Directed By: Richard Attenborough
Runtime: 144 Minutes
It has plenty of ambition, but ultimately disappointing. “Chaplin” is a sloppy attempt to capture the memoirs of the great Charles Chaplin into a biopic film. I decided to watch this after I finished reading that very book called “Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography” and I was hoping to see plenty of the great moments. Although it is truly impossible to fully be faithful to the book even if the film was 4 hours long. The problem with the film is the jumping from one year to the next, making it a total mess. If you are an admirer or fan of Chaplin, this film is likely for you, because while it is choppy and cheaply made, you will be interested.
The film is of a fictional autobiography editor played by Anthony Hopkins who is talking with Chaplin (played by Robert Downey Jr.), urging him to be more vulnerable and emotionally honest with his memoirs. The film begins with the origins of Chaplin, were we see a vaudeville theatre and his mother singing. The crowd begins to boo and her voice starts to fade away. They begin to throw thing and she is sent off stage. Suddenly a young Chaplin of no more than six comes on stage and sings the rest of the song, with the audiences affection. After this, we follow his entire career including several events of his life. These include getting into motion pictures, becoming a director, the making of the tramp character, his love life’s, the struggles and making of his films and the huge scandal during the 40’s and 50’s.
The life of Chaplin truly fascinates me. This film seemed to capture the more gloom side of his life, which was what annoyed me partly. Despite the phenomenal fame bestowed upon Chaplin, he was still a lonely soul, depressed and lost. It is unusual to think of this and surprises you why he did not just enjoy his fame. “I could enjoy it now but I could not then. It was all too important,” says Chaplin in his old age. This film shows a mere glimpse of the aspects of his life in terms of his personality.
|The first dressing as the tramp.|
His career reached great heights by the time he was just 30 years old he had worldwide acclaim and soon his iconic tramp character became a more recognised face than that of Mickey Mouse. To get down to the story, I will pick out some moments, and I know a great start. Between 1913 and 1914, was the time Chaplin was invited to act for $150 a week (a lot for this time) at the Keystone Company. The Tramp debuted during the silent film era in the Keystone comedy “Kid Auto Races at Venice” (released on 7 February 1914). However, Chaplin had devised the tramp costume for a film produced a few days earlier but released later (9 February 1914), “Mabel's Strange Predicament”. Mack Sennett had requested that Chaplin "get into a comedy make-up" As Chaplin recalled in his autobiography:
"I had no idea what makeup to put on. I did not like my get-up as the press reporter [in Making a Living]. However, on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. However, the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born."
This review could go on for quite a long time because of the many events that happened, so I will skip to one of the biggest things that happened in his life- his banishment. In 1938, Chaplin became conscious of the Nazi’s coming to power, which enraged him (and rightfully so) and soon he began to write the script for “The Great Dictator”. Before I go on, I must say Chaplin’s tramp character looks similar to Hitler, or should I say vice versa. Hitler, whose moustache resembles his, is uncanny. Chaplin also claims that their birth dates are only a few days apart.
Several rumours rose about his being of a communist after he released “The Great Dictator”. Chaplin claims he was never part of a political organisation and not a communist, but had nothing against them. It is sad to think that Chaplin came to get such public antagonism as simply being a humanitarian, a man who respects all beings regardless of race, colour or religion. Chaplin never registered as an American citizen and was accused of “un-American activities” and suspected of being a communist by Edgar J. Hoover who had instructed the FBI to keep extensive secret files on him, tried to end his United States residency.
The story of that could go on forever so let us skip ahead to the 50’s. In 1952, Chaplin left the US for what was intended as a brief trip home to the United Kingdom for the London premiere of “Limelight”. Hoover learned of the trip and negotiated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to revoke Chaplin's re-entry permit, exiling Chaplin so he could not return for his alleged political leanings. He then moved to Switzerland where he lived with his children and wife Oona, where he lived until he died in 1977. I am a great admirer of Chaplin’s work and life because his personality is certainly not one that is clear. Despite his fame as I said, he seemed unhappy and depressed until his later years in Switzerland. Robert Downey Jr. made for an excellent Chaplin, which I give him great merit for being.
I think it captures too much negative because it made Chaplin out to be a miserable and mean man a little too much. Director Richard Attenborough definitely could have done a better job on a film about such an eccentric personality and genius. Nevertheless, Downey Jr.’s Oscar nominated performance was brilliant. The film ends with Chaplin in America where he was given an honorary Oscar in 1972 and a wonderful it is.
|Chaplin (left), and the autobiography editor (right)|
I would love to see a modern attempt of this film being made, despite not knowing who would fit for each person (Chaplin especially) but I think with modern cinema’s stylish editing would be able to do well to the film. The film leaves you slightly teary eyed if you are one who is familiar with his films, but it does not boost the film’s score. This review could go on for centuries because his life to begin with spanned 88 years and a lot happened in this time. I will finish by saying this film is fascinating in the sense of capturing history but it feels cheaply made and was a sloppy but interesting attempt to put on screen. The casting was great and the source material was golden, but it would be impossible to capture fully the moments of his memoirs even in 5 hours work and I recommend this to Chaplin fans only.
My Rating: 7/10