11 September 2003
Narrated by Sydney Pollack, film critic Richard Schickel's dazzling two-hour plus documentary to one of the towering figures in film: Charles Chaplin. Hardcore Chaplin fans may not find much new material here, but more unfamiliar admirers will gain some valuable information about one of the most famous personalities of the 20th century. Schickel has constructed the documentary as a chronological survey of Chaplin's work, starting with his most significant shorts and covering all of his features. Schickel supports his narration with testimony from artists familiar with Chaplin's work and family members who offer personal insights into the comedian's life. The documentary plays down but doesn't ignore the controversies that swirled around Chaplin's private life. But the main focus is on the films. They include some of the best-loved movies of all time. Clips from "Kid Auto Races at Venice," the 1914 Keystone short in which Chaplin first used his Tramp costume, reveal a startlingly modern technique and sensibility, as if the filmmakers were predicting and mocking reality TV. Subsequent shorts show Chaplin refining his 'Little Tramp' character while absorbing the essentials of filmmaking. By the time he made "Easy Street," in 1917, Chaplin had perfected a combination of knockabout farce and Victorian sentiment that still proves irresistible. Chaplin's early features, including "The Kid," "The Gold Rush" and "City Lights," were such blockbuster hits that he could essentially ignore the coming of sound for almost a decade. Those making appearances on the program include Woody Allen, Richard Attenborough, Jeanine Basinger, Claire Bloom, Geraldine Chaplin. Sydney Chaplin, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., Milos Forman, Bill Irwin, Norman Lloyd, Marcel Marceau, David Raksin, David Robinson, Andrew Sarris, Martin Scorsese and Jeffrey Vance.
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