Friday, November 6, 2009

Lost Charlie Chaplin

photo credit Everett Collection/Rex features

From the Daily Mail UK

£3.20 battered tin bought on eBay reveals lost Charlie Chaplin movie worth £40,000
By Wil Longbottom 06th November 2009

A chance purchase of a film tin for £3.20 on eBay has unearthed a previously unseen Charlie Chaplin movie which could be worth up to £40,000.

Collector Morace Park decided to buy the battered container because he liked the look of it and did not even open the parcel for a while after it arrived.

When he did, he noticed the title of the movie, Charlie Chaplin in Zepped, after unrolling part of the film.

The find has caused a storm among experts and features unseen footage of Zeppelins flying over England during World War I, as well as very early stop-motion animation and outtakes from Chaplin films.

The main animated sequence starts with Chaplin wishing he could return to England from America and fight with British soldiers.

It shows him being taken on a flight through clouds before landing on a spire in England.

During the First World War he was criticised for not joining the war effort. Chaplin did present himself for military service, but was rejected as being too small and underweight.

All the footage has been cut together into a six-minute movie that Mr Park, who lives in Henham, Essex, describes as 'in support of the British First World War effort'.

Mr Park bought the film container 'from someone else who deals in bits and bobs' and did not even open the parcel after it arrived.

When he did, he spotted the film's title after unrolling part of it and decided to search for it online.

He said: 'I Googled it and then my interest was pricked. I couldn't find any sign of it on the internet.'

He then sought the help of neighbour John Dyer, the former head of education at the British Board of Film Classification, and the pair began a search to find out what Zepped was and why it was unknown to film historians and Chaplin experts.

Mr Park said: 'It starts with live shots of Chaplin. It then turns into a dreamscape.

'We see a Zeppelin bomb attack. And then we see Chaplin taking the mickey out of the Zeppelin, at the time a powerful instrument of terror,' he told The Guardian.

The movie, shot on 35mm nitrate film, is believed to have been a First World War propaganda piece aimed at lessening the fear of airship bombing raids which Germany had been launching on Britain from the beginning of 1915.

Charlie Chaplin was contracted to the Essanay film company in December 1914, where he made some of his early masterpieces including The Tramp.

A year later, contract and salary disputes saw the then 25-year-old star sever relations with his employers.

Mr Park and Mr Dyer have travelled to Los Angeles this week carrying out research on the find, along side film maker Hammad Khan, who is making a documentary about their search.

On Monday they showed the film to Michael Pogorzelski, a film history expert and director of the archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - the body behind the Oscars.

'It is an extremely interesting find. An unknown and uncatalogued Charlie Chaplin film,' he told The Guardian.

Mr Pogorzelski believes the film is made from outtakes and footage from previous films reedited by Essanay and cut together with shots of Zeppelins and animated material.

He described it as 'either piracy or entrepreneurship - depending on which side of the fence you're on'.

Simon Louvish, author of Chaplin: The Tramp's Odyssey, told the Independent: 'There are a number of these compilation films around, and in Senegal there were a number of films that had been cut together by other people using Chaplin footage.

'Keystone Pictures was going bust at the time and footage from these Chaplin films was freely available. This is less so of the Essanay films.

'Chaplin by 1916 was signing multimillion-dollar contracts and was very aware of the copyright on his films.

'It would be no surprise though if someone in Egypt, which was under British occupation at the time, decided to use one of the world's most famous figures to support the war.'

David Robinson, author of Chaplin: His Life and Art, said that after Chaplin left Essanay the company tried to exploit footage of its former star.

He says legal controversy created by Essanay adding footage to previous Chaplin films including Burlesque on Carmen, could account for the fact that Zepped never saw wide circulation.

The copy unearthed by Mr Park appears to have been classified for exhibition in Egypt, then a British protectorate. Mr Robinson believes the real value of the film could be anything between £3,000 and £40,000.

Chaplin was one of the first Hollywood 'mega-stars' for his hit silent films. He won an honorary Oscar in 1929 for The Circus, as well as the award for Best Music in 1972.

Other classics he wrote and starred in included Gold Rush, Modern Times and The Great Dictator.

Chaplin had 11 children and was married four times - to Mildred Harris, Lita Grey, Paulette Goddard and Oona O'Neill.

He was knighted at the age of 85 in 1975, although the honour was first put forward in 1931 and deferred because of the controversy of him not serving in World War One.

He died on Christmas Day in 1977 in Vevey, Switzerland.

***According to the book Paulette: The Adventurous Life of Paulette Goddard (This gal was Liz Taylor before Liz Taylor!) there was speculation that she and Charlie Chaplin were not legally married. Neither one had publicly admitted it.


Laurie Powers said...

Thanks for the tip! I've posted it on my blog as well. Love your blog, by the way!

Darla: Retro Ways said...

What a great find, I cant believe the seller never opened the tin. Such a lucky buyer!

Great story this was such an interesting read.


AlexMaxim said...

Someone got lucky. Things happen...

Dizzy Dame said...


Charlie Chaplin said...

Charlie is my best comedian