Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd

Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life
by Peter Ackroyd
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN: 9780385537377
October 2014
Nan A. Talese (Knopf - Doubleday, an imprint of Penguin Random House)

Barnes and Noble

“Like a dancer he needed the full revelation of his art. He seemed to have a speed and movement that distinguished him from other performers.” - Ackroyd 

Charlie Chaplin is one of those major figures of whom I know little about. I’ve been eager to fill the gaps in my classic film knowledge and it was essential that I learn about the man who has such an enormous impact on film history. Peter Ackroyd’s biography follows the life and career of this legend in a neatly packaged 300 pages. It’s not all-inclusive but seems to hit all the main highlights.

“South London would remain the source and center of his inspiration.” – Ackroyd

Chaplin had a very difficult childhood growing up in London. Chaplin and his family lived in abject poverty, his mother was in and out of asylums and it’s not clear who is father was. Facts in the book are often presented with observations about the effects certain events in Chaplin’s early years affected his adult life. These observations also note patterns, influences, themes and symbolism later to be found in Chaplin’s work. He was poorly educated and what he learned was from experience.

Ackroyd draws parallels with Chaplin to figures like Charles Dickens and Adolf Hitler. He also spends quite a lot of the book discussing in details Chaplin’s relationships with women. I learned many of the sordid details involved with the disastrous marriages to Mildred Harris, Lita Grey and Paulette Goddard. It was quite a relief to finally get to Oona O’Neill. Oona was Chaplin’s fourth and final wife. Their marriage was a mostly happy one. They were devoted to each other, had 8 children together and Oona was instrumental in helping him get through a major scandal.

“They had a delight in one another’s company that seemed sometimes to be at the cost of excluding their children. They held hands constantly...” - Ackroyd

If you want to learn about Chaplin’s many films, there is plenty of detail here too. Films covered extensively include The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940) and Monsiuer Verdoux (1947). Chaplin worked with Fatty Arbuckle, Marie Dressler, Edna Purviance, Rollie Totheroh (his principle cameraman for 38 years), Mabel Normand, Stan Laurel, Mack Sennett, Jackie Coogan, Virginia Cherrill, Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren among others.

The author refers several times to Chaplin’s autobiography with the understanding that while it can be an unreliable source of facts it is also an insight into Chaplin as a person. Ackroyd navigates a minefield of mistruths, exaggerations and outright fabrications to get at the true story of Chaplin. Doing so he seems to capture Chaplin’s personality and it shows when reading the book. Chaplin was a man of many quirks. He was a loner, perfectionist, clean freak, a penny pincher and a fiercely independent man. Chaplin bounced from studio to studio and worked best independently. He was notoriously difficult to work with because of his controlling nature.

“Chaplin was a fearsomely cruel man... probably the most sadistic man I’d ever met.” – Marlon Brando

There are good things about the book and bad things about it. I struggled reading it and was very disconcerted by Ackroyd sometimes judgemental tone. Structurally the book reads well. It sticks to a chronological timeline of Chaplin’s life and has a very approachable narrative. There is not much for extras in the book, it’s really just a straightforward biography of Chaplin. There are a handful of black-and-white photos throughout the book that are awkwardly placed and could have been more thoughtfully arrnaged. A small photo often takes up an entire page. I thought this was wasteful and unnecessary. Over the years I’ve become particular about photograph placement in biographies but this was just flat out poorly done. If this goes to paperback, I hope they’ll reconsider the placement of photos.

Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life is a primer on all things Chaplin. It’s a problematic book but does its job as a good introduction to Chaplin for those who are unfamiliar with him. Fans of Chaplin who are well-versed should look elsewhere or pick up this book solely as a refresher.

Note: "A Brief Life" refers to Ackroyd's series of short biographies. It does not refer to the number of years Charlie Chaplin lived.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (2)

Find your next read with this list of new and upcoming classic film books! I have selected a variety of titles with publication dates ranging from January to July 2015 (specific on sale dates are subject to change). Links lead to Goodreads or the publishers' page. Books include biographies, memoirs, scholary texts, coffee table books and more from a variety of publishers.

