catch. There are many more of them. ”

“The deeper we go, the more versions of the chaplain we get,” Spini said. “So we tried to find a form that was pretty unstable.”

Middleton says finding narrator Pearl Mackie was a breakthrough. Mackie serves as a warm, playful almost puck-ish guide for the audience “just sitting on their shoulders, putting it on different sides,” he says.

The documentary also anchors three original dramatic reconstructions, based on rediscovered audio recordings. A chaplin is based on a recently discovered interview with Effie Wisdom, a childhood friend who grew up with him in south London. In a glorious, almost Dickensian, Cockney accent, he told film historian Kevin Brownlow how the chaplain “spoke like me. In general.” The chaplain’s utterance was later abandoned in the kingdom.

Another, notorious for Monsieur Verdox, resumed a 1947 press conference where journalists taunted the actor about his alleged communist sympathies. Part of this audio recording was saved but a long search led the filmmakers to the original reel in a garage in San Francisco.

Middleton said the restructuring “creates current-time pockets in the film where viewers have the opportunity to settle a little more, as it is sometimes very unstable – a kind of kaleidoscopic tumble.” All that can be said is, like Charlie Chaplin.

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