I recently won an advanced copy of “Charlie Chaplin-A Brief Life” authored by Peter Ackroyd through a Giveaway on Goodreads. Of course the author was referring to the length of his biography rather than the years lived by Charles Chaplin, whom most of the world learned to call Charlie, as we are aware he lived into his eighties.
Knowing the name and having seen a few examples of his work, however, I was not prepared for the story of the impact his life actually had on not only the United States, but the entire world early in the 20th Century. And, apparently, his legacy has lived on and was instrumental in fanning the change in what was considered “acting”.
I was grateful for the concise and interesting biography of the apparent genius in Charlie Chaplin as I know there are numerous biographies as well as his own autobiography which are extremely lengthy. Never really a fan of his, having now read this book want to find some of his earlier highly acclaimed silent films and see if I can glean the true meanings as Ackroyd has afforded them.
It’s well he introduces us to the child of the London slums to describe the volatile personality which emerges as a result of his earliest experiences. His older brother, Sydney, and he manage to survive without really knowing who their biological father is, born to an alcoholic mother who following a psychotic break spends the rest of her life essentially in and out of asylums as well as the boys lives. A natural mimic, he is perfect for the time and quickly gains attention both in his native London music halls and later in America where he pushed the image of the “Little Tramp” to new and popular heights in silent films.
Later as he takes over the direction of his own films, and reading the descriptions of his rages, periods of genius, and lack of social acumen, I often wondered if he was really an undiagnosed Aspergers person long before they were identified as such–he certainly exhibited many of the symptoms. What struck me, however, was the numerous ways in which he actually changed the focus of silent films and acting; the excessively unbelievable attention to detail, the strength he pulled from his actors. Not so commendable was his volatile private life–more ugly than inspired or romantic and Ackroyd includes all the warts; Chaplin the man as opposed to Chaplin the beloved actor. Not the first time the fans have not been privy to the real face behind the makeup. Chaplin descends into “murky scandals”, from which he eventually escaped into exile to Switzerland. He was obviously ahead of his time only to fall victim to the “talkies” as well as his own strong philosophical and political ideals that would spell the end of the movie world as he knew it. As we sometimes do with our former idols who have been banished in scandals, Chaplin was much later accorded an honorary Academy Award. Indeed, with all of it, there is no denying his cinematic contribution to America.