Charlie: The Life & Art of Charles Chaplin

Director: Richard Schickel.

Topic: The life and career of Charles Chaplin (1889 – 1977) and his enduring impact on world cinema.

Financier: Warner Home Video.

Budget: $1 million.

Shooting format: PAL Digibeta, NTSC.

Why it made the list: An impressive array of contempo filmmakers (Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Richard Attenborough, Milos Foreman), actors (Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr.), mimes (Bill Irwin, Marcel Marceau) and film scholars (David Robinson, Andrew Sarris, Jeffrey Vance) discuss how Chaplin influenced the cinema and personally impacted their lives.

Memorable scenes: Home movies taken on Chaplin’s estate in Switzerland in the 1950s and ’60s show how the comedian felt compelled to perform for an audience, even if it only consisted of his wife and her movie camera.

Intercut clips from Chaplin films made 40 and 50 years earlier show how the elderly Chaplin re-created classic bits without missing a beat or nuance. Extremely powerful and moving is actor Norman Lloyd’s account of what it was like to watch Chaplin working with Buster Keaton on “Limelight.”

Distribution/broadcast status: Plays at the Sunshine Theater in New York in February; to be distributed on DVD in Europe by Warner Home Video and MK2; to be released on DVD in the U.S. in February and broadcast on Turner Classic Movies next spring.

Exposure to date: Premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May. American Premiere took place at the Silver Docs Film Festival in Silver Springs, Md. Played in 65 other festivals around the world, and in arthouses in numerous U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

On making the film: “Working on the film has in a major way opened my eyes to Chaplin,” says Schickel. The helmer had always admired the comedian, but did not fully appreciate the depth and breadth of his body of work until he made this documentary. In particular, Schickel gained a new appreciation for “The Circus” (1928), which he now believes is one of Chaplin’s greatest and most underrated movies. “What I like about ‘The Circus’ is the notion of Chaplin being great when he doesn’t think about being funny. But the minute they say to him, ‘OK, be funny,’ he can’t be funny. Which I think was a major element in Chaplin’s life. It’s one of the things we built our show around. It’s a terrible burden to place on anybody. You’ve got to be funny all the time because that’s why people love you.”

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