There are still several new and upcoming titles featured in my last post. Please make sure to peruse that one before starting on this one so you don't miss out on some of the new spring releases.

by Julie Levinson
Palgrave Macmillan
232 pages – January 2015

How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry
by Michael Glover Smith and Adam Selzer
Wallflower Press
240 pages – January 2015

An Insider’s Journey through Hollywood
by Tom Mankiewicz and Robert Crane
The University Press of Kentucky
400 pages – January 2015

by William March
Vintage Books (Vintage Movie Classics series)
224 pages – February 2015

by Walter D. Edmonds
Vintage Books (Vintage Movie Classics series)
672 pages – February 2015

by Dan Dietz
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
618 pages - February 2015

by James Layton et. al
George Eastman House
448 pages - February 2015

Darkness on the Range, 1943-1962
by David Meuel
224 pages – February 2015

The Hero’s Encounters with the Beast
by Maria Garcia
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
288 pages - March 1st, 2015

by Laurence Maslon and Julie Andrews
192 pages – March 3rd, 2015 

Female Film Stardom in the Age of Television and Video
by Mary R. Desjardins
Duke University Press Books
320 pages - March 6th, 2015 

by Various and Foreword by Martin Scorsese
Amsterdam University Press/University of Chicago Press
258 pages – March 15th, 2015

Behind the Scenes of the Pivotal Western
by Brian Hannan
277 pages – March 15th, 2015

by James L. Neibaur
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
208 pages - March 16th, 2015

Veterans, Hollywood, and WWII
by Suzanne Broderick
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
172 pages – March 16th, 2015 

Film Stars series
by John Mercer
168 pages - March 20th, 2015

Footlights with The World of Limelight
by David Robinson
Cineteca di Bologna
224 pages - March 24th, 2015

Hollywood, Black Celebrities and the Civil Rights Movement
by Emilie Raymond
University of Washington Press
352 pages – April 1st, 2015

by David Resha
304 pages - April 8th, 2015

by Jennifer Wild
University of California Press
360 pages – April 10th, 2015

A Romantic Biography of Audrey Hepburn
by Edward Z. Epstein
Running Press
272 pages - April 14th, 2015

The Making of a Monster Smash & Other Hollywood Tales
by Jack H. Harris
TV Guestpert Publishing
April 15th, 2015

by Thomas S. Hischak
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
768 pages – April 16th, 2015

The Making of The Other Side of the Wind
by Josh Karp
St. Martin’s Press
352 pages – April 21st, 2015

Cinematographers, Directors, and the Collaborative Process
by Christopher John Beach
University of California Press
248 pages – April 24th, 2015

The Father of Science Fiction on Screen
by Brian Taves
The University Press of Kentucky
360 pages - May 6th, 2015

by J.R. Jones
360 pages – May 11th, 2015

The Treatment of Women in the Film Industry, 1900-1999
by Aubrey Malone
May 31st, 2015

A Critical Study of 1960s and 1970s Soundtracks
by Matthew J. Bartkowiak and Yuya Kiuchi
May 31st, 2015

Technology, Society and the Horror Film
by Brian N. Duchaney
May 31st, 2015

A Memoir
by Stevie Phillips
St. Martin’s Press
288 pages - June 2nd, 2015

A Biography of Broadway’s Greatest Producer
by Cynthia Brideson and Sara Brideson
The University Press of Kentucky
600 pages – June 5th, 2015

by the Editors of Plexus
Plexus Publishing
128 pages – June 9th, 2015

Little Book of Audrey Hepburn in the Movies
Little Book of Marilyn Monroe in the Movies
by Timothy Knight
G2 Entertainment
128 pages – June 15th, 2015

The Great Films – and Personal Favorites – of a Moviegoing Liftime
by Richard Schickel
320 pages – June 23rd, 2015

Mass Culture and the Production of Historical Knowledge
by Alison Landsberg
Columbia University Press
240 pages – June 9th, 2015

by Deborah Cartmell
160 pages - June 18th, 2015

edited by Paul Duncan
560 pages - July 1st, 2015

A Biography and Filmography
by Claudia Sassen
July 1st, 2015

Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974
by Tom Lisanti
July 1st, 2015

Full-Throttle Cool
by Dwight Zimmerman and illustrated by Greg Scott
96 pages - July 1st, 2015

A Biography
by Pascal Merigeau (with a foreword by Martin Scorsese)
Running Press
1,126 pages – July 7th, 2015
Postponed until 2016!

My Life
by Sophia Loren
Atria Books
352 pages - July 7th, 2015

Film Noir, the Blacklist, and Zulu
by Brian Neve
University of Wisconsin Princess
272 pages - July 21st, 2015

Haunting and Spectrality from Silent Cinema to the Digtial Era
Edited by Murray Leeder
288 pages - July 30th, 2015

by Ron Backer
July 31st, 2015

A Life on Stage and Screen
by Peter Shelley
July 31st, 2015

Notable Mention!

by William Wellman Jr. 
656 pages - On Sale April 7th, 2015

Did any of these books catch your eye? Tell me in the comments section below.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How I Budget for the TCM Classic Film Festival

There are two common complaints about the TCM Classic Film Festival: 1) it's too expensive and 2) it's too far away. For those who live near L.A. the expense isn't nearly as great as it is for someone who is traveling internationally or from the east coast.

