Chaplin: A Life
Stephen Weissman, M.D.
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"… a biographical psychoanalysis."
Did Charlie Chaplin’s characters come from his subconscious? Did they emerge from tragic youth? Why were his films so captivating that by the age of twenty-eight he’d became a millionaire? Dr. Stephen Weissman seeks answers in his book Chaplin: A Life, a biographical psychoanalysis.
The book follows Chaplin growing up in England and his relationship with his mother, Hanna Chaplin, a failed music hall actress who was institutionalized because of madness attributed to syphilis. Because she was unable to provide for her son, Charlie at age seven was committed to the Hanwell School for Orphans and Destitute Children. Charlie’s father, Chaplin Sr., was a famous stage actor and dapper man who died from severe alcoholism. Chaplin adored his mother but claimed all his life that he followed in his father’s footsteps.
Weissman suggests Chaplin’s tragic childhood and early contact with audiences and actors in England’s music halls are the roots of Chaplin’s comic sadism. For instance, Chaplin’s most popular character is the Tramp, a “down-and-out dandy” with a drunken sway walk who can be traced back to Chaplin’s own Cockney roots.
Timing and technology also contributed to Chaplin’s success and ultimately his political exile to Switzerland. In 1913 while on a U.S.A vaudeville tour, he signed a contract with Mack Sennett at the Keystone Film Studio. Chaplin, a talented mimic, had the “sheer good fortune” to arrive when silent films were flourishing. By 1915 people sought out his movies (forty-one films in fifteen months) as an escape from the horrors of war. In the mid-1930’s, his ability to connect with the down-and-out, both in his films and in his personal relationships, put him squarely at odds with the F.B.I. and the House Un-American Activities Committee. They accused him of being a communist. His reentry into the United States was revoked. He left for Switzerland and permanent political exile.
This book, written in a narrative form, is based on extensive research of Chaplin’s personal life, the characters he created—the tipsy bumbler, the wily trickster, the streetwise hustler, the comic misfit, the clever chameleon and the poet-magician—and his greatest movies—The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times and Limelight. This examination not only provides insight into Chaplin’s creativity, it also demonstrates how historical events influence art form. It is an exceptional and provoking read, which prompts one to seek out Chaplin’s films, many of which are available free on the Internet.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla
Categorised in: Book Reviews
This post was written by Kate Padilla