Charlie Chaplin – Early Life

Charlie Chaplin – Early Life

Exclusive extract from David Robinson’s new biography

This year Slapstick Festival’s Comedy Gala returns bigger and better than ever with a spotlight on the 1921 Chaplin masterpiece the Kid.

Many of Chaplin’s admirers regard The Kid as his most beautiful and most personal film. In honour of this year’s screening over the coming weeks we’ll be looking at the heartache that inspired this beloved classic. As a special treat, we’ve got our hands on extracts from David Robinson’s biography of Chaplin.
Patron and filmhistorian, David Robinson, is a renowned film critic and scholar, whose books Hollywood in the Twenties (1968), The History of World Cinema (1973) and official biographies of both Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin have been critically acclaimed. We’ll be serialising parts from David Robinson’s biography of Chaplin, which looks in greater depth than ever before at Chaplin’s humble beginnings and the events in his life that motivated his work.

Charlie Chaplin's the Kid

Chaplin’s childhood

For those who have never delved into the history of silent comedy, Chaplin’s life started with great upheaval. He was born in 1889 to Hannah Chaplin and Charles Chaplin, Senior. Both his parents were music hall entertainers, but sadly never achieved fame. The temptations of the music halls meant both Charlie’s parents were distracted and often unable to take care of him. His parents married, but separated when Charlie was small.

His mother Hannah, suffered with mental illness most likely brought on by syphilis. Accepting this was incredibly difficult for Charlie, who often tried to be by her side as much as he could until her death in 1928. Charlie and his stepbrothers George and Sydney had to fend for themselves from an early age, and all had to suffer the hardships of workhouses when Hannah could not take care of them. By the age of nine Charlie had been sent to a workhouse twice. The workhouses were harsh places, effectively a prison for the poor. Despite all this Charlie was a resilient and plucky child, who remained determined and lively even given all the hardships he faced. Coping in London as two young boys, with no parents and little guidance, must have been terrifying. Born from his turbulent childhood, , The Kid shows some of the loneliness and desperation Chaplin must have felt, at this difficult time in his life.

Extract one : A london Boyhood

The Early life of Charlie chaplin

The career of Charles Chaplin Senior [Charlie Chaplin’s father] had a slower start than Hannah’s [his mother] but a more promising progression. At first he worked as a mimic, but soon developed into what was called a ‘dramatic and descriptive singer’ exerting a strong attraction upon his audiences. Chaplin described him as a quiet, brooding man with dark eyes, and said that Hannah thought he looked like Napoleon. The portraits that appear on the sheet music of his song successes show him with dark eyes that seem somewhat melancholy despite the broad prop grin.

Drink was the endemic disease of the music halls. They had evolved from drinking establishments and the sale of liquor still made up an important part of the managers’ incomes. When they were not on stage the artists were expected to mingle with the audiences in the bars, to encourage conviviality and consumption – which inevitably was best achieved by example. Poor Chaplin was only one of many who succumbed to alcoholism as an occupational hazard.

In 1890, however, he was still leaping from success to success. In the summer he was invited to sign for an American tour, and in August and September was appearing in New York at the Union Square Theatre.[1] The American trip, however, seems to have marked the final break-up of the Chaplins’ marriage[2]. Hannah had given birth to Leo Dryden’s son, George Dryden Wheeler.  Thus the young Charles Chaplin found himself fatherless, but with another half-brother. He was three and a half; Sydney was four years older. In his autobiography he recalls that at this time the children and their mother were still living in some affluence. However the comfort which sheltered Chaplin’s first three or four years was soon to end. Hannah’s liaison with Leo did not long survive the birth of their child. Hannah seems to have been a devoted, affectionate and protective mother, and to have loved the new baby as fiercely as she did her older sons. It is easy then to appreciate the shock that she must have suffered in the spring of 1893 when the appalling Dryden entered her lodgings and snatched away their six-month-old son. The baby was to vanish from the lives of the Chaplins for almost thirty years.