I made these same complaints online in 2012. My wallet was constantly being emptied due to the costs involved with my wedding and honeymoon and on top of that I was hit with many unexpected medical bills. I still really wanted to go to TCMFF but at that time I couldn't make it happen. However, I was determined to go in 2013. And not only did I make it to that festival, I went again in 2014 and am going again this year. It took some ingenuity, some work and a lot of penny pinching but I made it happen.

Now I share with you how I budgeted for my TCMFF trips. DISCLAIMER: Some of what I say may be useful to you but I know this won't be applicable to everybody. We all come from different financial backgrounds and have different financial responsibilities. These things worked for me but may not work for you.

Frugality – I've become very frugal over the past few years and my spending habits have changed drastically. I buy more so with intention and purpose than I do on impulse. I really began thinking and analyzing about what I was spending my money on and why. I began asking myself a lot of questions. Do I need this? Can it wait? Do I have the space for it? Is there something else I want more? Because of this I buy fewer clothes, accessories, movies, books and other things for personal use. When I do buy stuff I look for sales, coupon codes and deals wherever I can.

I started living by the motto "less stuff, more experiences." Money that I used to spend on physical things I started putting towards trips. And it's not just TCMFF. I want to travel to new places and my husband and I are in the process of buying a house. Being careful with my money has become a way of life. I've also become pickier about experiences. I used to go to as many local classic film screenings as I could. There are so many in my area and I became a lot more particular about what I chose to attend. My husband and I go out to eat a lot less and some weeks I find myself cooking meals 7 days a week. Buying and spending with intention, prioritizing and cutting corners where I can has helped me save money to put towards my TCMFF trips.

Line for Classic, Essential, Matinee (now defunct) and Media passes

Passes – We are realistic about our passes. Do we really need the Spotlight or Essential Pass or can we live with the lower level passes? In my opinion, the Classic pass is the best deal. It gets you into everything except for the Opening Night Gala. My husband has purchased the Matinee pass in the past but since it's been discontinued this year he went for the Palace Pass. This level pass gets him into all events at the TCL Chinese and Grauman's Egyptian Theatres. While he loves the festival, he knows he won't want to attend everything. He is happy with a lower level pass and getting in the standby lines and paying cash for other events. 90% of the time he gets into events with standby.

While the Spotlight Pass has many perks, I personally can live without it. I don't need to go to the gala and being first in line is not a priority for me. Every year I purchase a Classic pass and apply later for a Media pass. The past two years I was accepted for a Media pass (this year is still pending) which allowed me free access to the festival (and a full refund for the pass I purchased). This makes the festival a lot more affordable but I always come prepared to the festival to work to be worthy of that Media pass.

The Media pass gives me Classic level access plus one or two media-only events.  I don’t take this media pass for granted! I record audio and transcribe every discussion and special event. I take a lot of photographs and some video. I post live coverage on my social media and do daily re-cap posts while I'm at the festival. I follow those up with detailed posts about each individual event I attend. (Read my previous coverage here). I never know from year to year whether my Media application will be accepted, so I always set money aside for the Classic pass.

Gifts – Give the gift of the TCM Classic Film Festival! Think about your next birthday, anniversary or holiday. Does it make sense to encourage your family and loved ones pitch in to send you to the next festival? I've told my husband that if he ever wants to forego a birthday present and donate money to the "Get Raquel to TCMFF" fund he can and I would be perfectly happy. I know this has worked for other folks too.

Travel to the festival – I hoard frequent flyer miles using services like e-Rewards (surveys), e-Miles (offers, ads and surveys) and MyPoints (online shopping, surveys, newsletters and offers). I beef up my United MileagePlus account with these services and I've used them for years. I've been a member of MyPoints since 1998!. I also have a Delta SkyMiles credit card which I use for big purchases, including my expenses for TCMFF.  This year I was able to get a free flight from Boston to LA for both of us with my miles. We only have to pay for our flight back and it saved us quite a bit of money! There are other benefits to these loyalty programs including rewards for dining out, waived luggage fees, etc.

