The Search for Charlie Chaplin Paperback – 13 Apr 2010
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"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 The book is a collection of previously unpublished testimonies from those who worked with the great Charlie and from those who came into contact with him in various ways, such as The Kid, Jackie Coogan; the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.
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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.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
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.
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.
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