Tag Archives: McCarthyism

Book Review: My Autobiography (1964)

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“Friends have asked how I came to engender this American antagonism. My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non-conformist. Although I am not a Communist I refused to fall in line by hating them.”


A riveting manuscript blended with the toppling of articulation. An essence of dissemination with a gifted cerebrum which educates the readers the life of an artist who never inclined nor compromised. The quote above is from the thirtieth chapter which confirms the resistance and determination. An institution, an influence; whose artistic brilliance and extracting expressions from the silence won hearts and made him the most beloved entertainer of the 20th century. He was Charlie Chaplin a.k.a. The Tramp.

A verbal but soft revolt over the hatred or a memoir wonderfully constructed like an architect coalescing the whole tabulation with a strong grip. A case study which examines a life structure built from a struggling poverty towards solving the enigma of solemnity. A gracious gentleman with a beautiful heart, a blessing smile which can melt a tart.

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He was respiring in his seventies when the pages of this incredulous book were inked. I am not surprised that the gentleman who wrote his own scripts, directed his own films, would go on write an autobiography; but what astonishes me is the chosen vocabulary. The school of words used as the text defines his individuality and indicates how indulged and fascinated was he to treasure the richness of words and then use as a sword. It is not to my knowledge nor have I quested an answer to what length has the wordings of Mr. Chaplin been edited but the introductory words by his biographer David Robinson confirms that the writing is all done by the tramp himself. The artistry of a performer has his own percussion of conveying his message and reading his life in his own words helps you step into his world and understand him.

 

Being a stage/theater artist, the actor knows how to bring a ‘Vow!’ among the viewers. So as the author who happened to be an artist, he drops the revelation of mystery by beginning the book with precise date, time and place of birth this way;


“I was born on 16 April 1889, at eight o’clock at night, in East Lane, Walworth.”


This is exactly the confession and the first sentence of the book which gives the reader an impression that a grandpa in his rocking chair is about to excite you with the story existed from his universe.

The first 5 chapters are very private, firsthand and tragic which speaks of his grinding poverty and mother’s mental health. Chaplin talks about the couples who were parted and the family comprised of a mother with her two children, Charles and Sydney, depended on his weekly payments of 10 shillings a week. He talks about a failing stage performer whose vocal issues ended her career and her 5-year-old son took the stage in desperation to win the spectators, collected the coins and handed over to his ailing mother.

Chaplin recounts his struggles at such a tender age when his mother was shifted to the medical care for mental sickness. The wait for some good fate and fortunes making you anxious to turn over the pages.

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The quality of eagerly reading this book is that with every chapter, the reader grows his fictional age from childhood to young hood to manhood. When Charlie reaches the age of puberty, he becomes romantic so as the reader. Those readers who have watched his films would realize how romantic was Charlie and how cavernous would he go to convey his utter emotions in the silent films. Plus the account of his love affairs distinguishes in writing to grow the feeling of youngness and maturity. For example, his depiction of love for Hetty Kelly gives a warm look at his boyhood which makes your understanding of ‘love’ a bit emotional but when he speaks about his relation with Paulette and Oona, his third and fourth wife respectively, the reader grows adult like him.

At 19, Chaplin proposes 15-year-old Kelly on which she keeps silent. He determines not to meet her again but he couldn’t resist and feels regret. He meets her at her residence but he couldn’t say more than ‘Goodbye’ twice. His love for Hetty Kelly is what grieved and ached him all his life and at such an old age when he chooses to write this book, he drops a ship of theseus on the readers when he writes in chapter 6 about her;


“Although I had met her but five times, and scarcely any of our meetings lasted longer than twenty minutes, that brief encounter affected me for a long time.”


 

Moving from the affection of love affair, he builds his career in next chapters while landing in the United States; and in space of 10 years, he works for Fred Karno, Keystone Pictures, Essanay Studios and Mutual Films Corp. The amazement is reading an inspiring journey by highlighting his earnings. Fair enough to reveal that his earnings under contract with Karno which stood at 6 pounds/week turn into an extremely rich contract of $670K with Mutual Films Corp. payable at $10K/week. What an accomplishment in few years!

Also, the book has rich details of his life-long friendship with Mary Pickford and her husband Douglas Fairbanks from chapter.13 who later form a partnership business by the name United Artists. Under this banner being a co. owner, Chaplin makes most of his feature films and makes the company one of the leading production companies of that time in Hollywood.

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For the reader’s luxury, Chaplin has enriched and highlighted some very interesting episodes from his personal account and professional career. He records many elite names he met and befriended them. In different chapters, Chaplin has covered makings of his various feature films. For me, the most interesting read is about his film The Kid in which child actor Jackie Coogan co. starred. He pens interesting story how he discovered the child and how he approached Coogan’s father.

