|For this newsletter, I have interviewed Sarah Kenney, Andrea Dresseno, and Kendra Lisum.|
|SK: Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Sarah Kenney is a college student at the University of Memphis, studying film and technical theatre. In her spare time, she works on various theatrical events, directs a puppet troupe of 14, and writes short stories as well as scripts. A Chaplin enthusiast, she hopes to devote part of her future career to the legacy of Charlie Chaplin in the 21st century.|
|AD: Andrea Dresseno was born in Vicenza, Italy in 1980. After receiving a high school diploma, he graduated in 2006 in Art, Music and Film at the University of Bologna, with a dissertation about the Chaplin Project, where he has worked since 2002. Andrea has also been writing for several years for videogames magazines. He currently lives in Bologna.|
|KL: Kendra Lisum was born and raised in Newton Falls, Ohio. Last October, she was the featured student presenter at The Buster Keaton Celebration in Iola, Kansas where she spoke on Mabel Normand. She recently graduated with an English degree from the University of Nevada, Reno, and now resides in Missoula, Montana.|
|What motivated you to pursue scholarship on Charlie Chaplin?
SK: It all started when I saw him blowing smoke out of his ears while watching the Chaplin Today segment of the MK2 City Lights DVD. I had just finished watching City Lights and it was my second Chaplin film – the first was Modern Times, which I saw a couple months prior. So, I’m sitting there and this clean-cut, clean-shaven guy pops up on the screen and the first thing that enters my mind is, “who in the world is this guy and why am I watching him when they’re talking about Chaplin?” Well, it cuts to a montage of clips with Chaplin off-screen, and suddenly I realize that I am watching Chaplin. Talk about total shock. He was in such stark contrast to the tramp I had been watching. Then to put the icing on the cake, I learned all in the span of about twenty minutes just how powerful he was in Hollywood and how famous he was globally as well. Of course, I knew absolutely nothing about him, though I’d seen his iconic image and heard his name when I was a kid. To make a long story short – that’s what hooked me on Chaplin. It wasn’t his films necessarily, but it was who he was as an actor, director, producer, composer, and world figure that caught my interest, though I have fallen in love with each one of his films in a different way as well. Soon enough, I figured out that my interest in Charlie Chaplin went beyond that of a fan and it became almost a daily game for me to try and learn more about this man and his work. Part of it is inspiration for my own film career, but I think in larger part I want other people to share in what Chaplin has to offer, and that’s going to be different for each person. But they have to know about him first, and I want to put something out there that will contribute to that knowledge whether it is a film, a play, a musical, a book, or whatever the future may require. Let’s just say, I’ve got ideas for all of those categories and it’s something I haven’t seriously thought about pursuing until just recently. I feel that as we move farther away from Chaplin’s era, the world needs to be reminded of who he was and what he did. Hopefully a little of that will bleed into the 21st century and transform our perceptions as to what is truly exceptional and what is mediocre.
AD: The decision to dedicate my degree dissertation to Chaplin began from a practical standpoint. Collaborating as digitalizer to the Progetto Chaplin, I decided to create a “work diary,” an overview on the studying, cataloguing and digitalizing process of the documents of the Chaplin Archive, thereby creating a dissertation that can be useful for similar projects in the future. Having the ability to access the archive everyday and to have an overall view of the material, I could extend my work with historical and critical elements, answering questions such as: When and how was the Chaplin Archive born? Why can this collection be regarded as an archive? What happens when an archive becomes digital? Not only is this a work instrument, but also an attempt to theorize the transformation that derives from digital preservation.
KL: I have decided to pursue Charlie Chaplin scholarship because, in short, I love to laugh. And in Chaplin, I found a type of humor that was real, tangible, and (at least to my world), a type of humor that I had never seen before. The first time I saw a Charlie Chaplin film, I was in a small room with about five or six other college students. We had to watch Modern Times for a required class. We were not exactly thrilled to be spending our afternoon watching an old, black and white, and a – horror of horrors – (mostly) silent film. But as the film began, I started to chuckle. Soon I was laughing. Then it was tears-in-the-eyes, side-clutching laughter. I adored the film. And I was intrigued with the fact that there was something about the iconic image of the Tramp and the fact that while I had never seen one of his films, the name Charlie Chaplin was almost innately ingrained in my psyche. I wanted to know why I seemed to know him and his comedy, and yet why it was still all so new to me.
So I watched another film. And then another. Soon, I was reading books on Chaplin, and I realized what an influence he was on nearly all aspects of our modern culture. Chaplin’s comedy, to me, is like the prototype of comedy – he perfected it to the point that everything that has happened since is somehow diluted, and certainly not as funny.
What special challenges have you encountered in this quest?
SK: I wish I had known about Chaplin when I took my first two film classes. It would have helped me out a great deal. However, this semester I will be given the opportunity to do two or three small projects involving Chaplin and I have written a twenty-page research paper on him in the past. That was an adventure all unto itself, especially since the professor was a Buster Keaton fan and preferred him to Chaplin.