Soon after Charlie’s sixth birthday, the family’s situation reached a new crisis. Hannah became ill – it is not certain with what, but Chaplin recalls that she suffered from acute headaches. On 29 June she was admitted to the Lambeth Infirmary, where she .stayed until the end of July. On 1 July Sydney was taken into Lambeth Workhouse,[3] and four days later placed in the West Norwood Schools, which accommodated the infant poor of Lambeth.

In September Hannah was again taken into the Infirmary, and Sydney and Charlie, now eleven and seven, were admitted to the workhouse, ‘owing to the absence of their father and the destitution and illness of their mother’’.[4] Charles Chaplin Senior was traced and reluctantly appeared before the District Relief Committee. Somewhat heartlessly, he told them that while he was willing to take Charlie, he would not accept responsibility for Sydney, who was born illegitimate.

The Committee retorted that since Chaplin had married the boy’s mother, he was now legally liable for Sydney’s maintenance. At this stage, however, Hannah intervened to reject the idea of the boys living with their father as wholly repugnant, since he was living with another woman. Charles was not slow to point out her own adultery. No doubt somewhat bewildered by the family bickering, the Relief Committee decided that it was desirable to keep the boys together and that the best solution would be to place them in the Central London District Poor Law School at Hanwell.

Post script

From his incredible hardship in his earlier years to the famous persona we all know today as the iconic Chaplin; Chaplin’s dramatic ‘rags to riches’ story is an extraordinary tale of determination and ambition. In our next series of blogs, we’ll be exploring Chaplin’s later years looking at howhe attracted attention as a young performer, and track the route he took to stardom in America.

We’ll also be sharing Chaplin trivia acorss our social channels so don’t forget to follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram to find out more about Chaplin, and other famous silent stars.

[1] The Era, August 1890.

[2] Glenn Mitchell, op.cit. cites an intriguing ‘personal ad’ in The Entr’acte of 29 January 1887: ‘To Charles Chaplin – send address to “L.H.”, 56 Darwin Street, Old Kent Road, Very ill’.  If ‘L.H.’ was Hannah, it may be that the irregularities of the Chaplin marriage had begun before the birth of Charles Junior

[3] Renfrew Road (Lambeth) Workhouse Register, GLC Archives.

[4] Southwark Workhouse Register, GLC Archives

Charlie Chaplin’s Life – The Beginnings

Charlie Chaplin’s Life – The Beginnings

Exclusive extract from David Robinson’s new Biography

Charlie Chaplin is still known as the world’s most famous film star. Despite his huge success in the movies, Chaplin came from difficult beginnings. In our first blog, we looked at his childhood in workhouses, where Charlie and his stepbrother Sydney had to fend for themselves during their early adolescent years. In this extract, we look at how Charlie and Sydney coped in this ever-changing environment, and how both boys went on to become entertainers. Unlike his earlier childhood days, luck began to shine on Chaplin. Read on to find out more.

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Extract Two

[Hannah] had dermatitis and her body was covered in bruises. No one troubled or dared to inquire into the cause of her injuries; they were most likely explained by violent encounters with other patients as a result of her mental condition. The doctor has scribbled the abbreviation ‘Syp.’ in the corner of the form recording her physical condition on admission, suggesting that he may have supposed or suspected tertiary syphilis as the cause of her disorder. There is no other evidence to support this, though Chaplin to the end of his life appears to have been fascinated and frightened by this venereal disease.  Hannah was committed to Cane Hill Asylum, the doctors reporting:

Has been very strange in manner – at one time abusive & noisy, at another using endearing terms. Has been confined in P[added] R[oom] repeatedly on a/c of sudden violence – threw a mug at another patient. Shouting, singing and talking incoherently. Complains of her head and depressed and crying this morning – dazed and unable to give any reliable information. Asks if she is dying. States she belongs to Christ Church (Congregation) which is Ch. of E. She was sent here on a mission here by the Lord. Says she wants to get out of the World.clothes.[1]

