Written for RAF News Feb 2022
From rags to riches; a silent movie megastar to a political voice; from abuser to family man – The Real Charlie Chaplin endeavours to shine a light on the many faces of this icon.
The film opens with the rush of Chaplin fever. A global sensation in which this bowler-hat wearing, toothbrush moustached Little Tramp character could be recognised anywhere, known as Charlot across some parts of Europe, or rather more tellingly as Professor Alcohol in Japan. This documentary looks at the creation of the character (plus the lawsuits surrounding) gives an overview of his films, and offers a few glimpses behind the curtain by way of reconstructed archive interviews, including a rare profile of the man himself.
Looking at Charlie’s destitute upbringing in East London, his drive for success in vaudeville and subsequent hit films, the parallels between his life on and off screen become very apparent and make the emotion of his performances all the more resonant. Whilst The Great Dictator was the first time he leant a voice to the Tramp, to combat the rising power of Adolf Hitler by preaching a message of love, it would also lead Chaplin to speaking out more publicly, landing him in the spotlight accused of being a Communist sympathiser.
The documentary deserves to be celebrated in the way that it tackles the dark and looming past of Chaplin and his relationships. Not treating the subject as simply scandal, but acknowledging the flawed man by way of his ex-wife’s testimony, it reveals accusations of serious abuse. Without dropping the thread of the film to demonise, or brush aside these accusations and continue to deify, the film admirably works this into the picture it has created thus far, accepting and separating the man from his work.
The title of the film suggests an exposé, but comes to rest on the fact that there is no one true account, instead offering a mosaic of information. Whilst the content is not too in-depth, it is always a pleasure to watch scenes from Chaplin’s iconic films and be reminded of the finessed brilliance of his slapstick comedy.