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Chaplin: His Life and Art Paperback – August 21, 1994

4.8 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Of the many books about Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), among them the Tramp's own charming but evasive 1964 autobiography, this magisterial volume does by far the best job of detailing and analyzing his genius as a filmmaker. Chaplin's widow allowed David Robinson to examine their personal archives in Switzerland, and he makes good use of this access in his meticulous descriptions of the movies that created the legend, including City Lights and Modern Times. Robinson is less interested in Chaplin's tumultuous personal life, skating rather lightly over the lawsuits and scandals that plagued his later years in the United States. No matter: Chaplin lovers will find their understanding of his films enhanced; those unfamiliar with his artistry will learn why an actor-director whose greatest work was done before 1940 remains a key figure in the history of motion pictures.

From Library Journal

LJ's reviewer asserted that Robinson offers "unprecedented insights into Chaplin's methods in this thorough biography" (LJ 9/1/85), although he added that the book should be read in conjunction with Robinson's other Chaplin titles. For film and biography collections.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 792 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Reprint edition (August 21, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306806002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306806001
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #397,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is absolutely the best book I've ever read on Chaplin, his life, and his films. It details his childhood and family life in England, his new life in the US, his exile to Switzerland, and best of all, his films and his film making techniques (or lack thereof). Robinson has done a fantastic job here! Includes interviews with Rollie (his cameraman), Kono (his butler), and many many others. This book really is an entire life between two book covers. If all you know about Chaplin is from the Robert Downey Jr film "Chaplin", forget that, and start fresh with this book. It will take you a while to read this pretty thick book, but it is definitely the best bio I've ever read on anyone in any field. Absolutely wonderful, and I've read this several times. I plan to re-read it many more times too. Don't miss this one... it renders all other books on Chaplin obsolete.
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Format: Paperback
Robinson is the premier researcher on the life of Charles Chaplin, and this book is the result - a fact filled, balanced book that allows equal focus on Chaplins films and personal life. Most books tend to focus on WAY too much personal life and innuendo, but Robinson avoids this problem, and makes a good book that truly encompasses the entire life of Chaplin.
Robinson's book includes a well detailed filmography, scripts from several early Keystone films, excellent appendices, and many rare pictures. My only complaint is that many of the pictures could be printed much better, and larger too.
Superb reading!
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Format: Hardcover
David Robinson has written the definitive biography of Charlie Chaplin. It is largely the basis for the movie "Chaplin" because it was authorized by the legend himself and thoroughly explores his life to a greater extent than his autobiography. It is truly a moving and informative work.

Robinson begins his chronology of Chaplin's life in his childhood. He was largely orphaned by his alcoholic father and was only allowed to spend time with his mother while she was mentally healthy. It was through a failed performance of his mother than he got his first taste of acting as a child. From this point, he would devote almost all of the rest of his 87 years to entertainment. In his youth, he specialized in the stage productions which entertained England. He got his first taste of America on one of these traveling tours. On a later tour, he was offered a contract by an American film company. Chaplin agreed to honor his stage contract before beginning his film career.

The book documents with reasonably precise details the process of each film he released in addition to one the public never saw and the final project he never started. Through this filmography, we see the development of "the tramp" character. With each film, the character moves closer to the final product we know.

Chaplin's personal life is well documented. Unlike the autobiography all four wives are addressed, even the one Chaplin was not very fond of discussing. The fact that his first two wives were young is not avoided. However, it must be put in perspective that people did marry and have babies a lot sooner in those days. It is only unique in Chaplin's case because the husband/father is famous and much older.
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Format: Hardcover
David Robinson's book is the finest biography extant of this indispensable genius of movies. I first read this monumental book 22 years ago and it has remained an indelible part of my understanding of movies and of the life and work of this complex, infuriating, somewhat naive but always questing and humanistic comedian, whose movies are finally being issued on DVD in luminous copies of his own carefully preserved originals.

At the time of Robinson's book, and for a number of years after, Buster Keaton was the preferred choice in silent comics. To take nothing away from Keaton, whom I regard as sui generis ("The General" is a masterpiece, and "The Navigator" is the funniest movie I've ever seen) this may have been more a reflection of the then-current attitudes of "cool," reacting against Chaplin's perceived sentimentality, than an argument for Keaton as the greater artist. Chaplin has recently become of greater interest, and at present his star seems much more firmly fixed, due in large part I think to the recent availability of his work on DVD. Robinson himself, in tandem with the silent cinema scholar Kevin Brownlow, is partly responsible through his access to Chaplin's mint copies of his own movies, which resulted in the superb Thames documentary "The Unknown Chaplin." In any case, it's much easier now to see and to recognize Chaplin's innate (yet painstakingly arrived-at) genius for mixing uproarious physical comedy and subtle pathos; if there is a more moving finale in all of American movies than the last moments of "City Lights," I'm not aware of it.

Robinson's approach is both scholarly and eminently accessible. And he dispels a great many erroneous "facts" that have accrued to Chaplin over the decades, many of them directly attributable to Charlie's own myth-making.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A fine book & great seller--fast shipping, product better than described.

I pity folks who don't permit themselves the luxury of indulging in silent era cinema. If I could travel back in time I'd partake of all the wonders from the magic lantern, mutoscopes, & kinetoscopes of nickelodeons to movie palaces designed by Thomas W. Lamb, & the atmospheric theatres of John Eberson.

My favorite silent pictures include -- Teinosuke Kinugasa's "A Page of Madness", Robert Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", F.W Murnau's "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans", "Faust" & "Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror", Leni Riefenstahl's "Das blaue Licht" (The Blue Light) & "Olympia", Lucien Hubbard's "Wings", Lotte Reiniger "Adventures of Prince Achmed', King Vidor's "The Crowd", Ted Wilde's "Speedy", Harold Lloyd's "Safety Last!", Buster Keaton's "Hard Luck" & "The General", Sergei Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin", Harold L. Muller, Charles R. Bowers' "There It Is", Alfred Hitchcock's "Blackmail", Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle's "The Cook", D. W. Griffith's "The Sealed Room", "Broken Blossoms" & "Wind", Clarence Brown's "Flesh & the Devil", & Chaplin's "The Great Dictator",

The London Cinema Museum is a great resource for the history & memorabilia of film & they just happen to be located in the Old Lambeth Workhouse where Charlie Chaplin went as a child. You can find them at cinemamuseum.org.uk/ & on facebook. Here's a quote from their website:

"London’s Cinema Museum is devoted to keeping alive the spirit of cinema from the days before the multiplex.
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