On 12. November 1898 she was discharged from Cane Hill Asylum,[2] and soon afterwards gathered up her sons from 289 Kennington Road. The three of them moved into a room at 39 Methley Street, behind Haywards’ pickle factory which exuded a pungent atmosphere throughout the neighbourhood. Their home was next to a slaughterhouse; and Chaplin remembered the horror with which he realised that a merry slapstick chase after a runaway sheep was destined to end in tragedy and the slaughter of the entertaining animal.

The beginning of his career: Background

Charlie first performed at the age of twelve, when he got a chance to act in a stage show. He left school permanently at thirteen and followed his ambition to become an actor. It’s extraordinary that Chaplin was so determined to do this, given the fates both his parents suffered in pursuit of the same.  Chaplin worked hard from a young age, and his comic performances were quickly noticed by critics who saw him in his early shows, like Jim, A Romance of Cockayne.

By the age of sixteen Chaplin had toured the country twice with different theatre companies. His older brother Sydney had also had some success, and brought Charlie along with him. Charlie met Fred Karno (who ran a prestigious comedy company) but didn’t impress him at first. Karno said Charlie was ‘pale, puny and sullen-looking.’ But within a few months Charlie had become the star of the company, and went to America with Karno’s support.

Chaplin toured America twice with Karno’s comedy group, and on the second tour was invited to join the New York Motion Picture Company. By 1913 Chaplin was earning $150 a week, and had the promise of a new life. He went on to become an international superstar, America’s highest paid actor and still one of Hollywood’s most iconic faces. His childhood, though difficult, had given him the resilience and drive to conquer the American film industry.

Extract Three

On Friday 25 November 1898 Charlie Chaplin was now to become a professional entertainer. In early interviews he occasionally gave rather romantic accounts of his discovery by William Jackson, the founder of the Eight Lancashire Lads:

One day I was giving an exhibition of the ordinary street Arab’s contortions, the kind so common in the London streets, when I saw a man watching me intently. ‘That boy is a born actor!’ I heard him say, and then to me, ‘Would you like to be an actor?’ I scarcely knew what an actor was in those days, though my mother and father had both been connected with the music hall stage for years, but anything that promised work and the rewards of work as a means of getting out of the dull rut in which I found myself was welcome.

In his autobiography Charlie remembered that he had to rehearse his clog dancing for six weeks before he was allowed to appear – almost paralysed with stage fright. His debut may, then, have been at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, where the troupe appeared in the Christmas pantomime Babes in the Wood which opened on Christmas Eve. If so, Charles Chaplin Senior would have been on hand to watch his son’s first steps: he opened on Boxing Day at the Manchester Tivoli. Certainly Charlie was working with the troupe by 9 January 1899, when he was enrolled by Mrs Jackson at the Armitage Street School, Ardwick, Manchester.[3]

Even to a ten-year-old in a troupe of clog dancers, the music halls of those times must have provided an incomparable schooling in method, technique and discipline. A music hall act had to seize and hold its audience and to make its mark within a very limited time – between six and sixteen minutes. The audience was not indulgent, and the competition was relentless. The performer in the music hall could not rely on a sympathetic context or build-up: Sarah Bernhardt might find herself following Lockhart’s Elephants on the bill. So every performer had to learn the secrets of attack and structure, the need to give the act a crescendo – a beginning, a middle and a smashing exit – to grab the applause. He had to learn to command every sort of audience, from a lethargic Monday first-house to the Saturday rowdies

