Chaplin-Kono Conference 2

The spring rain is drizzling from the spacious sky and drop down along the twig of willow

–Basho, written in 1694 near Kyoto

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Chaplin-Kono Conference

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Conversations in the Lobby: Anatomy of a Book Launching III

Saturday, then, was the Dossier Chaplin at 5:45, followed by the showing of A King in New York on the huge piazza (outside) at 10:00. We kind of all had our fingers crossed, because two of the piazza films had been moved inside due to late evening rainstorms. Anyway, as 5:45 rolled around, I wasn’t feeling too good. Spent all day worrying about my presentation, I guess. I was showing some great slides from the Chaplin Film Co. pressbooks of Charlie on the 1931-2 tour that didn’t make it into the book, with some of my own commentary. I had been so calm in front of the press and my radio public that I couldn’t really understand why I was so nervous today, but I was. Then, when I got into Cinema Lumiere #1 and walked up to the dais, I understood. Right in front of me, in the first row, Michael and Patricia Chaplin were seated—and Kate and Peter and Tim. I became a veritable mass of goo. I got through it, with a falter here and there, but I got through it. Next came Michael Chaplin, who graciously narrated over some family home movies put before him, then Chuck Maland, author of Chaplin and American Culture, gave an interesting analysis of A King in New York as a Cold War film. Has anyone ever before heard that King Shadov was based on a creative conjoining of the words “shah” and “dove”? I’m sorry; that was a new one on me. Finally, the dossier ended with a presentation by Frank Scheide, co-editor of The Chaplin Review, on Jerry Epstein and the production of A King in New York. I’m glad to see someone besides me looked Julian Ludwig, an original member of the Circle Theater and one of the three street musicians in Limelight, up in the phone book and gave him a call. I did this years ago, found him to be extremely sharp-minded and full of great information, but had never done anything with it.
And so, the week and the festival ended with A King in New York, shown outside on the Piazza Maggiore and first introduced by Michael Chaplin. Standing room only; very well received; the festival couldn’t have had a more appropriate final moment. And, just to get you all prepared for next year—Gian Luca Farinelli announced at the press conference that since 2007 is the final year of Progetto Chaplin at the Cineteca, that the festival would feature a complete retrospective of Chaplin films, and also, (although this is not confirmed yet) the “Chaplin in Pictures” exhibit that has been touring around Europe the past two years. So make your reservations now and get your bags packed. Hope to see you all there!

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Conversations in the Lobby: Anatomy of a Book Launching II

Next was a very lovely lunch at this restaurant called “Diana” and the list of guests was a veritable who’s who of Chaplin people. Kate Guyonvarch and Peter Wyeth–for those of you who went to the London conference, he was our host on that occasion—also Bryony Dixon from the BFI was there. Cecilia Cenciarelli and Michaela Zegna from Progetto Chaplin. Maestro Timothy Brock. Kevin Brownlow, David Robinson, Dr. and Mrs. Chuck Maland, Dr. Frank Scheide, and Gian Luca Farinelli. And then, in the last few minutes, Michael and Patricia Chaplin arrived and were introduced all around.

That was truly enough for one day, but not so. During lunch that day, Cecilia got a call asking if I would consider being interviewed for a popular cult radio program called “Hollywood Party” for RAI 3 Radio (similar to NPR) out of Rome. Sure! So about 7 o’clock (this is why I missed three Keystones) I went into this small room at the Cineteca and took part in the most complicated radio interview you can imagine. My interviewer was a guy named Tatti Sanguinetti, an associate of Fellini’s I guess, and he was sitting at the desk right in front of me. I was to hold the telephone handset to my ear. He would speak to me on the phone in Italian (although he was in the same room!), Cecilia would then translate his questions, I would answer them into the phone in English and she would then translate them into Italian on another handset. Six questions delivered with my answers, at the speed of lightning. And then we all had the pleasure of sticking around and watching one of Fellini’s leading ladies, Sandra Milo from 8 ½, do a very kitchy interview. Seventy years old and looking incredible in a black fishnet top with black undergarments visible underneath. Stiletto heels and blonde hair. Amazing.

