Friday, 28 December 2012

An enchanted Charlie Christmas and a Happy Hollywood New Year

I hope you had a fantastic Christmas and enjoyed the festivities of the holidays. I most certainly did, surrounded by my family and friends. Good food, good drink and at times (when I was allowed the remote control) good TV too. Christmas pudding steaming on the hob and Casablanca in the background, it was my kind of afternoon. That is till my brother, the chef of the family, insisted on watching a mad-cap cook. He likes as he cooks giant edible monstrosities out of wacky ingredients and then expects you to do the same...

Thank goodness for my godson. Now anyone who follows the various pages of Charlie's London will know that I speak about Jayden a lot. He is nearly four and the son of my cousin, who in truth is more like my sister. He is my latest Chaplin convert and loves to watch his films with me. He calls him "that naughty Charlie Chaplin" and for Christmas we bought him the Chaplin and Co. DVD which he watched absolutely transfixed. For anyone who does not know this DVD I highly recommend it if you have children, or young adults you want to get into Charlie but may feel silent films at a first glance are too heavy going. It's a French animation produced by the Association Chaplin and Bubbles Inc. in conjunction with Roy Export SAS. It's similar to the Pixar style of animation and for me captures the mannerisms and essence of the little tramp quite well. Jayden watches them so intently and is so familiar with Chaplin films in general that now he can even watch them and make the connection between the children's adaptation and the original shorts they are meant to represent.

Watching him watch any Chaplin brought me to a subject that I know many Chaplin blogger, Tweeter, Facebooker and Tumblrer (is that a word...) has thought long and hard about over the festive period.

Jayden and his DVD
Of course, if you are a Chaplin fan, Christmas is often a strange time of year. Christmas Day, 1977 saw the end of an era with the passing of not only a comedy genius but arguably one of the fathers of contemporary cinema. Writing as much as I do about Charlie made me realise that somehow, on the day when everyone would be relaxing and celebrating, I would have to mark it with something of a sombre nature. So how was I to do it?

Talking one afternoon to one of my close blogging / Facebook friends, Anne  threw up an interesting situation and for me. I am one of the youngest bloggers on the subject that I know.  In a time when so many other great internet contributors have written very touching posts because they remember Charlie's passing, I cannot. I was born 5 years after he died and don't have those memories to draw from. I also try to keep my blog focused on London as much as I can - and of course, he didn't die here.

It was then suggested to me that I should write a post on the Christmas' he had in London such as his sad moment in Hanwell, or waking hungry on Christmas morning because there was not even an ounce of food in the house. For those that don't know, as the story goes Charlie stood in line with the other boys at the Hanwell Workhouse for his present of an orange. Oranges were a rare treat and he was excited to have one. However as he stood there, excited and happy he was told by the warden that because he had soiled himself the night before he wasn't allowed one - a memory that haunted him for the rest of his days.

Charlie in The Gold Rush 1925
I toyed with the idea but then I realised that this probably would not read very well, especially when this time of the year is meant to be a happy one. I reflected again on the fact that I was not alive when he was, as much as this has always saddened me it finally flashed the lightbulb above my head which led me to this post.

Charlie for me has never been dead or alive, he has always been a beautiful enigma wrapped up in a world of make believe and pure resilient genius. I did not have to mourn his passing because for me he never had one. I watch Jayden and his love of Charlie's films and I think of my own childhood, sat in very much the same position with my grandmother watching them in the same way. Laughing at the same parts, crying at others. Charlie has always been in my life and will continue to be whether he physically lives or doesn't.

Hindsight in life is such a great gift. I can appreciate the things he was trying to convey to the world without having to read the scandal and the rubbish that many people reported about him to sell newspapers. His art will continue to speak forever and while we hear the infectious laugh of the children who enjoy him now as much as people did in 1915, I think as Chaplin fans we can all sleep easy, knowing that future generations will make sure he lives forever!

Charlie's films are screened all around the world still, nearly
a century after some of them were made. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

A chat with Kevin Brownlow

This week we sit down with Kevin to look at how important Charlie's London was  to Charlie's Hollywood, and consider the evolution of the Tramp - from London slums to Hollywood lights.

The 80s seems to be incredibly popular at the moment. The music, the fashion, the films - even the shoulder pads seem to be creeping back into the shops. This aside, I can safely say that the 80s were defined for me by two major breakthroughs in Chaplin research: the unsurpassed biography by David Robinson, and thebreathtaking documentary by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill - Unknown Chaplin

Now, for anyone that doesn't know, I was born in 1982. So unfortunately I missed the original broadcast in 1983, and was only three years of age when the original publication of His Life and Art hit the shelves also. But I do know that both my mother and grandmother watched it. In fact, they recorded it onto VHS and kept the copy for many years - the same copy I would later watch in amazement as I sat tucked up under my blanket on the sofa one cold Saturday afternoon at just seven years old.

Myself and Kevin at the Giornate, 2012
Fast forward twenty years and that very moment is ringing around in my ears with anticipation and increased excitement. Yet this time, there is no bed blanket or wet rainy afternoon! Now I am sat in beautiful Pordenone during the 31st LeGiornate Del Cinema Muto and sharing a coffee and chat with Kevin himself; a surreal moment I have no doubt my grandmother would have been very proud of.

In the editing room, circa 1918
I first met Kevin in January 2012 at the annual Bristol Silents Slapstick festival, an event that still holds a special place in my heart. He presented a fantastic talk about another great silent star, Buster Keaton and I was lucky enough to speak to him afterwards. It was very brief and there was so much more that wanted to say. Now, sat across the table I had every opportunity. I was thrilled when Kevin agreed to talk to me about The Unknown Chaplin - I had always wanted to know so much more about the sections used from How To Make Movies.