Ill fortune had not done buffeting the Chaplins. Charles was aware that his mother was sick again. She had grown listless, seemed unconcerned when the sweat shop for whom she sewed stopped giving her work and took back the sewing machine, and neglected the little room. In May Charlie arrived home to be told by other children around the door that his mother had gone insane. He had the job of leading her to the Infirmary in Renfrew Road and then, as her nearest known relative, reporting the case to the authorities. He had just turned fourteen. The medical certificate records: ‘Charles Chaplin, son, 3 Pownall Terrace, Kennington Road, states she keeps on mentioning a lot of people who are dead and fancies she can see them looking out of the window and talking to imaginary people – going into strangers’ rooms etc.’ Hannah’s delightful window entertainments had passed into the region of madness.[4]

While waiting for Sydney’s return, Charlie remembered making friends with some wood-choppers – also working in a mews behind Kennington Road – and that one of them treated him to a gallery seat at the South London Music Hall in London Road, Lambeth. The star act was Fred Karno’s Early Birds. This was his first encounter with the company in which he was first to achieve fame. Sydney finally arrived home, and Charlie at last could share his troubles. They went to Cane Hill to visit Hannah and were shocked at how ill she looked. Charlie was long and deeply troubled by her reproach, ‘If only you had given me a cup of tea that afternoon I would have been all right.’

Sydney announced that he had come home for good. He had saved enough to live on for the next few months, and had determined go on the stage. It was an ambition which his younger brother shared. Many years later he was to tell his son (a third Charles Chaplin), ‘Even when I was in the orphanage, when I was roaming the streets trying to find enough to eat to keep alive, even then I thought of myself as the greatest actor in the world. I had to feel that exuberance that comes from utter confidence in yourself. Without that you go down to defeat’.[5]

Facts you might not have known about Chaplin

  • Chaplin could play piano, violin and cello, all of which he taught himself as a child
  • Charlie Chaplin never shot a film from a completed script once in his career. The scripts would simply say ‘Charlie enters a shop’ or something vague, and Chaplin would work out the gags once on set.
  • Chaplin was meticulous about his work, and took longer to complete his pictures than any other filmmaker at the time[6]
  • In the Kid, it took 53 takes to achieve every finished take that appeared in the final cut.
  • Charlie married four times, and had 11 children
  • In the 1950s, he was accused of being a communist and was deported from the US. He lived in Switzerland with his fourth wife for the rest of his life.

We hope this has given you an insight into the background that gave Chaplin such depth, and pathos as a performer. His dramatic ‘rags to riches’ story inspired the Kid, and is an extraordinary tale of determination and ambition.

Next up we look at David Robison’s study of Chaplin’s early life.  You can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook to find out more about Chaplin, and the equally wonderful stars of the silent era.

[1] Lambeth Board of Guardians, Lunacy Examinations Book, 12 September 1898, GLC Archives.

[2] Renfrew Road (Lambeth) Workhouse Register, GLC Archives.

[3] Armitage School Register. The school registers have now disappeared, but the entry was illustrated in a Manchester newspaper (unidentified cutting in Chaplin family archive) in 1921

[4] Lambeth Board of Guradians, Lunacy Reception Order, 9 May 1903, GLC Archives.

[5] Charles Chaplin Jr., 1960, My Father, Charlie Chaplin.

  • [6] Louvish, Simon (2010). Chaplin: The Tramp’s Odyssey. London: Faber and Faber, p.228

Slapstick Festival 2020

Slapstick Festival 2020

Slapstick 2020

The 16th edition of Bristol’s own Slapstick Festival celebrates comedy in all its aspects – the never-surpassed classic silent film comedy, the great era of classic comedy on television, and live visual performance.

Rediscovered silent comedy classics will be seen at Watershed and Bristol Cathedral on 23rd and 24th January, in part chosen by our guest curator: Serge Bromberg, founder-director of Lobster films, and one of the world’s great saviours and restorers of “lost” historic films.