As a bit of a sidebar, the restored Keystones, with one exception, are a real treat. The ones I saw were The Fatal Mallet, The Star Boarder, A Busy Day, The Face on the Barroom Floor and Caught in a Cabaret. The last one was still very difficult to look at really, but the others were great. Who knew that The Star Boarder, for instance, has a scene with Charlie on the tennis courts? It has to be the first filmic record of this, for sure. Charlie in a skirt in A Busy Day is always funny, especially when you can see his expressions so clearly, but The Fatal Mallet was my favorite. If you remember, Charlie, Mack Sennett, some young boy child and Mack Swain, all vie for the favors of Mabel Normand in this one, and with the film so well restored, I was able to enjoy all the nuances of the thing for the first time. The films I missed because of the interview included His Prehistoric Past (and, boy, I hated to miss this one), Between Showers, and The Knockout, which is mostly Roscoe Arbuckle anyway.
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Conversations in the Lobby: Anatomy of a Book Launching

This month I’m borrowing a subtitle Cinema Ritrovato Festival poster from James Agee’s great book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in order to signal the fact that I’m postponing my newsletter on Limelight until I’ve gotten my stuff unpacked in my new house and can find all the notes I made. I thought you all might not mind if I used this newsletter to describe my recent experience at Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna, Italy, where my Progetto Chaplin book was launched. Needless to say, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I arrived as I usually do—without fanfare—but when I checked in with Cecilia Cenciarelli and the Progetto Chaplin folks, I soon discovered just how well-received the book already was. “The Book” is a new edition of Charlie’s 1931-2 travel memoir, A Comedian Sees the World, which Progetto Chaplin very kindly chose to be their 5th book in the series. Excerpt from A Comedian Sees the WorldIn addition to Charlie’s engaging travel memoir, it features approximately 160 images of one kind or another—photos, of course, but also images of Chaplin artifacts and postcards of Chaplin venues contemporary to the time. It also includes eight pages of manuscript and typescript documents, showing us that Charlie’s writing process was very similar to his way of making films. Revise, revise, revise! Anyway, besides the fact that the Cineteca director actually spoke to me in English about how pleased he was with the book—a rare thing–I also got the word that Bernardo Bertolucci wanted to meet me because an associate of his had so enjoyed it. This never happened, but the comment did its work anyway. I was ready to enjoy a memorable week. That first evening, we all enjoyed a very special showing of Ernst Lubitsch’s silent film Lady Windemere’s Fan with a new Timothy Brock composition as accompaniment. It was shown in Bologna’s very old and very lovely Teatro Comunale. What a film! This is a not-very-well-received Oscar Wilde play adapted to the screen (and much improved!), featuring a very young Ronald Coleman, among others. It was by far, my favorite film of the week, outside of the Charlie films, of course, and beautifully accompanied.

Cineteca cartoonAh, the film festival. An odd bird it is, too. I’ve never been to one in Europe before, but kind of knew what to expect from ones I’ve attended here, but I had forgotten. It’s basically a lot of manic film viewing—jostling about for the best seats or the best companions to sit by—standing up, sitting down, standing up, as the seats fill up on either side of you. I never really understood why people needed companions at a film festival. Why do you need to sit next to someone to enjoy a film? You shouldn’t be talking about it while it’s going on anyway. So, I just took my seat—whatever seat—and enjoyed myself watching everyone else fuss around.

ColumbusBesides my book launching, other Chaplin aspects of the festival this year included a showing of 8 new Keystone restorations (I only got to see five) and a showing out on the Piazza Maggiore of A King in New York introduced by Michael Chaplin. Michael was also supposed to be a significant part of the Dossier Chaplin, which would take part on Saturday late afternoon (the last day). I was to give an introductory lecture on my book at that time as well. So, most of the week was spent watching Dante rare films and working in the Progetto Chaplin office on my next book, the first study of the life and art of Syd Chaplin, Charlie’s inimitable half brother—until Friday. Friday, July 7th, was earmarked as the day of the big press conference, featuring Cecilia Cenciarelli, Kate Guyonvarch of Association Chaplin, the Cineteca director, Gian Luca Farinelli, Chiara Mazzotti from Fondazione Carisbo, the bank foundation that financed all of this, Michael Chaplin and myself. Michael didn’t quite make it into town in time, but the rest of us performed our duties very well.Truly, this was right out of the movies. Lovely old restored building with all sorts of hand-painted wall decorations and such and then the state-of-the-art pressroom, with boxy burnt-orange leather chairs behind a completely transparent Lucite dais. The room actually filled up with press folks, including a couple of photographers and one cameraman. Thank god I packed a skirt or two for such occasions! This was serious business. And I had somehow gotten the bright idea of speaking off-the-cuff, but thankfully, I didn’t do too badly. That was to come!

