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The Search for Charlie Chaplin [Paperback]

Kevin Brownlow
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

13 April 2010
In the world of film collecting, the claim "find of the century" may sound an unpardonable exaggeration. But what discovery can equal it?1 Collectors had hailed the discovery of the occasional lost Keystone comedy in which Chaplin played, but nobody had the slightest idea that somewhere in England, somewhere in France, and somewhere in the United States lay three separate treasure troves of silent film which would, for the first time, reveal the working methods of the greatest single figure of the cinema. It was a treasure hunt involving innocence and guile, accident and coincidence. A treasure hunt which took us to Switzerland, France and the United States. The treasure, when it was uncovered, revealed information as precious as the film itself. From the material, we compiled a television series called Unknown Chaplin, three hour-long documentaries produced for Thames Television. Apart from the experience of making the series, we learned so much about Chaplin we could not squeeze into the commentary we decided to preserve it in the form of a book.

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The Search for Charlie Chaplin + Unknown Chaplin [DVD] + My Autobiography (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 222 pages
  • Publisher: UKA Press (13 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905796242
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905796243
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 24 x 16.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 414,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"In-depth and moving, and brings greater insight into the portrayal of a man who was shy and determined, modest and self-deprecating and unaware of his own genius." --La Stampa Magazine

"It has been constructed like an investigation into trails of unedited material and has the whiff of a detective story." --Cinecittà News

"An amazing treasure trove..."
...A must-read publication. The book is a collection of previously unpublished testimonies from those who worked with the great Charlie and from those who came into contact with him in various ways, such as The Kid, Jackie Coogan; the flower girl, Virginia Cherrill; script associate, Alistair Cooke; King Vidor; Lord Mountbatten; Oona Chaplin; and Lita Grey. --Cinecittà News

"A wonderfully well-written book that delights in its own anecdotes" --Il Sole

About the Author

Since starting his own film collection at the age of eleven, Kevin Brownlow has worked in the cinema - either as a filmmaker in his own right, or as a historian. He entered documentaries in 1955 with World Wide Pictures and became an editor in 1958. In the 1960s, he worked as editor with Lindsay Anderson on The White Bus and was supervising editor on Tony Richardson's The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968). With Andrew Mollo, he directed two feature films, It Happened Here (1964) released by United Artists, about an imaginary German occupation of England, and Winstanley (1975), made for The British Film Institute, set in the aftermath of the English Civil War.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Vocal about silents 7 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fantastic book. Unfortunately, I've come to do some Amazon reviews quite some time after having read it so it's no longer fresh in my mind, but what does remain very prominently in my mind is what I've just written - "This is a fantastic book."

I'm already a great fan of Kevin Brownlow and the work he did with the late David Gill, and continues to do on his own or with other collaborators, and their "Unknown Chaplin" documentary is arguably (to some, not to me!) the best documentary there is about Chaplin and perhaps about that era of film (after their masterpiece series "Hollywood" which is more general - PLEASE can we have this on DVD) so to now have 'the book behind the series', and done so well too, is marvellous.

In fact, reading of the trials and tribulations that went on in the making of this programme one is amazed that it even got off the drawing board let alone reached completion. The tales of dealings with Rohauer, one of the Chaplin's old co-stars and his secretary in particular are amazing.

The bonus feature with Brownlow in the Chaplin DVD whets the appetite about how this series was made but in the book we can really feast on this information. I can only look forward with equal anticipation and pleasure to Kevin's announced follow up which will be a similar book looking behind the making of his series on Keaton.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Silent Film Archeology at its Finest 1 Sep 2010
By Lon Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Search for Charlie Chaplin tells the story behind the brilliant, award-winning three-part documentary, Unknown Chaplin (Photoplay Productions, Ltd., 1983). Comprised entirely of never-before-screened footage from Chaplin's silent films (1916 to 1931), the program is a revelation--especially for a seasoned film collector like myself. One iconic scene from the Mutual two-reeler, The Pawnshop, wherein Chaplin exercises his improvisational genius using several everyday props, including a hammer, is as familiar to me as anything I have ever seen on a screen. So when Chaplin dropped that same hammer in one outtake, I almost jumped--the effect was that startling. Now, with the DVD of Unknown Chaplin readily available, I have viewed that episode so many times that when I see the original version of The Pawnshop, it almost seems wrong when he doesn't drop it.