Main 2020 website

Laughter in Lockdown 2 – John Cleese, Rory Bremner and Friends hosted by Tim Vine

Laughter in Lockdown 2 – John Cleese, Rory Bremner and Friends hosted by Tim Vine

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Laughter in Lockdown 2 – John Cleese, Rory Bremner and Friends hosted by Tim Vine

For our second Laughter in Lockdown stream (see details about Laughter in Lockdown 1 here), we’ve selected a comedy fundraiser from Autumn of 2016 which at the time we styled “A Slap Up Feast Of Fun: A Evening Of Music And Laughter”

Headlined by none other than comedy icon, writer, actor and Python John Cleese, the evening also featured a set by Rory Bremner, who had lots of material to play with bearing in mind Autumn 2016 was just months before Donald Trump was elected president of the US.  As such, this event not only provides lots of laughs but also a fascinating snapshot of an important period in history seen through the eyes of one of the world’s leading impressionists.

The wonderful Monty Python collaborator Neil Innes, who is mainly known for his work in the Rutles and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, opened the show with some quintessentially and intrinsically witty songs. The “music and comedy” theme was further enhanced with a set by the inimitable Ronnie Golden and Aardman Slapstick Comedy Legend and ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ star Barry Cryer, who also might just have slipped a parrot joke or two into the proceedings buy inderal tablets (spoiler: he totally did).

Compering the evening was that king of the one-liners Tim Vine, brilliantly providing the glue that held all the other sets together.

In their review of the evening Bristol 24/7 wrote:

“All the performers are such national treasures that there was a very British family feel and innocence to the show that modern comedy somehow doesn’t evoke.”

…and concluded…

“It really was a gem of a line-up.”

 We hope you enjoy this rare chance to watch a once in a life time line up.


N.B. These recordings were made for archive purposes and as such are not recorded in ‘broadcast quality’. Where the odd word is hard to hear or the artist can’t be seen as they’re side stage, please remember that these films were never meant to be seen in public and this is a rare chance to glimpse these films thanks to the generosity of the artists involved allowing us to view them. Enjoy!

We’re releasing one video a week for the duration of lockdown – or for as long as we have events available. They will be going live on YouTube first so please subscribe to our channel over there via the button below.

Laughter In Lockdown – Slapstick To Release One-Off Gems From Its Archives

Laughter In Lockdown – Slapstick To Release One-Off Gems From Its Archives

Laughter In Lockdown – Slapstick To Release One-Off Gems From Its Archives

In recognition of the unique circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment with the ongoing C-19 pandemic, Slapstick have taken the decision to try to make a small difference in the only way we know how – by bringing some laughter into your lives. To this end, from Thursday this week we’ll be sharing previously unreleased footage captured during a selection of the unique events we’ve staged over the past decade featuring, one show every week.

The LAUGHTER IN LOCKDOWN roll-out will start at 10am on Thursday 9 April with film from what is believed to be the last on-stage ‘in conversation’ by Eric Sykes CBE, a comedy writer and radio, film, TV and stage performer who worked with a Who’s Who of stars during his 50 years plus career.

In it, Eric Sykes is interviewed by Slapstick board member, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue panellist and one third of The Goodies, Graeme Garden who recalls:

“Eric Sykes was a comedy hero to me. He ploughed an idiosyncratic furrow between mainline comedy and the anarchy of his chums in the Goon Show. For much of his career he was profoundly deaf and relied on a hearing aid mounted in the frames of the heavy spectacles he wore. Later his vision failed as well, but that didn’t seem to blunt his enthusiasm or his energy. What I admired, apart from his distinctive delivery and physical https://cheapnolvadexpct.com/generic-nolvadex/ funniness, was his inventiveness and sense of mischief. And the mischief was still very much in evidence when I had the pleasure and honour of interviewing him in 2009.”

Other shows we have lined up for sharing include Harry Hill talking about his favourite comedy moments; highlights from when Sir Ken Dodd and French & Saunders received their Aardman/Slapstick Comedy Legend awards; a stand-up comedy set from John Cleese and the first stage reunion in decades of Little & Large, the double act best described as the Ant & Dec of their day and whose reminiscences now seem even more bittersweet following the death this month of Eddie Large (Hugh McGinnis).

