Directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney said their documentary The Real Charlie Chaplin had two major hurdles. One was that there are already so many biographies about Chaplin, and the other is that Chaplin was so enigmatic, none of the biographies truly capture him.
The filmmakers said during a panel conversation at Contenders Film: Documentary that three archival sources guided them in making the Showtime movie, which premieres on Showtime on December 11.
“The first one is an audio interview that was done with Chaplin in the 1960s,” Middleton said. “It was done by a guy called Richard Meryman who was a journalist for Life magazine. Although this recording wasn’t fantastically recorded, the recording itself is quite roomy, it is no doubt the most in-depth interview done with Chaplin up until this point.”
The second key source for The Real Charlie Chaplin was an interview with Effie Wisdom, a childhood friend of Chaplin’s from the 1890s. The third was Chaplin’s press conference in 1947, when “Chaplin’s star is very much on the wane and the establishment and judiciary and the press are all out to get him,” Middleton said.
Spinney said that even those close to Chaplin felt they never knew the real man. Many felt they never saw the same Chaplin twice.
“We begin the film with a quote from one of Chaplin’s friends who says, ‘Enjoy any Charlie Chaplin that you have the good luck to encounter, but don’t try and link them up to anything you can grasp because there’s too many of them,’” Spinney said. “The more we looked into Chaplin’s life, the more versions of him we found.”
Middleton said the press conference contains a rare moment of Chaplin caught off guard. One reporter says, “You’ve stopped being a good comedian since you’ve been bringing messages.”
“She’s then asked to repeat the question,” Middleton said. “You can really feel Chaplin miss a step at that point. It does really throw him.”
Check back Tuesday for the panel video.
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