I think the most poignant project, though, has been my website. I’ve designed it so that it is not stagnant. My research on Chaplin is done nearly every day and if I find something of particular interest, I’ll post it on my site in the form of a blog. Also, I’ve been working on updating the site and will be adding more pages to it in the near future. The blog is very demanding, because my visitors expect it to be updated regularly, which is sometimes hard to do while I’m in school. Some of my information comes from the Internet, a small portion has come from journals, and quite a bit has come from books. When I get a random idea (which most of mine are), I store it away in my head until I can research it. But the blog has been a wonderful writing exercise for me. There are times when I am just relaying information I’ve found and then there are times when I write original articles. Currently, I am working on a page about Chaplin’s films. This is a huge undertaking because of the specific information I want to use for each film. At the same time, I’m trying to be careful about copyrights and not put anything up that will get me in trouble. As I look upon the whole experience, it is a way for me to catalogue my research and at the same time prepare me for future, more serious scholarship opportunities.
AD: The most difficult challenge in this work was to penetrate a subject, Archival Science, which I had never encountered before in my studying experience. It was necessary to understand the mechanisms governing the preservation of the archives. Finding a balance between practical and theoretical purposes was also particularly challenging. The original descriptive and report work soon brought forth some theoretical issues of digital conservation.
KL: The first project I worked on with Charlie Chaplin as the subject was for yet another college course. We were to write an informative essay on a subject about which we were knowledgeable. Stemming from my original interest in Chaplin, I wanted to write about the social significance and influence of all his films. The problem, however, was that the deadline was in two weeks and the professor wanted a five-page paper, not a book. Since I had recently watched The Great Dictator, and was bowled over by the fact that it was released in 1940, I decided to focus on that film alone. (I didn’t know this until after I had seen the film, so I had just assumed it was made in the fifties, or sometime after the war – never in my dreams did I think it was made during.) I took stacks of Chaplin books from the library and set to work, analyzing the film and setting it into the proper historical context. The greatest challenge was trying to add something about the film that was original, that had not been said before. With so much Chaplin literature in existence, I found it daunting and very difficult to separate myself from the scholars and actually look at the film through my own eyes and from my own perspective. Since this project, I have learned to watch a film and to analyze (and trust) my own reactions to it before I turn to the books. This way, I am able to capture my perspective before it’s drowned in the often overwhelming scholarship on the subject.
Do you feel that the Chaplin archives are accessible to you and do you see yourself utilizing them in the future? Why or why not?
SK: I certainly hope so! Living in the United States creates a bit of a challenge location wise, but I know that there are ways of funding the trip, especially if you are still in school. All you need is an idea for why you want to go over there. I can see myself spending a week in Bologna. For some of the ideas I have, I would imagine that access to the archives will be essential for research purposes, just because I don’t know if the information resides anywhere else. I mean, what could be cooler than looking at Chaplin’s production notes scribbled on the margin of a script? You can’t get that anywhere else. I know that’s not everyone’s dream, but for me it’s a big part of history in the making. I was ecstatic when I got to see a letter he wrote to his brother Sydney displayed at the Hollywood Heritage Museum in Los Angeles. That was just one letter – imagine what the archives are like. It’ll probably be like the scene from The Kid when the Tramp finds himself in a proverbial heaven during a dream?well, all except for the vamping part. I could do without that.
AD: The distinctive feature of the Progetto Chaplin is that the “digital archive,” as I called it in my degree dissertation, is going to replace the physical archive, which will be preserved away from the public. The Chaplin Archive will somehow never be accessible to the user — its digital counterpart will be. My experience is certainly distinctive: I enter the archive everyday, so I have never had to come to Bologna expressly to consult it. In the future, when the project ends, I hope to consult the archive not as someone who is working on it, but as a simple curious person who is keen on cinema.
KL: I do feel the Chaplin archives are accessible to me. I have confidence that if I had the funding to undertake a project in which I need the archives, I would have no problem getting in touch with someone who could help me. The website has been very informative and inviting.
What could be done in particular to facilitate yourfuture success in CC scholarship?
SK: There are several things, but the most important to me is probably having a mentor in the whole process. Just as I knew nothing about Chaplin when I first watched his films two years ago, I know virtually nothing about scholarship right now. The best thing I can do, besides honing my research skills and developing ideas, is to learn from someone who’s been involved with scholarship for a while. I’m sure that down the road I’ll need the expertise of those who have completed projects on Chaplin and who have been to the archives. If all they do is answer questions or give me some guidance when I might be having a hard time with something in particular, it’ll be a tremendous help. It already has to a certain extent.
The other thing is the completion of the archive on the Internet. Right now no one has access to it beyond searches. But I can still use it to give me some idea as to what is available in case I plan to go over there and actually implement research on a project.
AD: I already graduated one year ago and for the time being I am not planning further research on Chaplin.
KL: This is a tough question because everyone has been very helpful and supportive. People are receptive to my questions and tolerant of my ignorance. The only thing I would like more of, perhaps, is more people to talk to who could help point me in the right direction in terms of getting started in the field. I want to know everything I can about Chaplin and his works, and sometimes I’m just not sure where to begin due to the fact that there is so much out there. It can be overwhelming and I’m not sure where to begin to achieve the success I would like.