Slapstick director Chris Daniels says:

“Like so many organisations, we’ve had to cancel a number of planned events because of Covid-19 risks, including some vital fund-raisers. But we have an archive full of funny and fascinating events staged at past festivals – all of them unique, never-to-be-repeated, one-offs shot as they happened. We’ve never released any of them before but now seems a good time to do it. Hopefully, it will give viewers some much-needed laughter in lockdown and remind them that Slapstick will be back with yet more special events just as soon as it is possible.”

Details of the first event will appear on our home page on Thursday. They will be going live on YouTube at the same time so please subscribe to our channel over there.

Gold Rush Competition

GOLDRUSH COMPETITION

Want to win two VIP tickets to our Silent Comedy Gala screening of Charlie’s Chaplin’s The Gold Rush?

One of cinema’s most iconic scenes is the bread roll dance from The Gold Rush! We would love to see your modern reinterpretations of this comic gem. To win two VIP tickets to The Gold Rush, simply upload a short video of your best bread roll dance to YouTube and then send us the link!

Please use the following hashtags in your description: #CharlieChaplin #TheGoldRush #BreadRollDance

We will have a small panel of judges who will choose the best and most creative video as the winner!

Email us the link to your video with the subject line “Bread Roll Dance” here: slapstickfest@gmail.com.

The lucky winner will receive two VIP tickets to The Gold Rush at The Forum in Bath on the 20th of June, 2020.

Entrants must be 18 and over and live in the UK and must be able to attend the screening. Accommodation and travel are not provided. Tickets to be collected by the winner in person from the venue on the night of the event.

The prize is for tickets to the screening only and there is no cash equivalent.

Entries will also be used by Slapstick Festival to help promote the event.

Entries must be received by the 10th of March and the winner will be notified by email on the 17th of March.

Neil Innes 1944 – 2019

Neil Innes 1944 – 2019

On 30th December 2019, we learnt the sad news that Neil Innes, long-time friend and supporter of the festival, had sadly passed away.

Festival Director Chris Daniels made the following statement about Neil:

“We are deeply saddened to learn of Neil’s sudden passing.

“Neil was more than just a patron and a regular guest at Slapstick Festival, he was a real friend to us.

“His satirical genius through his songwriting, his eloquent lyrics and wonderful, intelligent observations engaged everyone who met or worked with him. You couldn’t wish for a more generous, good-hearted and warm natured human being.

“We will sorely miss his presence as one of the great satirical musicians of our time.

“Our hearts go out to Neil’s family.”

– Chris Daniels

Slap Up Feast of Fun © Paul Lippiatt Slapstick Festival 40 copy 1024x677 1
Slap Up Feast of Fun © Paul Lippiatt Slapstick Festival 40 copy 1024×677 1

Slapstick Volunteer Call Out

Slapstick Festival is returning to Bristol in January with a fantastic line up of incredible stand-up, theatre and of course, silent comedy.

And with the festival fast approaching, we need your help! We’re on the lookout for a lovely team of dedicated volunteers who can assist in ensuring the festival runs smoothly! There are lots of diverse roles available, all of which provide valuable experience in the film, arts and events industries.

If you’d like to apply for a role please fill out the Volunteer Form linked to via the button below. The deadline for applying is noon on the 12th of December!

Alternatively, if you know someone who you think might be interested please do send them a link to this page or just forward them the google forms link below.

If you require more information or have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at jacqui@slapstick.org.uk.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

https://forms.gle/5pdwFiF2m7ZSvq3GA

Slapstick Sunday At Bristol Hippodrome – In Photos

Slapstick Sunday At Bristol Hippodrome

Here are a selection of photos from the 2019 Slapstick Festival gala day on Sunday 10th Feb which featured a matinee performance by Andy Day from CBeebies and our Silent Comedy Gala which featured Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.

