Saturday, 16 July 2011

My Father, Charlie Chaplin: Geraldine Chaplin In Conversation With David Robinson, Babylon Cinema, Berlin

Geraldine Chaplin

As part of the Babylon Cinema's Charlie Chaplin Retrospective - CHAPLIN COMPLETE - the Babylon Cinema's director, Timothy Grossman, invited Chaplin's daughter Geraldine and film historian and Chaplin biographer, David Robinson, to talk about the life and work of the artist in question.

I should mention that apart from being a great admirer of the films of Charlie Chaplin, I'm an equally great admirer of his daughter. Hence, seeing Geraldine Chaplin live for the first time was an opportunity not to be missed. And I must say that I wasn't disappointed. Seeing and listening to Geraldine talking about her childhood and upbringing and what it meant to grow up as the daughter of one one of the greatest film artists who ever lived, was as entertaining as it was fascinating and insightful.

Very often, coming face-to-face with someone you've always admired from afar can be an anticlimactic experience, to say the least. In Geraldine's case, however, it was different for she turned out to be one of the most gracious, radiant, authentic, and also the nicest, celebrities - for lack of a better word - I've ever encountered on a panel or a press conference.

Asked about if her name was of any help when she herself decided to become an actress, Geraldine Chaplin openly admitted that her name didn't just open doors, but that because her father was widely admired in the film industry, not just for his films but also for his political stance, the admiration for her father extended to her, making her start in movies relatively easy. Or easier than it would have been otherwise.

Here, Geraldine Chaplin talks to a 95-year old audience member who met Geraldine's father when he visited Berlin in 1931 to promote his film, City Lights

I'm tempted to add that Geraldine more than lived up to the somewhat preferential treatment she may have received in those days, and one of the most remarkable things about her is the fact that instead of embarking on a career in mainstream Hollywood, she managed to keep her name out of the blockbuster business and always opted for young, new, or independent, directors and films. As a result, she became a great actress in her own right. Her collaboration with her former partner Carlos Saura resulted in a number of memorable masterpieces, notably Cria Cuervos and Ana y Los Lobos. Moreover, because she chose a different career path - and because she wisely never underwent plastic surgery - she is still going strong today, now in her mid-sixties, when many other actresses of her generation can no longer be cast because they look like freaks. In fact, she's just completed another film, set in a retirement home, of all places, in which she stars alongside Daniel Bruehl and Jane Fonda. Apparently, it's Jane Fonda (at 70!) who gets the boy, and not her ...

Asked about her father's reaction to her collaboration with Saura plus the fact that they'd become lovers, Geraldine Chaplin admitted that her father wasn't all that happy at first, but once he saw Peppermint Frappe (Geraldine's and Saura's first film together), he wrote Saura a postcard, saying, "You're a poet!".

The panel: on the left, Timothy Grossman; in the middle, David Robinson, and to the right: Geraldine Chaplin

Considering that Charlie Chaplin was politically left-leaning, to say nothing of him being expelled from the US for allegedly being a Communist (Geraldine calls him "a humanist", which is aptly put), it was surprising to learn that as a father he was rather strict ("Victorian"), which most probably was a result of his own upbringing, which was spent in utter destitution with no education to speak of. Growing up in the US and in Switzerland as well as in English boarding schools, Geraldine not only enjoyed a privileged upbringing, she also grew up bi-lingual. I was surprised to hear that apparently, her father never mastered French properly, despite the fact that following his expulsion from the US, he spent the remainder of his life in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, in Vevey, which Geraldine still calls home to this day.

Geraldine Chaplin in her element

Geraldine Chaplin is a fascinating personality and a captivating raconteur, and I could have gladly sat there all afternoon listening to her. Additionally, she's done her father proud with the films she made and last but not least, it is wonderful - as well as reassuring - to see how she keeps the memory of her father alive. As far as I'm concerned, Charlie Chaplin's work should be included in the UNESCO list of
"world cultural heritage".