- Gareth Crook
The Real Charlie Chaplin (2021) - 8/10
Going into this, you could write what I know about Charlie Chaplin on a stamp. I know that his films are classics of the silent era and that he was a comic genius. But everyone knows that right? What else is there to know about Charlie? This is a brilliant documentary. Both the perfect introduction to Chaplin and an insightful and deep exploration for any die hard fan. We think Chaplin and see his character, the moustache, the hat, The Tramp. It’s difficult to separate Chaplin from his screen alter ego and to be honest, without the hat and the moustache, I don’t think I could pick him out of a line up. Narrated beautifully by Pearl Mackie we begin in 1889, the year of Chaplin’s birth and the birth of technological invention, most notably film. There’s some clever tricks that make this especially watchable. Old audio interviews, brought to life with actors lipsyncing, but it’s the narrated segments that tell the story best. The script is informative, yet poetic. Telling of his arrival in America, his start on the stage, using his comic gift and charm to hide the inadequacy and fear he felt. Fear of being alone, being poor, all things he knew only too well from his childhood. Yes the physical performances are exquisite, but this guy was a master polymath. Writing, directing, producing, editing, scoring. Staggering. The archive material is fantastic. Photos, newsreel, outtakes and movie clips, but it’s the stories they tell. The arrival of The Talkies, how Chaplin innovates and continues to delight. I’m left with a list of Chaplin classics that I now have to watch. The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator. These films aren’t great because of the physical comedy we associate with Chaplin. It’s the heart, the truth and honest of the character he portrays. All incredibly self referential. It’s not just the genius onscreen Chaplin we learn about though. There’s the off screen marital problems. Teenage wives, abuse, deplorable patriarchy. Although this side of Chaplin is covered relatively quickly. None of the weight is taken away. There’s much more to Chaplin than slapstick and a funny walk. Political witch-hunts, overzealous governments, tabloid scandal, exile. As miraculous his rise, how sensational the fall. A truly fascinating career and a truly fascinating documentary. “When you ask for the real Charlie Chaplin, a thousand voices reply. Some are louder than others. Some are hidden. Some struggle to be heard and others remain silent”.