Saturday “at” Charlie Chaplin Days

There are problems with virtual film festivals. You don’t run into old friends or meet new ones. And when you get up and walk out of the theater, you just might enter a kitchen needing to be cleaned.

Nevertheless, here it goes.

Meet David Robinson

I started my viewing at 10:00am on Zoom with a discussion with author and Chaplin expert David Robinson. His biography, Chaplin: His Life and Art, has been called definitive (admittedly, I haven’t yet read it). He has also written Charlie Chaplin: The Art of Comedy, Chaplin: The Mirror of Opinion, and I don’t know how many other books. He also wrote one at Buster Keaton.

David Robinson on Zoom

Dan Kamin moderated the event. Unlike a regular Zoom discussion, there was only one face on the screen at a time – either Kamin’s or Robinson’s. The rest of us could ask questions in an orderly manner. Some highlights, edited for clarity, brevity, and how fast I can type:

  • We’ve been watching Charlie Chaplin for 106 years.
  • I first came to Pordenone [a major silent film festival] as a journalist. It wasn’t until about 12 years later than I started to change it.
  • On why he wrote so many books on Chaplin: I only once willingly wrote about Chaplin. The other books were pushed on me. A publisher was doing a series of books, and they wanted something on Chaplin.
  • What period of his life is most interesting? Theatrical, before he went into film. There was Karno and Sherlock Holmes. He had a very rough childhood, but by the time he was 15 things were getting good.

Dan Kamin showing one of Robinson’s books


Dan Kamin moderated another Zoom webinar, this time with actor Jason Allin.

Kamin and Allin are collaborating on a project that may never get off the ground (although I sure hope it does). It’s a prospective TV series on Chaplin’s life called Funnyman.

They have it all laid out, with three seasons of ten episodes per season. Seasons are titled The Kid, The Tramp, and Modern Times. They’re hoping that Netflix will pick it up.

Jason Allin

During the Q&A, someone brought up the issue of Chaplin’s womanizing, far more acceptable in Chaplin’s day than now. Kamin and Allin told us they didn’t want to brush it under the rug or try to be make it seem okay. They want to show Chaplin’s flaws and all.

Short documentaries on Youtube

Chaplin’s World: Did you know that Chaplin’s final home in Switzerland is now a museum (it seems more like a tourist trap) called Chaplin’s World? That’s also the name of this mercifully short documentary by Bob Garfinkle. This one is easy to skip.

Chaplin’s Film Mystery: Even shorter, but much more interesting. In a too-short documentary, Nigel Dreiner discusses lost Chaplin films from his time at Keystone. Recently found footage proves that Chaplin did, in fact, once play a Keystone Kop. More interesting than that, a lost film called Her Friend, The Bandit and How Motion Pictures Are Made just may be Chaplin’s first film appearance. No one knows. All we have are a few still photos.

Chaplin as Kop

Nice and Friendly: This really isn’t a documentary, but a record of rich and famous people having fun. Lord and Lady Mountbatten play around in front of a movie camera. I saw this a couple of years ago and decided not to repeat the experience.

Sydney, the Other Chaplin

This hour-long documentary is the one I’ve been waiting for. Sydney Chaplin had much of the skill and talent as his younger, much more famous, half-brother. He starred in some successful feature films, but he never gained anything like Charlie’s success.

They were close – they needed each other to survive in the mean streets of London. For some time, Sydney was Charlie’s business manager. Sydney was even more of a womanizer than Charlie.

A fascinating story of someone standing in his kid brother’s shadow.

More coming tomorrow.