Just how the documtentarians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill came upon that amazing footage, and what metaphorical hoops they had to jump through in order to get their living subjects to tell their Chaplin-related memories on camera, is nothing short of incredible. Kevin Brownlow's first-hand narrative (which is as honest as it is compelling) has only heightened my appreciation of the completed documentary. Accompanying the text are some rare photographs and razor-sharp frame blow-ups. The slim, 209-page volume does not waste the reader's time with endless details of Chaplin's life and career, all of which have been exhaustively covered in over 300 previous books. Instead, the material is fresh, candid--and fascinating.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable, Lots of Great Information, But Could Have Been Better 18 Nov 2010
By Paul Carpenter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The story behind the quest of Kevin Brownlow and the late David Gill to do service to the incredible unseen Chaplin material which came to their attention in the late 1970's is one of the more remarkable tales of cinema scholarship. The 1981 "Unknown Chaplin" series that resulted from this effort is also completely remarkable, one of the essential documentaries ever made on films, and a milestone in rehabilitating Chaplin's tarnished post-1960's artistic reputation.

Brownlow's book does fine service to recounting this effort - the difficulties over copyrights, the rich personalities involved in the story (particularly Chaplin's fierce secretary, Rachel Ford), and the considerable, sometimes comical obstacles overcome in the process. The story of Chaplin's near-obsessive attention to a single pivotal scene in his 1931 film "City Lights", which is retold in both the documentary and this book, is a great parallel to Brownlow and Gill's total devotion to getting the series right.

Brownlow gave an excellent but abbreviated on-camera account of the back story in the 2003 DVD release of "Unknown Chaplin", and this book (which appears to have been mostly written in 1983) fills in most of the details. Being a fan of his seminal books on silent cinema, I couldn't help but be slightly disappointed in the lack of similar polish. It is also hampered by a few narrative gaps, and lacks a truly satisfying conclusion. For example, Brownlow makes the reader genuinely care about the former Chaplin associates and co-stars sought out for interviews (and laudably prints their complete interviews for the first time), but never gives even a simple followup to their lives and deaths after the series was complete. Rachel Ford and Raymond Rohauer come across as quite amazing and colorful, but their lives and fates after the series is never mentioned.

For Chaplin, Brownlow, and silent film scholarship fans, it is without question an essential book. It's just too bad it didn't get Brownlow's full attention or a good editorial reworking - it could have been great.

Congratulations to Brownlow on his 2010 Honorary Oscar. I hope he has many, many years of fruitful preservation and scholarship work ahead.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even more reason to enjoy an amazing documentry 7 Nov 2012
By Gerry Mandel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was fascinated by The Unknown Chaplin 30 years ago when I first saw it on PBS, and again when I watched on videotape, then on DVD. Now I have the pleasure of reading Brownlow's intriguing description of the challenges he and David Gill faced when pursuing the footage, the rights, the personalities. This is the stuff of great cinema history, a must-read for anyone interested in movies, especially when they are the films of Charlie Chaplin. Brownlow's dedication to the completion of the project makes me appreciate it all the more, which means I'll watch the documentary again in the next few days, then re-read The Search for Chaplin. Film history doesn't get any better than this. When I wrote my novel, "Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin," I used John Lennon's words as my guide: "Reality leaves a lot to the imagination." Kevin Brownlow does it with the emphasis on reality. A remarkable accomplishment. And to cap it all off, he's even read my novel.
Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin (A Novel)
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