Category Archives: Chaplin

Nimble Artistes

I was one of the fortunate 100 who recently received a brown paper package tied up with string and was completely charmed by both the handmade nature of the mailing and the enclosed book, Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall‘s The Mighty Lalouche.  A longtime fan of Blackall (going all the way back to her  hilarious collaboration with Meg Rosoff, Meet Wild Boars) I was delighted with this elegant Cinderella story of a mild mailman who became a celebrated boxer.

Yesterday I read it aloud to my 4th grade class and was pleased that they enjoyed it too. So first of all, to those who wonder if it is a book with a too adult sensibility, I can say that these ten-year-olds were captivated by the story and the art. But sometime else occurred to us as we enjoyed the story — something no doubt very particular to us.  And that is how much the images and verbal descriptions of the small and speedy boxer Lalouche reminded us of Charlie Chaplin (with whom, for those who don’t know, I’m a bit…er.. obsessed). Chaplin was incredibly capable on his feet too. He could dodge, feint, and dance around his opponents with an elegance and speed that seems not unlike that of the Lalouche of Blackall and Olshan. Not only did he do that in just about every one of his silent comedies, but he actually ended up in a few boxing rings. Perhaps most famously in City Lights, but also in an earlier short, The Champion.  Take a look below (start at 2:58 for his ring performance) and see if you can see any similarities between the Little Tramp and the Little Lalouche.

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Chaplin the Musical

Chaplin the Musical is a labor of love by those who clearly appreciate, know, and get Charlie Chaplin in his complexity.  As someone who has been a fan for most of her life and for some years now has been working on a children’s book about his character the Little Tramp, it was delightful to see how they managed to include so many little elements in this musical biography of his life.

The black and white setting, lighting, costumes, and make-up for the bulk of the show was very apt and made the vibrant red and colors of the final scene when Chaplin returned to receive a special Academy Award in the 1970s moving indeed.

The performers were uniformly excellent, but it was Rob McClure who was outstanding. I’d read about his preparations for this role, but was still skeptical until he came on and began. His movements were absolutely spot-on like Chaplin’s.  His voice was remarkably close too. I appreciated most of all the subtle movements that anyone who had watched Chaplin in action many times as I have would appreciate.  The little shrugs, smirks, kicks, and the like. He was so good when in the Little Tramp character that I wanted more!

Collapsing a life like Chaplin’s into a two and a half hour theatrical event is challenging indeed, but Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan pulled it off. I’m glad though that I read the small note in the program beforehand that ” The authors with the blessings of the Chaplin family, wish it to be known that a certain amount of dramatic license was taken in the course of turning the long and enormously complicated life of Charles Chaplin into a musical play. However, the spirit and true essence of the great man’s remarkable career has been scrupulously retained.”

For there were changes that those of us who know his story well would have noticed, say a slight alteration in the way he was first invited by Mack Sennett to come to work in the movies or the scene in which he first tried out his Little Tramp character. It is a highly sympathetic and respectful rendering of Chaplin’s life.  My companion was unfamiliar with his life and found it fascinating.  I was, of course, a bit skeptical of song and dance for a silent film star, but by and large it worked although I have to admit that none of the songs stood out to me in the way aspects of the staging did.

A few favorite touches of mine:

  • Pretty much every time McClure played the Tramp. He was fantastic at this!
  • The early scene where Young Charlie (played beautifully by Zachary Unger) sings when his mother can’t.
  • The movie making scene at the Sennett Studio (even though it isn’t at all the way it actually happened but is a sort of compression of various aspects of that studio so worked well for this picky Chaplin know-it-all).
  • The roll dance (from The Gold Rush) in a chorus line in “The Look-a-Like Contest.”
  • Charlie watching Hitler and then mimicking him as he prepares to do “The Great Dictator.”
  • The various moments with the beautifully replicated scenes from his movies.
  • The final one when we see Charlie going INTO the movie to walk off down the road as he did so often. A beautifully done effect.

So for anyone who loves and knows Chaplin I recommend this as a very well-done and enjoyable experience.  To end here is a lovely little behind-the-scenes video of their making one of those little movie scene recreations.

