Looking For Charlie – Teaser Trailer
Introducing: Looking for Charlie (+ Teaser Trailer) – Click Play to View
When we think about the most important comedians of the early twentieth century a list of familiar names come to mind – Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and, of course, master of them all, Charlie Chaplin. Their images are ingrained in our collective memory, as sharply defined and realised as if they were stood in the room with us. As I write this I can see Stan Laurel before me, teasing his hair and pouting pathetically as his rotund, aggressive –but loyal– companion berates him for some recent calamity. To their side Chaplin sheepishly raises a hand to his mouth, covering an expression of shocked amusement that is betrayed by his wandering eyebrows. Outside my office Lloyd is straddling the window, ascending the building –no doubt for love– whilst, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle as his ungainly form drifts past my door with all the grace and dignity of a world class ballerina.
I am, of course, alone. But thinking of these legendary characters and the comedies which they produced brings company into my world. I seem to know them (or at least the characters they portrayed) as well as anyone else I can call to mind. I admire them even as I subconsciously downplay their importance; the bringers of laughter are easy to dismiss, after all, even though happiness and joy are as fundamental to the human condition as sadness and poignancy. Clowns and buffoons? But of course! But, I remind myself, they are not lesser for that. They are artists too, masters of the emotional landscape we all navigate.
I laugh as I think about my imaginary guests. Laurel is now hysterical. So too is his increasingly perplexed partner, for that matter. Lloyd’s left foot hangs and flops and kicks just in sight of my window, the rest of him having ascended past my line of sight, whilst Chaplin is absently playing with a small stack of books, obsessively aligning and adjusting them, never getting them quite right. Somewhere outside the open office door Buster Keaton saunters past, momentarily pausing to take in the scene, his face never changing nor registering so much as the slightest amusement. I laugh – he does nothing. Such is immortality.
Perhaps that image is enough, a living, albeit ephemeral, monument to the genius of ages past but I know the scene is incomplete. I know that every one of the characters who now shares my office is there because I remember their performances from the films in which I have seen them. Chaplin positively flickers, a two dimensional projection covered in scratches and dirt, characteristic of old, neglected celluloid. For a moment Oliver Hardy beams at me in bright over-saturated colour, the result of an unfortunate colourisation process inflicted upon him in the 1980s. Happily the moment has passed and he has returned to his monochromatic, and familiar, self. But I know, too, that a lost generation of comedians, the forefathers to this ingenious generation, languish in obscurity, unknown and forgotten. There are hints, here and there, of their importance, but only hints.
Chaplin’s costume, for just a moment, is that of Marceline Orbes, the Spanish-born megastar of the 1910s who has now almost completely faded from memory. Keaton, who stares in, blank faced, glances at the baseball I was given in New York as a boy. Our eyes meet and, for just an instant, we exchange a knowing glance. He’s thinking of his 1928 film The Cameraman in which he presented a version of Francis ‘Slivers’ Oakley’s The Baseball Game. Back in the 1900s and 1910s, Slivers’ routine was a pop-culture phenomenon. Now it is all but forgotten. As I regard Keaton he seems to fade away. No one is left who remembers Marceline or Slivers. As masters of the stage they were feted but without film, without that memory which exists beyond memory, practically nothing of them remains. Laurel’s tears feel much more poignant now.
For the past few months I have, along with my dedicated colleague and friend, Brett Sanders, been producing a documentary film, Looking for Charlie, which shines a light on those lost clowns and comedians. At the height of their fame they entertained millions, adults and children alike, before their careers and personal lives imploded. By the end of the 1920s both Marceline and Slivers had committed suicide, alone and despairing in a world which had moved on and forgotten them. That Keaton has now faded away before me matters little. I can –and will– put on one of his films and he will, with characteristic stoicism, return to my world. Such is not the case for either Marceline or Slivers. I can certainly try to imagine them but I can never truly recover them in the same way that Chaplin or Lloyd can be brought back into my life. I know that Chaplin admired Marceline and was influenced by him and that he carried dear childhood memories of the clown into his later years. But I also know that those memories, along with their custodian, have passed beyond human experience. Such, I suppose, is the nature of mortality.
Sadness is not so far removed from happiness and laughter and our attempt to understand that link has taken Brett and I on an odyssey around the world in search of some meaningful candidate for the truth that might explain why loneliness and heartbreak haunt so many of those who make us smile and forget our own litany of problems. We have, with the able assistance of our crew, been looking for that special something, that je ne sais quoi, that will help immortalise the forgotten and explain something –just something– about their artistry and its impact on the comedic generation who now occupy the imaginary space housed in my office. It’s easy to remember Chaplin and Keaton and Lloyd and Arbuckle. Their legacy lives on in countless DVDs and online videos, all just a click away. But to look for Charlie or Buster or Harold, to truly understand them, is about more than watching old films. To look for Charlie is to go in search of those people and events that shaped him into the artist he was, just as to look for Buster is to search for Slivers and the power of the mime. Our film will, we hope, invite you to look for Charlie and Buster and all the legends of that generation in a new way, to see beyond the immediacy of their performance and to seek a deeper truth about the relationship between comedic generations; a deeper truth about the nature of how we remember those who make us laugh; and a deeper truth about the link between laughter and despair.
The first teaser trailer for Looking for Charlie; Or, Why Do Clowns Kill Themselves is now online. Please watch it, share it, and help the world to look for Charlie together. And please remember to vote for the trailer on The Online Film Festival. You can get regular updates on the film’s production from my website at www.darrenreidhistory.co.uk or follow along on twitter @Thathistorian and #LookingforCharlie.
Thanks for listening and enjoy the trailer.