The Man Behind the Screen

By Jo Phillips

We have all heard the term spin used in its more colloquial version (usually in political terms) Spin, the Slang definition:- to cause to have a particular bias; influence in a certain direction: His assignment was to spin the reporters after the president’s speech. And sometimes we wonder when we watch a documentary if this well may be the case with what we are seeing.  Many a perspective may be added from whoever financed the film to those who allowed the film to be made (often relatives or holders of the estate)  if the person is no longer alive). Each will want their take. But there are some extremely good documentaries out there that give us a good and true glimpse into people we really want to try to understand. Find out more in the Man Behind the Screen Here.

Although there are many great documentaries about politicians celebrities and world leaders it’s not all that that often we find a documentary that is raw, heartfelt and honest. A great documentary about someone we either find fascinating or whose work we admire can give us a feeling of intimacy can bring us to close up and personal if you like, to the subject matter.

Sometimes it takes many years to pass before a good documentary can be made or it takes a family member to create it,  maybe a mix of both, but sometimes it’s the time passing or the familiar connection that makes a film like this feel more honest personal and emotionally intense.

So be it with the newest documentary film The Real Charlie Chaplin the new documentary film narrated by Pearl Mackie and directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney.

The film travels with him from earliest days of poverty around elephant and castle and Lambeth with parts of an interview reconstructed from a childhood friend who played with him in poverty-ridden streets as both were children.

Then moved forward to his first steps on the English stage where he learnt to fall, roll and punch his comedy act.  Whilst travelling with his first group in the USA he was noticed by a filmmaker.

The film looks at both the private life and public life of a man who was probably at the height of his fame the most known person on the earth. But there was a big difference between the public and private man and the film explores how so much of his public life seeped into his creative work. At the same time, many that knew him seemed to not really know the true him and that’s the dilemma explored here.

‘enjoy the Charlie Chaplin you have the good luck to encounter but don’t try to link them up to anything you can grasp there are too many of them’

 Max Eastman writer and friend of Charlie Chaplin

So this documentary goes on to tell not just the story of the films he made the characters he created and his eventual downfall, but cleverly mirrors the public life he created ‘on show’ for the world with his private pain and feelings of inadequacy that plagued his whole life.

Interestingly family members contribute, there are few clips of him from newsreels to excerpts from one interview with him.

The film offers up multiple facets via a cornucopia of voices from family friends to colleagues and even an ex-wife, showing not only the greatness of this man but also his fallibility and creats it without moroseness over-sentimentality.

A film that asks the question, who is the real Charlie Chaplin?

Refracting his life through a kaleidoscope of previously unheard voices and perspectives, the film sheds new light on the many sides of a groundbreaking, controversial and visionary artist. For decades he was the most famous man in the world but who was The Real Charlie Chaplin?

If the idea of films that explore celebrities but from an inner sanctum then these other films may be of interest:-

Listen To Me Marlon, 2015

The film unlocks Oscar winner Marlon Brando’s never-before-heard personal audio archive, bringing viewers into the mind and motivation of the enigmatic legend. The award-winning feature documentary details Marlon Brando’s life experiences and tragedies through his own voice recordings. Interspersed with this are his approach to his art and his deep-seated insecurities.

Franca: Chaos and Creation

If you are a fashion lover then maybe Italian Vogue’s Franca Sozzani personal film shot by her son is your taste. Franca Sozzani son, Francesco Carrozzini, informed her that he was planning to make a film about her life. So who better to bring to life the spectacular career of this editor in chief, for 28 years at the helm of Italian Vogue, than her son and took six years to complete.

Bright Lights

Finally a little more Hollywood family for you. Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds is a 2016 documentary about the relationship between entertainer Debbie Reynolds (in her final film appearance) and her daughter, actress and writer Carrie Fisher. It premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and on January 7, 2017, on HBO.

A few weeks before the film’s premiere broadcast, both Fisher and Reynolds died. On December 23, Fisher went into cardiac arrest and succumbed four days later, while Reynolds had a severe stroke from which she died on the following day, December 28.

“an intimate portrait of Hollywood royalty … [it] loosely chronicles their lives through interviews, photos, footage and vintage home movies… It culminates in a moving scene, just as Reynolds is preparing to receive the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, which Fisher presented to her mother.”


The Real Charlie Chaplin is an Archer’s Mark, Passion Pictures and Smaller Biggie production, in association with Ventureland and Fee Fie Foe.  The film also received funding from the BFI, awarding funds from the National Lottery, Film4 and Showtime Documentary Films. Find more details here. If you enjoyed reading The Man Behind the Screen then why not read The Art of Cropping Here.

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