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Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin

Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin (2003)

I was very pleasantly surprised by Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin.  It’s a two-hour documentary, narrated by Sydney Pollack, that uses the timeline of Charlie Chaplin’s life to tell his biography.   It’s very detailed, and covers Chaplin’s life from its’ very earliest to the time of his death.  With exposition on his films along the way, from his silent short films at Keystone to his final films.   Interspersed with the biography are snippets from Chaplin’s family, including some of his children, as well as some of the people who worked with him.

In addition, there is commentary from other film clowns.   Normally, I detest commentaries like this, since either the people don’t have anything to add, or don’t have expertise on the subject.   I gladly make an exception in this case, since the comments are both insightful, and from people who definitely know what they’re talking about.  Such as Marcel Marceau, Bill Irwin, and Richard Attenborough.

Even some people that I’m not a fan of, such as Woody Allen (nothing personal against Mr. Allen – his style of comedy simply doesn’t appeal to me) have insightful comments.   For example, Johnny Depp talks about how, in his film Benny and Joon , where he as to duplicate Charlie Chaplin’s famous “dance of the dinner rolls” – how it took him three weeks of study to get it right – how he had to copy not only Charlie’s hand movements, but his arm and shoulder movements in an almost ballet-like moment.

I enjoyed Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin very much.  I recommend it as a warm, friendly biography of Charlie Chaplin, that doesn’t overlook his flaws and warts.  It gives a very balanced view of the most famous film clown ever.   I saw it recently on Turner Classic Movies.  It’s also available on DVD as part of The Chaplin Collection volume 2.


Computer nerd by day, professional clown on evenings and weekends (Raynbow), who combines the two by maintaining a bunch of websites dedicated to the history and performances of clowning, such as Free Clown Skits, and comedy such as Best Clean Funny Jokes.

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