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More on the Broadway Chaplin Musical

I’m in England, but if I were home in New York today I would have taken up an invitation by the folks doing the new Chaplin musical to attend a brunch and then the matinée for the show. Instead, as soon as I get home I plan to see it.  Meantime, here’s something from the guy who is playing Charlie.

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Chaplin Coming to Broadway

So I’ve been watching warily as a Chaplin musical gets ready to open on Broadway in a couple of weeks.  I became aware of it a few years ago when it  started out at the La Jolla Playhouse then titled Limelight and was not overly impressed by the clips I saw. The title references Chaplin’s late film about an old clown and I feared the musical would simply be maudlin and not capture the fun and wit that I love about Chaplin at his best.  However, it has been retitled and seems to be a bit more upbeat now from what I’ve seen, so fingers crossed that it works!

Meanwhile I recommend heading over here to EW to see an interesting video about their work on recreating the iconic bread roll dance (which one of my students did very nicely at the end of OUR Chaplinesque movie).  And then there is the witty video ad for the show.  The guy playing Chaplin looks not bad (if a little on the sweet side without to much evidence yet of the devilish quality that is part of what makes the original so great), but I still am skittish about the overall direction the musical will take. There are many ways to consider Chaplin (I’m working on one) and I like some of them more than others.  We shall see.

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In the Classroom: Charlie the Pilgrim

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!

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A Singing and Dancing Charlie Headed to Broadway

A musical on Chaplin now heading for Broadway originated a the La Jolla Playhouse as “Limelight.”  I have to admit I was put off by that title as Chaplin’s film of the same name is one about the decline of a clown in late life.  They’ve just announced that a veteran of other musicals, Rob McClure will be playing the title role which he originated at La Jolla.  Here’s a video from that production. (I have to say that it is a bit strange to see an iconic silent character singing and talking!)

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Chaplin Broadway Bound

Tramp bio-tuner “Chaplin” has lined up its Broadway theater and dates, skedding a Gotham stint that opens in September at the Barrymore Theater.

Formerly titled “Becoming Chaplin,” the musical about the life of silent film star Charlie Chaplin has songs by Christopher Curtis and book by Thomas Meehan (“Hairspray,” “The Producers”). Show world preemed at La Jolla Playhouse in a 2010 staging, when the musical was called “Limelight.”

From Variety.

I have read about this before and will hold my opinions to myself for now other than to hope it is better then the recent Alice musical.

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Chaplin Admirers in India

After an excruciatingly long 15-hour journey from Mumbai, I stepped out of the car outside Adipur train station and found two children waiting to welcome me with flowers. Both were wearing bowler hats and had t-shirts depicting the silent film star Charlie Chaplin. Of course, I was yet to meet the town’s biggest Chaplin fan.

The image and quote are from Danish Siddiqui’s Charlie’s Angel, a charming story about a Chaplin admirer in rural India and how he managed to engaged everyone around him.

And then there is this Bollywood tribute:

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In the Classroom: Making Old Movie Associations

This week we will be filming our Charlie Chaplin parody (did this for the first time last year) after a year-long study and also finish watching Chaplin’s final Little Tramp film, “Modern Times.”  As we started it last week I was delighted when the kids immediately referenced “I Love Lucy” because it means they are watching other older videos.  For those who don’t know them or just want to see them again, here are the two sequences:

Charlie on the assembly line in Modern Times.

Lucy and Ethel on the assembly line in I Love Lucy.

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Wanna Buy Me Charlie Chaplin’s Cane?

Some readers know that I’m rather besotted with Charlie Chaplin. After years of casually showing his movies to my 4th graders, last year I made it all a proper study culminating in a movie a la Charlie. We are doing it again this year. Additionally, I’m working on a book about his Little Tramp character. So, yeah, I’m a bit obsessed.

No surprise then that my ears pricked up just now hearing an NPR piece about next week’s “Hollywood Legends” auction. There are, I learned a whole bunch of Chaplin items I’d love to have, say one of his hats, a cane, a pair of his “worn” bow ties, a carving of his iconic boots, or a mini-projector of his and some film reels. The sale also includes stuff I have absolutely no interest in owning, say his international driver’s license or a pair of his pajamas. Oh, there’s other stuff too — say photos of Marilyn Monroe and JFK’s rocking chair.

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