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Charlie in California VI

Charlie in California VI

Charlie in California V

On this page are some of the museum exhibits you can seek out in the Los Angeles area.  Pictured to the left and just below right is the Charlie’s exhibit at the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Vista.  A bit of a drive, but worth it if you like total kitsch.  I swear this place feels like it hasn’t been touched since the 1970s and I love that about it.  Yep, just to the right is Charlie Jr. at the museum in the 1950s at the same exhibit (different statue).  The photos on the bottom of the page are all from the great collection of Chaplin memorabilia which Charlie donated to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum in the 1930s.  Shown are the items that are routinely on display–all from Modern Times. (Update June 2005: Charlie’s Modern Times props and costumes are no longer on display.) If you’re a scholar, you can make an appointment with the Seaver Center, located in the same building in Exposition Park opposite USC, and is available for viewing with an appointment.

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Charlie in California IV

Of course, Charlie had been going to Catalina Island since the early days and continued to into the 1950s.  Although the island museum seems to have forgotten all of Charlie’s attentions, you can still find bits of evidence of him there.  The fountain, for instance, pictured in the postcard to the left and also in the recent photo at the middle left is just one small instance, for as you can see in the photo of Paulette, Charlie and Charlie, Jr., taken in 1940, it links these moments together in history.  The photo below right is the Tuna Club on the island, where Charlie was a member with Buster Keaton and others for many years.  Finally, below left and right is the Montecito Inn in Santa Barbara, built in 1928 and reputed to have been owned by a group of investors of which Charlie and Roscoe Arbuckle were members.

 

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“If you were a fisherman, Catalina was a paradise.  Avalon, its sleepy old village, had two small hotels.  The fishing was good all the year round.  If the tuna were running, there was not a boat to be hired.  In the early morning, someone would shout: ‘They’re here!’ Tuna, weighing from thirty to three hundred pounds apiece, would be thrashing and splashing about as far as the eye could see.”
My Autobiography

Charlie in California III

Featured on this page are a couple of Charlie accommodations that you can still stay in.  First is Charlie’s suite at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Room # 1225 (featured in more detail on Domiciles.  I swear the view out Charlie’s window at the LAAC is featured at the beginning of A Dog’s Life, isn’t it?  Lesser known and a bit more funky all around is the Cadillac Hotel on Venice Beach.  Room #402 is called the Charlie Chaplin Room and the manager told me, since the original suites had been chopped up to make smaller rooms, this particular room would have been Charlie’s sitting room in a suite that covered the entire floor at the time he used to stay here.  The photo below left is of Charlie and some fans on this very beach in front of the bathhouse.  The postcard below right shows the Cadillac hotel in all its pink glory in the 1910s.  It’s still that color, believe it or not.  And finally, tucked down below is one of the bronze cupids, Charlie’s wedding present to Doug and Mary, still adorn Pickfair’s gate up in Beverly Hills.

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Much of Charlie’s The Cure was based on his experience living at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Charlie in California II

Other sites in and around Hollywood might be considered “Charlie haunts” more than anything else.  On this page, I feature the Ambassador Hotel (left), now just a sort of hollow ghost itself out there on Wilshire Boulevard.  But as you can see from the photo just below it, Charlie often played tennis there as well as dining at the Cocoanut Grove (check out Charlie, Jr. standing in the background!).  Below middle left is, of course, the infamous Echo Park in Glendale, California (you can’t miss it), the place where it all started.   See Charlie in Echo Park circa 1915.  Below center is the approximate location of Charlie’s private box, number 721, at the Hollywood Bowl (a remodeling removed the actual box itself), but if you go in the Bowl museum, you can find his box listed in a program in one of the exhibits.  Opposite right is the famous Circle Theatre, now called the Cast, which has a Charlie Chaplin stage now, I believe, in honor of his efforts there as a director.  Its located at ???  And finally, below right is Perrino’s, a famous Hollywood night spot featured in Attenborough’s Chaplin and, unfortunately, knocked down just a couple of months ago (it was also on Wilshire).

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The Ambassador Hotel is also the site of RFK’s assassination in 1968.  Charlie once reported that he was visiting Constance Collier there one time when a murder occurred at the same time.