Monsieur Verdoux is the film which covers three chapters which is quite peculiar and outlandish for me because the film wasn’t received well. There is a whole chapter about the film when it encountered the clearance issue from the Office of Decency by copy pasting their whole letter and writing the whole part of the script which was objected. I find writing this all at length redundant and extraneous; this chapter could have been easily abridged.

The reason I am pondering it too lengthy a chapter is because a critically acclaimed film like Modern Times has surprisingly very short details as compared to the others. A film based on The Great Depression and rise of the machines was a hard hitting subject but to my discouragement, Chaplin wrote only a few pages.

Two films whose omission from the book hugely astound me are The Circus and A King In New York. The former, being one of my favorite Chaplin films, was a prominent film which depicted the rise and fall of a circus while the latter was produced after Chaplin was barred from the United States and he showed his anger and criticism over McCarthyism in the film.


“All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl.”


 

Chapter.23 is among the gripping chapters of the book which details Chaplin’s tour of Japan and describes how fortunate was he to escape the assassination of the then Japanese PM, Inukai Tsuyoshi, which was committed by 11 young naval officers who revealed the plan that Chaplin’s murder would facilitate war against the US.

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Also has Chaplin filled few pages about meeting very notable, established and prominent personalities like Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, Mr. and Mrs. Einstein, business tycoon William Hearst, the then Premier of Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev and his Defense Minister Nikolai Bulganin, India’s preeminent leader Mahatma Gandhi and first PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, first premier of People’s Republic of China Zhou Enlai and few more.

The most critical readings are the last six chapters when Charlie’s life meets severe turnaround when WWII begins. He has one whole chapter on his speeches for Russian War Relief. While Hoover and his FBI team begin scanning him after being accused of being the father of Joan Barry‘s child, his image meets a downfall. Also, the last phase of the book has heavy details on Chaplin’s final moments in the US and early days of settlement in Europe.

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So Charlie Chaplin has covered most of his life in 477 pages but somehow he still has missed leaking or providing few details. He speaks nothing about his second wife, Lita Grey nor does he mention his half-brother Wheeler Dryden. The readers will not find any details about his children especially Sydney and Geraldine. Nor is there any word about Arthur Jefferson, his understudy while working with Fred Karno. Arthur Jefferson is Stan Laurel most celebrated for his partnership with Oliver Hardy in a world famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.

 

 

Another major surprise is that Chaplin mentions nothing about his frequent collaborators like Henry Bergman, Mark Swain, Eric Campbell, Albert Austin and Roland Totheroh who was Chaplin’s most regular cameraman for more than 30 films. Perhaps chapters may exceed more details in writing on these gentlemen or perhaps some other reasons. Chaplin talks about Limelight but didn’t speak about his novel Footlights which was unreleased for next six decades until it published in 2014. Footlights is considered a prequel and a fictional book which laid the foundation of producing this film.


“Loneliness is repellent. It has a subtle aura of sadness, an inadequacy to attract or interest; one feels slightly ashamed of it. But, to a more or less degree, it is the theme of everyone.”


Two things I would like to inform the readers about this book. The first point to remember is that Chaplin wrote this book in 1964, so obviously, the readers won’t have the luxury to read about his emotional return to the US eight years later when he received an honorary award for his contribution and outstanding achievements in the industry at the Oscars.

The second point is that the book should not be compared with Attenborough‘s film Chaplin produced in 1992 due to the fact that the details of the film are not precisely accurate as Chaplin has described in his literature.

But above all ‘My Autobiography‘ is a pure gift of The Tramp to his fans. Those readers who are curious to know how the silent cinema functioned in the beginning of the twentieth century should read this book and further realize how a pauper from England revolutionize the industry when the silent comedy was more focused on whacky vehicle races and pieing. His writing eloquence will melt you. A blatantly honest and easily one of the greatest autobiographies written and published.

Thank you, Charlie…

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Chaplin’s Wives:

Ch#16 – Mildred Harris (1st wife)

Ch#24 – Paulette Goddard (3rd wife)

Ch#27 – Oona O’Neil

 

Chaplin’s Love Affairs:

Ch#5 – Marie Doro

Ch#6 – Hetty Kelly

Ch#26 – Joan Barry

 

Chaplin’s association with the companies:

1899 – The Eight Lancashire Lads (Ch#3, Age.10)

1906 – Karno Company (Ch#6, Age.17)

1914 – Keystone Pictures (Ch#10)

1915 – Essanay Studios (Ch#11)

1916 – Mutual Film Corporation (Ch#11)

1918 – First National (Ch#14)

1919 – United Artists (Ch#15 – Co.owner with Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks)

 

Chaplin’s Earnings:

1906 – 6 Pounds/Week (Karno company)

1916 – $10K/Week (Mutual Film Corp)

 

Chaplin’s Films:

Ch#14 – A Dog’s Life, The Immigrant

Ch#15 – Shoulder Arms

Ch#16 – The Kid

Ch#19 – The Gold Rush

Ch#21 – City Lights

Ch#24 – Modern Times

Ch#25 – The Great Dictator

Ch#27 – Monsieur Verdoux

Ch#29 – Limelight

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Film Review: Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

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Fahrenheit 451 is the first colorful and the only English-language film of François Truffaut’s illustrious directional career. Produced in 1966, the film is based on Ray Bradbury’s novel of the same name. For me, it is one of the strangest films I have ever experienced watching.