All the photos were taken by our regular photographers, Paul Lippiatt and David Betteridge. Check out more work by Paul and David at their websites, which can be found here (for Paul) and here (for David).

More photos from Slapstick 2019 can be found on our social media channels. We are on Facebook as SlapstickFestival, and on both Twitter and Instagram as @SlapstickFest.

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Andy Day | Bristol Hippodrome | © Paul Lippiat
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Andy Day | Bristol Hippodrome | © Paul Lippiat
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Andy Day | Bristol Hippodrome | © Paul Lippiat
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Andy Day & Charlie Chaplin | Bristol Hippodrome | © Paul Lippiat
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Marcus Brigstocke | Slapstick Gala | © David Betteridge
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Modern Times | Slapstick Gala | © David Betteridge
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Chris Daniels, Marcus Brigstocke, Pete Lord & Graeme Garden | Slapstick Gala | © David Betteridge
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John Archer | Slapstick Gala | © David Betteridge

Some additional images from Andy Day, all © Paul Lippiat:

Some additional images from the gala, all © David Betteridge:

Modern Times | Charlie Chaplin The Composer

Modern Times | Charlie Chaplin The Composer

Modern Times | Charlie Chaplin The Composer

Charlie Chaplin, one of cinema’s most famous stars, was a man of many talents… actor, director, writer, and composer are among his many credits. With the upcoming screening of Modern Times at the Bristol Hippodrome, I thought I would take a bit of time to talk about Chaplin’s work as a composer… especially since the score for Modern Times contains the iconic melody of “Smile,” one of the most beloved songs of the 20th Century that has been covered by many recording stars. Although he had received a couple of honorary Oscars for his work in film, his first Academy Award was awarded for his score of Limelight in 1973.

In making his films, Chaplin had almost complete control over production. With the advent of sound…. he could also have control over an entirely new aspect of cinema production… the film score. The first film that Chaplin composed the score for was City Lights – a film that could have been made as a talkie, but Chaplin resisted, and it remained silent… but it did mean that he could score the film as he wanted. Before sound in cinema, Chaplin had control over the pieces that he wished to accompany his films. After sound, he became a composer. After the success of City Lights, Chaplin went back to his earlier films and composed scores for them as well.

Not a classically trained musician, Chaplin was able to play some instruments by ear and sing melodies. He had assistants who would then transpose these melodies into a finished score for his films. He was also very much influenced by his early experiences in the English music hall tradition. He would also use counterpoint in his compositions. In scenes where characters are living in poor conditions, he would often compose music that would evoke richer surroundings. Chaplin did not want his scores to sound comedic. In his mind, the music should not overshadow the comedy that was showing on screen. He wanted the scores to express the sentimentality of the narrative of his films.

Some of Chaplin’s melodies would go on to become popular songs. “Smile” has already been mentioned, but “Eternally” was adapted from his score for Limelight and “This is my Song” was from A Countess from Hong Kong. The lyrics for “Smile” were written by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons. Petula Clark had a number one hit with “This is my Song,” and “Smile” has been famously covered by Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, and Michael Jackson.

Join us on February 10th to hear Chaplin’s masterful score to Modern Times played by the Bristol Ensemble and conducted by Günter Buchwald. The evening will be hosted by Marcus Brigstocke and will also include two short silent comedies: Laurel and Hardy’s Bacon Grabbers and Buster Keaton’s The Scarecrow. Comic magician John Archer will also be appearing to round out an evening of fantastic entertainment!

More information about the evening can be found here – and for a limited period, we’re running a 2-4-1 offer on gala tickets! To take advantage put the code ‘241 Tickets’ in the box as you check out!

Finally, a quick throwback to Slapstick 2014 when we organised a flashmob prior to our gala with Paul McGann, the City of Bristol Choir and the Bristol School’s Chamber Choir singing Smile. Enjoy!