Found: film Chaplin didn't find funny

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The Independent Online
A documentary film about Charlie Chaplin has come to light after 70 years. David Lister suggests that Chaplin kept the film out of the public eye because it stressed his working-class origins.

A warts-and-all documentary film about Charlie Chaplin, suppressed by him and never shown, has been found in a garage.

The 35mm silent film, created and produced in 1928 by Harry B. Parkinson, one of the pioneers of the film industry, provides a rare account of the comic's working-class childhood in south London, as well as some of the people and places that influenced him.

Most notably, the film suggests that Chaplin's hallmark boots and trousers were inspired by the everyday clothes he saw worn at East Lane Market in Lambeth as a child.

Chaplin, who had moved to Hollywood by the time the film was made, stopped it from being shown. It is likely he would have been annoyed that it revealed so much about his poor origins. In addition, he probably did not enjoy the idea of someone playing him. The film uses a figure, largely shown in shadow, played by the actor Chick Wango, pretending to be Chaplin visiting his old haunts.

The family of the late Harry Parkinson are selling the film at Christie's next month, after a family member found it on top of a cupboard in her garage.

During the 42-minute film, entitled The Life Story Of Charlie Chaplin, Parkinson draws comparisons between Chaplin's Beverly Hills home and the London streets where he grew up. Parkinson suggests that East Street, Walworth, south London, could have been the inspiration for Chaplin's film Easy Street. Background details of Chaplin's family are given, particularly his father's career as a music hall singer. There is footage of some of the local schools that Charlie Chaplin attended.

Images of London include his old lodgings in Pownall Terrace, Lambeth, Lambeth Baths and Kennington Park Gymnasium. Scenes of children playing in the Lambeth streets are used by Parkinson to imply that Chaplin used the experience of his childhood in his characterisation of The Tramp.

There is approximately half a minute of newsreel footage of Chaplin's triumphant return to England in 1921; that is followed by footage of a garret room in Lambeth. Parkinson used the stark contrast between Chaplin's early lodgings and the splendour of his suite of rooms at The Ritz, where he stayed on his visit to London, to emphasise the change in Chaplin's fortunes.

Chaplin died in 1977 aged 88, two years after being knighted. Parkinson died in 1970, aged 86. His elderly relative who found the film, who does not wish to be named, said: "We always thought Chaplin had it banned because he was embarrassed about his poor background. When I was given the film I remember being told it would be worth a lot of money one day. But I forgot all about it ... I didn't know what to expect, but it was wonderful to see it, with bits from his childhood together with clips from newsreel and bits from America."