PostED ON OCTOBER 14 AT 2:32 PM
In Charlie Chaplin, le génie de la liberté (Charlie Chaplin, The Genius of Liberty), Yves Jeuland and François Aymé look at the life of the creator of The Tramp (‘Charlot’ in French). Yves Jeuland tells us more about this projet.
How do you approach a person as famous as Charlie Chaplin?
Timidly. It makes you nervous. François Aymé and I made a film about Jean Gabin in 2016. He was the most popular French actor in France, and this time, we chose to take on the most popular man in the world. Over 4,000 books have been written about Chaplin, more than Napoleon, and it’s intimidating. But we had the modest ambition not to make ‘just another’ film. The first pages of the project date from September 2016, but we finished in September 2020, after 11 months of editing. It was supposed to last a hundred minutes, and it's over two hours. He is an extraordinary character and the film had to be complete, mixing biographical, cinematographic and historical elements. I've been making documentaries for 23 years and this is definitely one of the greatest adventures I've ever been on. It is the Himalayan syndrome: the more you search, the more you learn, and the higher the mountain seems to you. He is better known than Mickey Mouse, because he is both Charlie and ‘Charlot’, he was everything – a composer, choreographer, actor, producer... He met everything head-on, and we wonder if there’s anything he hadn’t done.
How do you sort through all these archive images?
He was world famous as early as 1915, so you can imagine how many images there are. But we found some previously unpublished ones. At the very last moment, sometimes. Suddenly reels arrived with images that have never been seen before, like the ones where he clowns around in front of the camera. Or the making-of City Lights. We realized that The Genius of Liberty was the first film about Chaplin to be entirely archival. It was our intention, and we inserted multiple clips from his films, shorts and feature films. There are no interviews. He expressed himself with his smile, his cane, his eyebrows, everything. He wasn't a talker, so we didn't try to show him talking.
What did he have that the others didn't?
"More than inspiration, it's sweat", he’d say, though it's doubtful that Chaplin was not inspired! It's a combination of factors: genius, work ethic, the right timing. He had an exceptional gift of observation and he would not have been the Tramp if he had not had this destitute childhood, this very lonely side. And maybe we needed him. Billie Ritchie used to claim that he found the Tramp character before Chaplin, but it's not enough to find a suit and big shoes... it lacks the spark. If you ask me to explain the spark, it’s complicated. But we try through this documentary.
Interview by Charlotte Pavard