I don’t normally read essay collections but I decided to take a look at The Essential Chaplin: Perspectives on the Life and Art of the Great Comedian in hopes that it would assist me in my pursuit of all things Charles Chaplin and that it would provide intriguing insight into the silent film comedian.
Schickel gathered a notable series of nearly thirty essays on Chaplin’s work, life, and art from a veritable who’s who of film critics and Chaplin’s contemporaries such as Alistair Cooke, Robert E. Sherwood, Winston Churchill, Graham Greene, and James Agee. The book was also sprinkled with quotes from several other notables, such as Sigmund Freud and Robert Benchley, which I found quite intriguing.
This is a smart book, one profoundly taking an interesting and intellectual view of an actor whose work was based off of the instinctual slapstick comedy of an uncommon man of (and for) the people. Schickel’s introduction was highly intelligent and took an analytical look at Chaplin as both a fan and as a non-partisan critic – something that I am sure is quite challenging to pull off. While he was successful in his attempt to provide an even tone within the book, one could not help but get a whiff of intellectual superiority in Schickel’s tone when describing Chaplin’s attempt at literary and social illumination during his adult years. However, despite that notable blip this does not dampen the obvious affection he does have for the actor nor does it flavor the rest of the book.
For such a proudly intelligent collection, I was disappointed in the amount of misspelled words and typos. The book appeared to have been checked with a spellchecker and at least once in each essay there was a contextually-inappropriate but correctly spelled word. It was an annoying interruption to try to decode what the writer meant only to realize that it was actually just a typo.
The Essential Chaplin is a great source for those who are interested in Chaplin’s work as well as the film industry. Not only does it illustrate the difficulties of how film was received as an art form, but the theoretical challenges of fame facing the first world-famous man. It also provides a revue of the criticisms Chaplin faced not just in his work and art, but in his life and interests. This book is a must-have for Chaplin enthusiasts as well as those looking for an excellent example of the in-depth analysis a collection of essays can provide.