The vivid eyes glimpsing at the world from under a bowler hat, the cane on which is unlikely to rely on, patched trousers worn with a matching jacket and vest, the funny way of walking that we all tried to impersonate at least once, in other words, Charlie Chaplin. At the 128th anniversary of his birth, what is there more to say about this fascinating man who continues to live through his everlasting films?
If we were to put aside the costumes, to take off the make-up and to ignore the celebrity, what will remain of Chaplin would be a life story as touching as each one of his films and it would have at the beginning the following caption: a life with a smile and perhaps a tear (as the opening credits of Chaplin’s 1921 film The Kid said).
And what better way to get to know Charlie Chaplin than by reading his autobiography. Under the simple title My Autobiography, Chaplin assembles his true self, while being both sincere and open to let the readers meet the man and not the celebrity.
The autobiography is written as well as any other of his film stories and Chaplin the director knows exactly how to montage his memories in order to make the reader imagine every scene with his own eyes. The book is an invitation on a journey where the reader will witness the creation of the Tramp and will find out how Chaplin managed to live his life by experiencing both success and decay, both happiness and sadness.
Even if words like Hollywood, world fame, innovator may create a prejudice, Charlie Chaplin had modest origins. Born in a family of actors (both mother, Hannah, and father, Charles, were making appearances in vaudevilles on London stage), Charlie had a childhood marked by poverty and misery. He will write that Picasso had a blue period; we had a gray one, in which we lived on parochial charity, soup tickets and relief parcels. The memories of him and his brother, Sydney, visiting their friends around dinner time in order to be invited to stay for dinner, Charlie’s first appearance on stage, life among the workers of a wood fabric while his mother was signed into a mental hospital and his brother was working on a steamboat, his fist part – these are all endearing and have a bittersweet feeling.
Up to some point, we can tell that Chaplin’s life story runs at the pace of a drama in which the hardships make way for other hardships. But, nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles, as Chaplin himself said. However, the life of the poor child living in the outskirts of London will soon take another course. A prodigy from the start, Chaplin would use his brilliance to create the most admired and imitated persona in the world.
Chaplin was a filmmaker in the true sense of the word for he directed the films that he acted in and furthermore, he was writing the soundtracks: music full of warmth, melancholia and hope. When we speak about Chaplin we know that he is always in between the tear and the smile that we mentioned earlier, this is why he was and still is able to charm: because he makes us better, he brings out the humanity in us. Chaplin through his films is urging us to get to know ourselves – we, the ones who have the love of the humanity in our hearts.
By reading his autobiography, we have access to Chaplin the man and not the cinema character. With him, we get acquainted to another kind of celebrity, one different than the one we use to know: the lavish places, great parties, friends among the high society. We are told that there is disappointment, loneliness, misery. That once off stage, the limelight doesn’t shine as bright and the actor is alone.
If we were to find a suitable ending for Charlie Chaplin’s life story this would definitely be the image of the Tramp who loves walking in the rain because no one can see him crying and who freely imparts with us the secret of life:
You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.