This year I again did a study of Charlie Chaplin with my 4th graders. At first it mostly involved watching movies beginning with his earliest ones done at Keystone. The kids again connected immediately with Charlie and couldn’t get enough of him. I was inclined to skip around a bit with some of his earlier shorts, but my students wanted to see everything! They fell in love with him almost immediately — connecting to his playful, childlike character. At times I would also show them parts of the Unknown Chaplin documentary that provides fascinating information on the making of many of his films. In the spring we visited the Museum of the Moving Image where we had a great tour focusing on early movie making and then a screening of “The Immigrant” (on a very big screen) accompanied by a live pianist. It was glorious!
And then, as we did last year for the first time, we made our own Chaplin movie. Again, it was based on our study of the Pilgrims — that story works perfectly for Chaplin. It is full of great situations that lend themselves to his sort of comedy. As we did last year we invited those children who wanted to play Charlie to do brief screentests. We asked them to prepare something Charlie-like and filmed them. It was easy to see who had made the effort to really get to figure out Charlie’s movements and to prepare accordingly. I created a number of scenes loosely connected to the Mayflower story, scenes that we could do in the classroom (which had bright green drapery — that all important green screen — across one wall for weeks while we filmed). I asked them what characters they wanted to play and then grouped them into the different scenes. Each had a different set of children playing the same characters– we used costumes to make it clear they were the same people. After filming dress rehearsals we did the final filming. Then my colleague Cypris Megias (without whom I could not do this) edited the thing, added music and old effects and, viola, we had a movie. We premiered it for the parents at the end of school with great success. And now here it is for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!