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Chaplin: A Life - Stephen Weissman

Chaplin: A Life

Author: Stephen Weissman
Book title: Chaplin: A Life
ISBN: 1611450403
ISBN13: 978-1611450408
Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1 edition (November 1, 2011)
Language: English
Category: Performing Arts
Rating: 4.4/5
Votes: 108
Pages: 320 pages
More formats: doc lit lrf txt

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“Chaplin is arguably the single most important artist produced by the cinema,” wrote film critic Andrew Sarris. Born in London in 1889, Charlie Chaplin grew up in dire poverty. Severe alcoholism cut short his father’s flourishing career, and his beloved mother first lost her voice, then her mind, to syphilis. How did this poor, lonely child, committed to the Hanwell School for the Orphaned and Destitute, become such an extraordinary comedian, known and celebrated worldwide? Dr. Stephen M. Weissman brilliantly illuminates both the screen legend himself and the turbulent era that shaped him.
Reviews: (7)
A close examination of the myriad influences that formed the most beloved comic character of his time. The examination of Chaplin's life from the standpoint of a psychiatrist yields insight into some of the nuances of the performer's art. He examines the reasons for Chaplin's skills, as well as the reasons that they resonated so closely with the audiences of his day. Although there is a lot of information in this book, the author keeps it interesting and relevant to the end result that was Chaplin's art.
As a fan of silent movies I have seen many Charlie Chaplin films thanks to Turner Classic Movies. In 1993 I enjoyed seeing Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent performance as Chaplin in a movie about Chaplin's life. Also appearing in the film was Geraldine Chaplin, fourth of the eight Chaplin children. She spoke highly of this book about her father and that adds credence, in my view, to it being an accurate biography. Highly recommended for Charlie fans.
I enjoy biographies and Stephen Weissman wrote a well researched well written enjoyable biography about the great Charlie Chaplin. After reading this book I felt as if I missed something in life at not ever having met Charlie Chaplin. If like me you like biographies, you'll enjoy Weissman's book about the life of the little tramp.

A lot of guessing and not too many facts.
As a general rule I am not a fan of the psycho-biography. The idea of putting dead people on the couch seems sort of like shooting fish in a pail - you can go wherever you like and what are they going to do about it? In this instance, well, that still applies, but it is quite readable and mostly focuses on the ways in which Chaplin's singular childhood likely influenced the tone, tenor and content of his work. Curiously, however, this little study virtually ignores his life after his late 20's and really just touches slightly on his major, feature-length works. It is really kind of an odd little book in that sense, and certainly not " A Life."

It is, though, an interesting look at his childhood and how Chaplin may have wittingly or not transferred it into his work. Some of the conclusions seem rather obvious - the music hall influences, the poverty and reactions to it that permeate the Little Tramp's world, etc. The extended glimpses into his parent's lives is interesting, and it is, all-in-all quite readable, and as such, is recommended, wth reservations. Those looking for a full-length, comprehensive biography should look elsewhere, but for those wanting a curious digression, here you are.
Excellent biography. I was surprised to learn that a lot of his material and presentation were based on his very hard life growing up in England. Well presented and documented.
In her introduction to this biography, Geraldine Chaplin writes: "It is unlike anything that has ever been written about my father." And that is certainly an apt comment based on my experience. The author is a psychiatrist here in Washington and teaches as well at the Washington School of Psychiatry. He has studied Chaplin for a number of years and even led a seminar at the WSP contrasting two Chaplin autobiographies (the earlier one disputed by Chaplin) and what they disclose about Charlie. So we have in this book a psychoanalytical study of Chaplin's early life and the initial stages (primarily) of his film career. The author offers some fascinating theories about various aspects of where Chaplin got some of his ideas for his films, relating back to his childhood. So, much attention is paid to Chaplin's father and especially his mother as progenitors of events that Chaplin later revived in his films. The author also does an outstanding job in recounting Chaplin's youthful stage career in Britain and how he learned from his years performing in English vaudeville, an apprenticeship which paid constant dividends for the rest of his career. But this is not a biography such as that by David Robinson, a favorite of mine, in that the author jumps around a bit in time, and devotes very scant attention to Chaplin's work and life after 1930 or so. The final chapter, "What happened next?", loses effectiveness by trying to cram together the remainder of Chaplin's remarkable life (he died in 1977) into 14 pages. While there are 17 pages of notes referencing the Chaplin literature, and some interesting photographs, the most interesting aspects are based on the author's own research into the films at the Library of Congress. While one might well wonder if some of the author's theories are correct, there is no doubt that this book enriches our understanding of that unique genius, Charles Spencer Chaplin.
I am an avid reader and I couldn't get through this book. Very dry and longwinded.
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