By David Robinson
Chaplin: His Life and Art offers a full immersion in the previously impenetrable method of Chaplin as a director. At the time Robinson began working on his book, Chaplin’s history and reputation were as snarled as many of his films; all of his shorts had been chopped up, re-edited, sped up, rescored, and generally allowed to deteriorate since the ’20s.
Robinson was faced with the classic biographer’s task of disinterring his subject from beneath the mountain of misinformation, and he took to the job with admirable tenacity and thoroughness. After Chaplin’s death, Robinson benefited greatly from the cooperation of Chaplin’s widow, Oona O’Neill Chaplin, and his film historian friend Kevin Brownlow. Robinson was able to view a mother lode of never-before-seen footage of Chaplin at work on several of his major films, thus offering our first deep insight into the director’s working method, which involved ceaseless improvisation, perfectionism, and a shockingly high shooting ratio.
The book’s great achievement was to restore Chaplin’s reputation - after personal scandal, the HUAC hearings, and exile from the U.S. - to his rightful place as the single greatest creative figure of the early cinema.
Review written by John Patterson.