Jury Coordination and Notes

The Real Charlie Chaplin * An Earnest Attempt To Characterize The Legendary Silent Film Star

From the award-winning creative team behind Notes On Blindness and Listen To Me, Marlon comes a contemporary take on cinema’s most iconic figure. In an innovative blend of newly-unearthed audio recordings, dramatic reconstructions and personal archive, the film traces Charlie Chaplin’s meteoric rise from the slums of Victorian London to the heights of Hollywood superstardom, before his scandalous fall from grace. Refracting his life through a kaleidoscope of previously unheard voices and perspectives, the film sheds new light on the many sides of a groundbreaking, controversial and visionary artist. For decades he was the most famous man in the world but who was The Real Charlie Chaplin?

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “The Real Charlie Chaplin is an earnest attempt to characterize the legendary silent film star Charlie Chaplin, showing more about the man behind the Little Tramp character, and explaining his significance. At times this documentary’s somewhat bland narration and spotty coverage of Chaplin’s life seem to undermine the actor and his legacy.” See his full review below.

The Real Charlie Chaplin

By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

The Real Charlie Chaplin is an earnest attempt to characterize the legendary silent film star Charlie Chaplin, showing more about the man behind the Little Tramp character, and explaining his significance. At times this documentary’s somewhat bland narration and spotty coverage of Chaplin’s life seem to undermine the actor and his legacy.

Almost everyone knows who Charlie Chaplin is, at least by his image:  The bowler hat, scraggly coat, thin cane, and trademark mustache are well-known symbols of the first landmark actor of Western cinema. The Real Charlie Chaplin does its best to do the impossible — capture the essence of Charlie Chaplin — using archival footage and tape-recorded interviews.  It’s a compilation of perspectives and personal impressions, told in dramatic fashion, rather than a linear storyline. Really, The Real Charlie Chaplin is all about Chaplin’s rise and fall to and from fame, his political opinions, and his contributions to film history (which have been surveyed in a slightly haphazard fashion, only grazing the surface of some of Chaplin’s works).

The film draws on rarely-heard recordings made by Chaplin, his family, and Effie Wisdom, a childhood friend who grew up with him in London. It’s surreal to hear all these voices talk about one of history’s most-loved personalities. Directors Charles Middleton and James Spinney orchestrated reenactments of these recordings, with actors lip-synching and emoting precisely to the audio. It’s an approach that works for some and may not for others, since it entails actors adding gestures or expressions that the original speakers weren’t able to, and so feels a bit unnatural at times. Wisdom’s recording is by far the clearest, and this reenactment method begins to fall apart when Chaplin’s recording is introduced, as Chaplin’s voice is grainy and the tape recorder makes him sound strained.

Many scenes of Chaplin’s films are dissected by narrator Pearl Mackie, as is his family life through a series of photographs accompanied by the aforementioned recordings. Her narration slows the pace of the film quite dramatically, and it may have been a better idea to have the recordings guide the film more, instead of the narration. In all other aspects, though, The Real Charlie Chaplin is a well-made film.

The Real Charlie Chaplin is all about individualism, perspective, and devoting yourself to your craft. There are some mature themes like domestic abuse and manipulation to watch out for.

I give The Real Charlie Chaplin 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 14 to 18, plus adults. The Real Charlie Chaplin begins its theatrical run at Cinema Village (New York) and Laemmle Santa Monica (Los Angeles) on Friday, November 19, 2021.

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