Inside Film

Callous, exploitative, predatory: The dark side of Charlie Chaplin

With a new documentary, ‘The Real Charlie Chaplin’, premiering this week at London Film Festival and the centenary of Chaplin’s feature-length directorial debut, ‘The Kid’, this year, Geoffrey Macnab looks back over the slapstick star’s disturbing personal life but says his genius endures

<p>Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Gold Rush’ (1940) </p>

Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Gold Rush’ (1940)

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He was a little man with large feet and a small moustache or, at least, that was how he appeared on screen. One hundred years ago, after making more than 60 other movies, Charlie Chaplin directed his first full-length feature film, The Kid (1921). By then, he was already among the most recognisable and best-loved figures in the world. “I am known in parts of the world by people who have never heard of Jesus Christ,” he used to boast.

Now, Chaplin is coming back into focus. A new feature documentary, The Real Charlie Chaplin, from directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney, premieres at the London Film Festival this week. Chaplin’s work is yet again being revived in cinemas worldwide too. Classics such as The Kid, Modern Times (1936), The Gold Rush (1925) and The Great Dictator (1940) have been remastered in 4K by distributors Pieces of Magic and MK2 and will soon be re-released.

It’s an opportunity for a new generation to discover him. From our vantage point today, though, there are difficult aspects about the bowler-hatted comedian. His private life has its darker recesses. In particular, his relationship with women is disturbing, especially when viewed through the prism of #MeToo. He was obsessed with very young girls.

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