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Unknown Chaplin: The Master at Work

4.9 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

With bowler hat, mustache and cane, Charlie Chaplin became one of the twentieth century's most recognized and beloved icons. But for decades, the secrets to his timeless film magic were presumed lost forever to the cutting-room floors of a bygone era. Now, available on DVD for the first time, UNKNOWN CHAPLIN captures the cinematic genius as he was never meant to be seen. Using countless reels of footage and outtakes 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. Featuring the following programs: MY HAPPIEST YEARS: Early shorts reveal how constant re-working of sight gags led to Chaplin's first triumph. THE GREAT DIRECTOR: The Kid, The Gold Rush and City Lights--by 1918, Chaplin is the movie industry's top director. HIDDEN TREASURES: See the original opening sequence to Chaplin's City Lights with a new musical score. DVD Features: How UNKNOWN CHAPLIN Was Made; Two Bonus Shorts: The Making of The Count and Chaplin Meets Harry Lauder; Chaplin Biography; Interactive Menus; Scene Selection

Special Features

  • The Story Behind Unknown Chaplin
  • Two Bonus Shorts: Tha Making of The Count and Chaplin Meets Harry Lauder
  • Chapling Biography

Product Details

  • Actors: James Mason, Geraldine Chaplin, Sydney Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin
  • Writers: Kevin Brownlow, David Gill
  • Format: Black & White, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: A&E Home Video / Thames
  • DVD Release Date: November 29, 2005
  • Run Time: 156 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000BB14ZS
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,964 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Unknown Chaplin: The Master at Work" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By thornhillatthemovies.com VINE VOICE on January 9, 2006
I remember sitting in front of my television, rapturously watching the documentary "Hollywood" created by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill in 1980. Each of the 13 segments dealing with a specific part of early Hollywood history, played on PBS and was a true delight. In this era before DVD, and even VHS, it was a great way to see a large number of rare clips from the Silent era. A few years later, they made "Unknown Chaplin", perhaps the most astonishing documentary ever created about the technical side of Hollywood. A few years later, "Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow" continued the tradition.

"Unknown Chaplin" was just released on DVD and is a must have addition for anyone even remotely interested in the history of film or filmmaking.

During production of "Hollywood", Brownlow and Gill naturally wanted to devote an entire hour to Chaplin but ran into a roadblock. The person who controlled access to Chaplin's work was only prepared to let them use a "snippet". They had to change their plans. They couldn't build an entire hour around a "snippet". After "Hollywood" aired, to great critical acclaim, they tried again. Chaplin's widow allowed them access to his personal vault. What they found there astonished them; row after row of film cans, many labeled with "City Lights", "The Gold Rush", "The Circus" and many with unfamiliar names. These contained clips never before seen, projects started but never finished and rehearsals for films like "City Lights". It was a treasure trove for any film historian.

Naturally, they believed they had just hit the mother load, but soon met a man named Raymond Rohauer.
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I have long owned the three-tape vhs version of this title. In the days before David Shephard, et al. put out all those magnificent restorations (and before Warner Bros. rereleased some early Chaplins), this series was the ONLY place to find high quality Chaplin films, albeit not complete, and incredible outtakes. I can't recommend this series enough to any Chaplin fan. My pre-order is on file!!
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Among others areas explored, the three chapter documentary THE UNKNOWN CHAPLIN
offers genuine insights into how he worked as a director.

Although his films, especially the early comedies, look almost casual in their creation, Chaplin often took dozens of takes, carefully analyzing each to see what made a sequence work or fail. A perfect example is THE CURE (1917), a two-reeler set at a health spa. Charlie agonized over the opening scenes of this comedy, even going so far as recasting parts and changing roles himself. He also rearranged some features of the main set to allow for bits of physical "business" not otherwise possible.

Yet in so doing, there were some genuinely funny sequences that had to be scrapped, such as Chaplin acting as traffic cop for a crowd of patients in wheelchairs. This because he chose after production began to play the Inebriate, a role Charlie had perfected years earlier in British music hall sketches. The original outtakes however still exist and are presented in this marvelous documentary.

We see the creation of a charming piece that was dropped from the opening of CITY LIGHTS (1931), seven minutes of pantomime involving a sidewalk grate with a piece of wood wedged in it. Charlie in his Little Tramp persona tries and repeatedly fails to push the wood through the grate with the tip of his cane. His frustrated efforts eventually attract a crowd of onlookers. It works well, yet director Chaplin decided this sequence unnecessarily delayed the real story, so he abandoned the finished scene.
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This documentary has many things going for it.

* One, it is narrated by marvelous, mellow voice of James Mason.

* Two, it consists of a series of outtakes taken from Chaplin's film. Cans and cans of these outtakes were discovered in the possession of a film collector, and provide a good look at Chaplin's artistic process in developing the stories and gags featured in his films. Chaplin usually threw his outtakes away, so the mere fact that these takes were found at all was noteworthy.

* Three, it features archival interviews of the surviving participants of Chaplin's films, most prominently Jackie Coogan, who much later in his career was Uncle Fester in the Munsters.

* Four, the documentary was made by the same people who produced the mini-series Hollywood, a documentary about silent films which was shown on PBS many years ago but is unfortunately very difficult to find.

With all these elements going for it, this documentary is highly recommended, but ....
The goal of this documentary is to show the artistic process of Charlie Chaplin through these newly-discovered outtakes. Take after take is shown that shows how he developed the films we all know and love.

While this documentary is obviously the result of painstaking research and production, I believe the seemingly endless progression of the numerous takes Chaplin employed to develop his themes will prove too tedious for the casual viewer.

The glue that holds this documentary together is the narration of James Mason, who if not the Voice of God, is surely second in command, and the judicious use of interviews to break the monotony . And of course there is the good fortune of seeing Charlie Chaplin out of the familiar context of his films.
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