The film shows a fictional world where some totalitarian government controls general people’s life by dissuading them from books. For this purpose, this government employs a group of firemen who detect books from every corner and burn to ashes. Among these firemen, there is Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) who gets reading inspiration from his neighbor, a 20yo schoolteacher Clarisse (Julie Christie). Once he reads, he tries to motivate his wife and her friends. Time passes by and he begins growing hatred towards his book-burning job. When he becomes a book-burning rebel, the government makes an attempt to seize him and he tries to escape and survive.

On the internet, the general description or summarized explanation of the novel is a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. For me, my theory and basic understanding towards the novel/film are broad. What inspires me is the theme and content of the film.

Generally what we see in the film is a foundation of the ground realities clouding our brain. The film does show you an oppressive future but questions numerous objects co. existing in the same sorry state universe. Truffaut made this film in the 60s but I see this way advanced to the-then existence. The plot is easily applicable today. We see many totalitarian governments controlling people’s life. Last century, the world witnessed the same style of leadership in Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam and II-sung.

Next aspect, the book is a source of objection by such government in the film. The firemen search everywhere to every length to dig the books; and when they find, they collect and gather all the materials and burn these all. In the film, exaggeration is tremendous. Firemen are shown digging books even in public parks, stopping people and checking their dresses. One fireman even checks shirt-pocket of an infant crying in the pram, finds a book and naively discourages the infant not to read books. This scene shows tremendous hatred and point of exaggeration where the director conveys his entire message in one shot.

There have been numerous book-burning incidents in the past. The one which particularly reminds me is from the McCarthy era when the books written by the authors favoring communism were disposed and burned under Eisenhower’s presidency. Bradbury has also stated his concerns about the above-mentioned events being the base of writing Fahrenheit 451.

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Why books? In the film, this question will give you a lot of answers. Especially in one scene where the home of Clarisse’ friend is raided for an understood reason, the captain of all firemen (Cyril Cusack) spots a room full of books and gets some space of more than five minutes with Montag to present his hatred and forward his explanation/opinion about the literature. One of the lines the captain speaks to Montag in the film goes this way, Go on, Montag, all this philosophy, let’s get rid of it. It’s even worse than the novels. Thinkers and philosophers, all of them saying exactly the same thing: “Only I am right! The others are all idiots!” This captain’s ideology hit me for a second and showed a different perspective for a book-reading habit. Is this an ego which turns you a writer and makes you think that people will avoid others and listen to you?

About fictional novel, the captain discourages the viewers that people in such books never existed but by reading, they tend to assume such characters leading their lives towards unhappiness by thinking that they can never live that life described in such books. I must admit, this lengthy scene was one of the best in the film.

Montag the leading character has another explanation that the books make the readers unhappy and anti-social! How come? Because according to Montag, books change the people, their ideology, their way of living and thinking; and them reading people tries to become better than the others. How true is this? If you really begin judging the reading habit from Montag and captain’s angle, you will think twice.

Truffaut’s depicted future-world looks highly realistic and fashionable. I am very impressed with the heavy detailing of Montag’s place of residency. The color of walls, interactive TV program, wall telephones, and furniture was outstanding. Then we see monorail which was not frequently watched in the films those days.

Last 20 minutes of the film takes the viewers to a different dimension. The dystopian state turns into utopian. Montag shifts from one world to the other. While escaping from the cruel book-burning world, he unintentionally enters the world of hope where people from different communities and walks of life are named by some famous books. These individuals are learning by heart and repeating every word of their books to spread the literature to the future generations and avoid ignorance. There is one striking scene where a dying old man is filling/feeding the words of Weir of Hermiston to his nephew.

From a religious point of view, it reminds me the time when knowledge was to overtake ignorance in the times of Prophet Muhammad PBUH with time by learning and repeating the verses of Holy Quran and his Sahabah (Prophet’s companions and disciples) by recording the testimonies what the prophet said. It is just my understanding from those particular book-people scenes.

The film overall is a wake-up call to save the books, the literature, the treasure of knowledge from various categories of books and defeat ignorance. Truffaut’s artistic direction is yet again the winner. Very very ostentatious and fascinating work! This is like someone presents a theory in cinematic format and brings the world to knees. The film is sci-fi in some sense but also very humanistic theoretically. But his work plays on you, hypnotizes and manipulates you. Although there are some differences and missing elements from the film as compared to the novel but overall I believe Fahrenheit 451 is easily one of Truffaut’s most impressive works.

Ratings: 8.4/10

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