Anatomy of a research binge

I've been raiding BPL for things to watch lately, and as it transpires, they have several copies of the 1992 film Chaplin.


This, I think, might be interesting. On a scale of "informative" to "meaningless fluff", biopics are usually closer to the latter than the former, particularly in cases where the subject is not alive to inform the writers that their first draft is a 'rubbish soap opera' and tell them to do it again, as Stephen Hawking did. The sine qua non of getting into someone else's head, of course, is an autobiography, and I love those -- even when the author is completely bonzo-doo-dah crazy they manage to tell you lots about themselves, although not always what they intended to when they wrote it down.

It's also very rare that I have any chance to compare the body language of the original to the actor. If someone decided to make a film about Dorothy L Sayers, I could assess pretty well whether any of what the actress spouts sounds like the things she wrote, but I have no idea what the woman looked like or how she moved, so I have no reference for that.

Chaplin was on film a lot. Mostly in character, but occasionally not. I know about a pamphlet's worth of stuff about him just off the top of my head, and one of the things I recall was that he lived to be 80-something, and worked until he was in his mid-70s -- though he's best known today for silent black and white films, he was active in the industry through talkies, radio, television, and into the early videotape era.

(Another one is that he was married about a bazillion times, the last time to Oona O'Neill, who was the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neil and an unseemly small fraction of Chaplin's age, and that their last child was born sometime in the early 1960s. Also that he was on the Oneida when Thomas Ince died. These may or may not be relevant. The fact that he was very, very wealthy and had almost total creative control over his own projects for a large part of his career probably is relevant.)

Also of interest is that I don't think I've seen Downey specifically try to imitate another entertainment personality. (He played an actual reporter in Zodiac, but I've no idea what the reporter looked or sounded like in person; he wasn't a news anchor.) He is not the best actor I've ever seen; that honor goes to professional con men, whose skill beats any legit career actor up, down, back, forth and sideways. He is, however, one of the best I've ever caught who wasn't also a complete sociopath. When he does comedy (and action-comedy) he mostly seems to operate by pulling out whatever parts of his own personality are relevant and appropriate, and filling in the rest with empathy -- I've seen him drop in and out of voices and characters too fast for him to be Method, so I think he's pretty much working off imagination. He also does it with drama, to varying degrees depending on how much he shares with the character. So far as I know, though, these are all characters he's created out of whole cloth, after reading what the screenplay said and consulting with the director.

Comments