Showing posts with label Charlie Chaplin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Charlie Chaplin. Show all posts

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!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (1)

 "I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." - Groucho Marx

I've been on a reading frenzy lately and with so many good biographies and film books coming out I don't think I'll ever stop. It's so important for classic film enthusiasts to read and learn. It enriches the experience, develops the palate and informs the mind.

I've put together a list of new and upcoming classic film books. The publication dates range from September 2014 to March 2015 (specific on sale dates are subject to change). All title links lead you to the book's page on Goodreads. I've chosen a variety of books from big publishing houses to scholarly presses to small, indie and vanity publishers. This list contains biographies, reference guides, textbooks and more. Take a look through and maybe you'll find your next read.

edited by Randy Schmidt
Chicago Review Press
480 pages - September 2014

by Lesley L. Coffin
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 
246 pages - September 2014 

by Gene D Phillips
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
204 pages - September 2014

John Wayne's Way: Life Lessons from the Duke
by Douglas Brode
Globe Pequot Press
128 pages - October 2014

A Companion to Fritz Lang
edited by Joseph McElhaney
500 pages - October 2014

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
by William J. Mann
384 pages - October 2014

The 100 Greatest Silent Film Comedians
by James Roots
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
464 pages - October 2014

by Michael Slowick
Columbia University Press
400 pages - October 21st, 2014

by Peter Ackroyd
Nan A. Talese (Penguin Random House)
304 pages - On Sale October 28th, 2014

by John Kisch and Tony Nourmand
Reel Art Press
288 pages - On Sale October 30th, 2014

by William H. Mooney
Rutgers University Press
224 pages - On Sale November 3rd, 2014

by Marc Eliot
Dey Street Books
416 pages - On Sale November 4th, 2014

Hope: Entertainer of the Century
by Richard Zoglin
Simon and Schuster 
576 pages - On Sale November 4th, 2014

by Arthur Laurents
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
192 pages - On Sale November 4th, 2014

by Ruth Barton
University Press of Kentucky
362 pages - On Sale November 5th, 2014

Early Poverty Row Studios
Images of America Series
by  E. J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker
Arcadia Publishing
128 pages - On Sale November 10th, 2014

Anxiety Muted: American Film Music in a Suburban Age
by Stanley C. Pelkey and Anthony Bushard
Oxford University Press
320 pages - On Sale November 12th, 2014

 Grace: A Biography
by Thilo Wydra
Skyhorse Publishing
340 pages - On Sale November 18th, 2014

Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design
by Jan Christopher Horak
University of Kentuck Press
492 pages - On Sale November 18th, 2014 

edited by Anthony Slide
Columbia University Press
448 pages - On Sale November 25th, 2014

by Tim Snelson 
Rutgers University Press
224 pages - On Sale November 26th, 2014

Columbia Noir: A Complete Filmography, 1940-1962
by Gene Blottner
McFarland & Co
277 pages - On Sale November 30th, 2014

by James L Neibaur
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
228 pages - On Sale December 1st 2014

by Brent Phillips
University Press of Kentucky
368 pages - On Sale December 2nd, 2014

Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic
by Cecilia DeMille Presley and Mark A. Vieira
Foreword by Brett Ratner
Introduction by Martin Scorsese
416 pages - On Sale December 9th, 2014

Color and Empathy: Essays on Two Aspects of Film
by Christine Brinckmann
Amsterdam University Press
282 pages - On Sale December 15th, 2014

edited by Tom Hertweck
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
250 pages - On Sale December 16th, 2014

by Lea Jacobs
University of California Press

280 page - On Sale December 19th, 2014

Buster Keaton's Crew: The Team Behind His Silent Films
by Lisle Foote
McFarland & Co 
300 pages - On Sale December 31st, 2014

The Five Sedgwicks: Pioneer Entertainers of Vaudeville, Film and Television
by Michael Zmuda
McFarland & Co 
277 pages - On Sale December 31st, 2014

by Kristen Hatch
Rutgers University Press
208 pages - On Sale January 2015

Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical
by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo
University Press of Kentucky
640 pages - On Sale January 13th, 2015

 Art Direction and Production Design
edited by Lucy Fischer
Rutgers University Press
272 pages - On Sale January 19th, 2015

Cinema Civil Rights: Regulation, Repression and Race in the Classic Hollywood Era
by Ellen C. Scott
Rutgers University Press
288 pages - On Sale January 28th, 2015

A Filmgoer's Guid to In-Jokes, Obscure References and Sly Details
by Matthew Coniam
McFarland & Co
On Sale January 31st, 2015

by Michaelangelo Capua
McFarland & Co
On Sale January 31st, 2015

By Peggy Caravantes
Chicago Review Press 
208 pages (juvenile) - On Sale February 1st, 2015

Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog
by  James Grissom
Knopf (Penguin Random House)
416 pages - On Sale March 3rd, 2015

Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films 
by Alain Kerzoncuf and Charles Barr
University Press of Kentucky
248  pages - On Sale March 6th, 2015

by William Wellman Jr.
608 pages - On Sale March 10th, 2015

Lois Weber in Early Hollywood
by Shelley Stamp
University of California Press
401 pages - On Sale March 13th, 2015

Hitchcock a la Carte
by Jan Olsson
Duke University Press
288 pages - On Sale March 20th, 2015

Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much
by Michael Wood
New Harvest
144 pages - On Sale March 24th, 2015

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