|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Length: 477 pages
Start date: Winter 2009
Finished date: Winter 2009
Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: I love Charlie Chaplin’s work as a comedian and a director. My favourite movie of his is definitely City Lights. I wanted to learn more about him in his own words before reading other biographies on him.
Summary: In “Victorian biographical style” (according to critic and biographer David Robinson in his introduction), the Tramp himself reflects on his childhood in British workhouses, his early work for Mack Sennett, his later struggles with political scandal, and the process of creating an iconic character in the role of actor, writer, composer, and director.
The most admirable quality of Charlie Chaplin is his non-admittance of genius. He was humble and loving towards those who inspired his craft, which even he could not fathom the impact of, and broke down many personal barriers to become not only a film star and a respected director but a renowned cultural icon.
Chaplin’s autobiography is primarily focused on his childhood and social life from his upbringing in the British workhouses, to his stifled relationship with his mother who gravitated deeper into mental illness and was institutionalized, to his brother and hero Sydney. There is very little revealed about his personal relationships, despite being married 4 times and fighting a wrongful but terribly scandalous paternity suit. He shows a pride for his two oldest sons and lovingly recalls working with third wife Paulette Goddard on Modern Times. But understandably, Chaplin writes most about the love of his life, Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, who despite a 36-year age difference, was his significant other half (just a quick aside: I borrowed that beautiful line from an anniversary announcement in my city’s newspaper; isn’t it great?).
Chaplin’s impressive body of work is acknowledged individually and with surprising equality regardless of success—he favours no film above another, though does admit distress over some artistic choices. Chaplin’s craft is multi-faceted: writing, acting, directing, composing, and editing. He had conflicting feelings of the work: a deep desire to bring forth his very best work and a disappointment at the blockades being formed against him, especially during the McCarthy era of the HUAC blacklisting that extradited Chaplin to Europe for the last 25 years of his life. He resided in Switzerland, returning only once to the U.S. in 1972 to accept a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, a beautifully emotional ceremony that can be viewed on YouTube.
On a critical note, Chaplin does convolute the book with numerous social gatherings that could have been spared and is quite modest about his creative process, but what is revealed is done charmingly and impressively.
The 1992 biopic Chaplin was more inspired, though more starry-eyed than his book and included some fictional aspects (such as Anthony Hopkins’ writer character) but acknowledges more of Chaplin’s relationships with stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, and the filmmaking process, including the conception of the Tramp (highly speculative but quite magical). The film stars Robert Downey Jr., who metamorphoses into the Tramp. He is simply incredible, and I am so glad that he has reigned in his personal demons to remind the world of what a truly great actor he is.
I think you learn most about Chaplin from his movies, not to say that his autobiography is unrevealing, but suffice to say that it will only appeal to his biggest fans. I will later try reading some other biographies on him to compare.
Rank: (B)- Very Good, Recommend