Travel at the festival – One of the biggest expenses is paying for a cab ride from the airport to the hotel and vice versa. You could easily spend up to $160 round trip on cab fare alone. We shaved off some of that by using a shuttle service like SuperShuttle. One way trip for both of us is just over $30. This saves us almost $50 one way! The shared shuttle takes a lot longer than a cab but since we are not on a deadline to get the hotel we can afford the time. We splurge on a cab ride back so we don't miss our flight.

All of the events at the TCMFF are relatively close to each other. We do a lot of walking to and fro which saves us money on transportation. We don't rent a car, we take the bus sometimes and take cabs only when absolutely necessary. I will share cabs with others or accept rides from friends when I can. People make fun of the public transportation in LA but I found the bus system to be decent and very inexpensive (last year it was $1.50 for a one way trip).

Why yes, this is a photo of me shaking Quentin Tarantinto's hand. (Source: Getty)

Itinerary – Every year I create a very detailed itinerary with all the times and places both Carlos and I intend to be at during our trip. I even list back up options in case we couldn't get into certain events. At the bottom of the itinerary is a key with names and addresses of each location and the distances between each location. This has proven to be very useful for us. We can coordinate schedules and meet after events. This helps us meet to share transportation, meals, etc. It saves us on cab rides if we know where we are going and how far away it is.

Food – TCMFF veterans will all tell you the same thing: there is no time to eat during the festival! Everyone goes hungry or they survive on lots of caffeine and energy bars. The hotel my husband and I love to stay at has a diner which is open early and closes late. We have a big breakfast in the morning and a late night dinner there in the evening. The meals are delicious, inexpensive and filling. During the festival, we have snacks we either brought from home or bought at a local supermarket. If our tummies are grumbling and we need to get some lunch, there are a few places at TCMFF to grab a quick meal. The Hollywood Roosevelt's restaurant 25 degrees is a nice sit-down restaurant with plenty of affordable options. It's also at the epicenter of the festival and convenience is key!

The breakfast burrito at my hotel's diner. Inexpensive, delicious and filling.
Avocado is cheap in California so eat plenty of it!

Accommodations - I'd love to stay at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt. It would be amazing. But can I afford it? Nope! Thanks to a friend's recommendation (thank you Jill) we found a wonderful chain hotel that's 1-1/4 miles away from the festival. We can walk to the festival, pay bus fare or grab a quick cab. There are several inexpensive hotels even closer to the festival too.

I signed up for hotel's reward program the first time I booked there and have been accumulating points ever since. I'm hoping to turn these into some free nights in the future. In my research I've found that booking through the hotel's site instead of a travel site saves me money. We also use AAA to get a discounted rate. The hotel was so grateful for our continued patronage they even tweeted me a discount code!

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Souvenirs – I'm perfectly happy with the following souvenirs: a TCMFF tote bag (complimentary with certain passes or for sale at the festival shop), a few books from Larry Edmund's bookshop and lots and lots of photos. I don't really need anything else. I buy a couple items for friends from the festival shop but most of the stuff they sell there (books, DVDs/Blu-Rays, non-festival TCM branded gear) you can buy online on sale at a later date. I keep in mind what makes sense for me to lug back home and what does not. I want to avoid paying overweight luggage fees or shipping costs when I can.

TCMFF souvenirs from 2013 and 2014. Books and tote bags.

There are also free souvenirs from the festival. The festival film guide comes with your pass (keep it and get an extra one if you can) and on occasion they give out free pins and buttons. But the best souvenirs of all are the memories you'll make at the festival!

I did splurge on this Conversations with Robert Osborne DVD because it came with Robert Osborne himself (or at least a couple of minutes to bask in his glory and a signature).

Autographed copy of Conversations with Robert Osborne!

Pair/Group Up - Don't go to the festival alone! Go with a family member or a friend. Share a hotel room and split some of the expenses. Not having to bear the full burden of all the bills makes the trip a lot more economical. My husband and I go together every year.

Carlos, Rob and I at Warner Bros.

Before and After the Festival - We tack on two days before and one day after the festival for recuperation but also to do other things while we are in L.A. We saved money by taking a bus from our hotel to the Warner Bros. for an awesome tour of the lot with our buddy Rob. I always book the red-eye on Monday night back to Boston from L.A. Our flight is after 9pm so we check out of our hotel, leave our luggage there and spend the whole day exploring. We save money on an extra night  because we sleep on the plane instead! There are lots of free and inexpensive things to do in Hollywood. You can go to live TV show tapings, find your favorite stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and more for free.

Visting Robert Mitchum's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

If attending the TCM Classic Film Festival is your dream and it's not absolutely impossible to go, make it happen! You won't regret it.

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