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Charlie Chaplin - The Great Londoner

Exhibition preview

AN EXHIBITION entitled Charlie Chaplin – The Great Londoner will be on display at the London Film Museum from January 5, 2010.

Visitors will discover exciting new insights into the life and career of Charles Chaplin, the boy from the London slums who won universal fame with his screen character of the Tramp, and went on to become a Knight of the British Empire.

The exhibition has been produced by Jonathan Sands, founder of the London Film Museum, and devised by Leslie Hardcastle, creator of the prizewinning Museum of the Moving Image (1989 – 1999), in collaboration with David Robinson, Chaplin’s biographer.

The exhibition tells Chaplin’s story in six main sections, evoking consecutive phases of his dramatic rise from rags to riches:

A London Boyhood

Charles Chaplin was born in 1889 in East Street, Lambeth, and his early years were spent in acute poverty, in the square mile to the South and East of the present London Film Museum. This section evokes the life of the poor in late Victorian Lambeth, and the escape provided by the light, colour and fun of the music halls, in which his parents were performers.

A Child of the Theatre

At the age of ten, the young Chaplin found work in a juvenile music hall troupe and his future was decided. As a boy actor he made his mark as the comic page-boy in Sherlock Holmes, and even played the role in the West End. His greatest success came in the music hall, and at 20 he was already a star of the Karno comedy companies. This section sets out to recall the atmosphere and the stars of the music halls, with memorabilia relating to Chaplin’s own stage career.

America and the movies

Between 1910 and 1913, Chaplin twice toured the American vaudeville circuits as a star of the Karno company, and was greatly excited by his encounter with the New World. At the end of 1913 he yielded to an offer from the Keystone Comedy Company, ruled by Mack Sennett, and arrived in Hollywood. At first disoriented by the new medium, he learned rapidly and within weeks was directing his own films. The exhibition evokes the buccaneering atmosphere of early Hollywood, it’s primitive studios, and its rapid evolution towards an international industry.

The Tramp

Searching for a character for his second film, Chaplin put together a costume from elements found in the Keystone wardrobe shed. The result – the Tramp – achieved instant popularity and within a year or two was known and loved across the world. Chaplin’s creation remains to this day the screen’s iconic and most universally recognised character.

Citizen of the World

When Chaplin finally took a rest and visited Europe in 1921, he was astonished to find himself a world celebrity, mobbed by crowds everywhere he went, and sought out by the great men of the day. Increasingly he used his comedy to comment on the fundamental problems of humanity. Modern Times is a broad-ranging social critique; and in The Great Dictator, having finally abandoned his character of the Tramp, he pillories Adolf Hitler, fascinated by the physical resemblance between the best-loved man in the world and the most hated.

The Happy Exile

In the paranoia of the Cold War years, Chaplin became an object of suspicion to the Communist-obsessed American political right. His anti-war statements in Monsieur Verdoux and his friendships with liberal intellectuals led to increasingly virulent attacks and accusations of Communist sympathies. In 1952 he came to England for the premiere of his last American film, Limelight (a recollection of the London music halls of his youth) and never returned to the United States permanently.

His final years were spent contentedly in Switzerland, surrounded by his growing family and still planning films, two of which, A King In New York and A Countess from Hong Kong, were made in Britain.

The London Film Museum, based in County Hall (next to the London Eye and above the London Aquarium), has been growing rapidly since it opened in 2008. This new exhibition marks a major investment by the museum to produce a spectacular tribute to a great Londoner who remains the single most outstanding figure in all film history.

Also contained within the London Film Museum are original costumes and props from major feature films including Superman, Gladiator and Batman, as well as interactive exhibits helping visitors understand how the film making process works.

Charlie Chaplin – The Great Londoner exhibition will be a permanent feature and entry is included in the admission price of the London Film Museum.

Times: Daily (except Christmas Day and New Years Day) from 10am to 5pm (weekdays), and 10am to 6pm (weekends) with last entry 1 hour before closing time.