Possibly the best documentary about Chaplin is The Unknown Chaplin. In three parts you can watch here it captures the cinematic genius as he was never meant to be seen. Using countless reels of rushes, outtakes, and abandoned films Chaplin had wanted destroyed, film archivists Kevin Brownlow and David Gill have meticulously crafted an essential and fascinating documentary homage to the Little Tramp who will no doubt keep us laughing until the last flickering frame.
We suggest that you watch The Unknown Chaplin after you see City Lights.
First shown at the 1983 Venice film festival it kept the audience at that time laughing — and hoping that similar finds might be made in the future.
You can watch it below (inferior picture quality for streaming to your TV) or buy the DVD with bonus materials. The links to each part have program notes for each of those segments courtesy of Turner Classic Movies
Part I takes from the years 1916-17 are shown including variations on a theme in The Cure.
Part II shows Chaplin and his guest Sir Harry Lauder (the famous vaudevillian) exchange costumes and identities as each mimic the other for a home-movie segment, there are also some interviews with Chaplin co-stars, and an alternate ending to The Gold Rush.
Part III has vignettes that were dropped from City Lights and Modern Times that — judging from the hilarity they evoked at the 1983 opener — merit their own showing any time.
Wallace & Gromit animation director Peter Lord explores City Lights.
The Real Chaplin is a new documentary exploring the world’s infatuation with the Little Man– “Chaplin-Mania” and ”Chaplin-it is” were terms used—but who was the real Chaplin?
“From the award-winning creative team behind Notes On Blindness and Listen To Me, Marlon comes a contemporary take on cinema’s most iconic figure. In an innovative blend of newly-unearthed audio recordings, dramatic reconstructions and personal archive, the film traces Charlie Chaplin’s meteoric rise from the slums of Victorian London to the heights of Hollywood superstardom, before his scandalous fall from grace. Refracting his life through a kaleidoscope of previously unheard voices and perspectives, the film sheds new light on the many sides of a groundbreaking, controversial and visionary artist.”
It is currently available on Showtime.
Film Independent’s Matt Warren James Spiney interviews The Real Chaplin’s co-director James Spinney.
The International Documentary Association presents an interview with Peter Middleton and James Spinney
The Turkish film industry is famous for stealing American films for their own remakes from Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz to, well, City Lights. The flower lady scene starts at 6:30 and many sequences are directly taken from Chaplin without the subtlety nor any subtitles.
There have been hundreds of releases of Chaplin movies for home viewing for nearly a hundred years. They were on 8mm, 9.5mm and 16mm. Often they came in boxes with fun cover art.
In more recent times all of Chaplin’s films have been beautifully restored. In the U.S. his earliest shorts from Keystone, Essanay and Mutual have stunning editions thanks to initial work by the late David Shepard. Launched in 1999, The Chaplin Project brings together a consortium of international archives with Lobster Films in Paris and the Cineteca di Bologna in Italy to restore all of Charlie Chaplin’s short films and features. Serge Bromberg, founder of Lobster Films, has played a key role in the restoration of Charlie Chaplin’s earliest films. They can be obtained on DVD/BluRay from Flicker Alley. The later shorts and all the features he produced are available from the Criterion Collection. Expect lots of great extras.
Reid Brenton has assembled what is probably the most comprehensive (multi-part) guide to home video releases on his exhaustive (and exhausting) Brenton Film site.
Stealing Chaplin is a “documentary” unlike any other, chronicling the disappearance, ransom and recovery of the body of an international icon. In 1978, three months after the death of Charlie Chaplin, his body disappeared from its grave in Corsier-Sur-Vevey. It would be quite some time before the robbers would eventually contact the family asking for half a million Swiss Francs. Their offer denied, the criminals turned to violence against the family instead…and that’s not even where the mystery begins. Available from Kino Lorber
To see where you can stream the films by and about Chaplin go to Just Watch.
All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S
Images from the Chaplin archives © Roy Export Company Establishment. Charles Chaplin and the Little Tramp are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Inc. S.A. and/or Roy Export.