The Charlie Chaplin Archive Opens, Putting Online 30,000 Photos & Documents from the Life of the Iconic Film Star

Char­lie Chap­lin knew his movies were pop­u­lar, but could he have imag­ined that we’d still be watch­ing them now, as the 130th anniver­sary of his birth approach­es? And even if he could, he sure­ly would­n’t have guessed that even the mate­ri­als of his long work­ing life would draw great fas­ci­na­tion in the 21st cen­tu­ry — much less that they would be made instan­ta­neous­ly avail­able to the entire world on a site like the Char­lie Chap­lin Archive. A project of the Fon­dazione Cinete­ca di Bologna, which has pre­vi­ous­ly worked to restore and pre­serve Chap­lin’s fil­mog­ra­phy itself, it con­sti­tutes the dig­i­ti­za­tion of Chap­lin’s “very own and painstak­ing­ly pre­served pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al archives, from his ear­ly career on the Eng­lish stage to his final days in Switzer­land.”

This online archive includes every­thing from “the first hand­writ­ten notes of a sto­ry line to the shoot­ing of the film itself, stage by stage doc­u­men­tary evi­dence of the devel­op­ment of a film, or a project that nev­er even became a film,” as well as mate­ri­als not direct­ly relat­ed to the movies: “poems, lyrics, draw­ings, pro­grammes, con­tracts, let­ters, mag­a­zines, trav­el sou­venirs, com­ic books, car­toon strips, praise and crit­i­cism.”

The vast major­i­ty of these items have nev­er before been made pub­licly avail­able, and all of them enrich our pic­ture of the mak­er of clas­sic come­dies like Mod­ern TimesCity Lights, and The Great Dic­ta­tor as well as the high­ly event­ful peri­ods of his­to­ry through which he lived.‘

You can explore the Char­lie Chap­lin Archive by plung­ing straight into its col­lec­tion of more than 4,000 images and near­ly 25,000 doc­u­ments, or you can enter through its curat­ed top­ic sec­tions: one on Chap­lin’s ear­ly career offers a glimpse into the hum­ble launch of a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non that would go on to tran­scend cul­tures and eras; anoth­er on music shows Chap­lin, who grew up in a musi­cal fam­i­ly with musi­cal ambi­tions of his own, con­duct­ing orches­tras; and a sec­tion on trav­el presents clip­pings and pho­tos relat­ed to his jour­neys to places like Bali and Japan, from which he returned on the same boat as Jean Cocteau. “Cocteau could not speak a word of Eng­lish,” Chap­lin wrote in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy of the voy­age home. “Nei­ther could I speak French, but his sec­re­tary spoke a lit­tle Eng­lish, though not too well, and he act­ed as inter­preter for us.”

That night we sat up into the small hours, dis­cussing our the­o­ries of life and art,” Chap­lin con­tin­ues, quot­ing Cocteau’s sec­re­tary thus: “Mr Cocteau… he say… you are a poet… of zer sun­shine… and he is a poet of zer night.” These words, in turn, appear quot­ed (along­side the sketch of Chap­lin by Cocteau above) on the Char­lie Chap­lin Archive’s “Chap­lin and Jean Cocteau” page, one of its con­tin­u­ous­ly updat­ed sto­ries. Oth­ers col­lect mate­r­i­al relat­ed to Chap­lin’s lux­u­ry-item pur­chas­es, Chap­lin as direc­tor, and Chap­lin’s final speech deliv­ered as the title char­ac­ter of The Great Dic­ta­tor, which a recent announce­ment about the archive calls “one of the most licensed ele­ments of Chaplin’s work in the 21st cen­tu­ry” — a time whose sur­re­al­i­ty Cocteau might well rec­og­nize, and whose absur­di­ty Chap­lin cer­tain­ly would.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

65 Free Char­lie Chap­lin Films Online

Char­lie Chap­lin Gets Strapped into a Dystopi­an “Rube Gold­berg Machine,” a Fright­ful Com­men­tary on Mod­ern Cap­i­tal­ism

Char­lie Chap­lin Does Cocaine and Saves the Day in Mod­ern Times (1936)

Char­lie Chap­lin Films a Scene Inside a Lion’s Cage in 200 Takes

Watch Char­lie Chap­lin Demand 342 Takes of One Scene from City Lights

Cap­ti­vat­ing GIFs Reveal the Mag­i­cal Spe­cial Effects in Clas­sic Silent Films

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • George says:

    Char­lie Chap­lin was anoth­er of those unique char­ac­ters and only a few appear in any cen­tu­ry. What­ev­er short­com­ings you may wish to find in “The Lit­tle Dic­ta­tor” it was a clas­sic in its way. His speech in that film struck a chord with me and it was the very antithe­sis of the sav­age mind of the real Hitler. That was the cin­e­ma, but the out­side real world was so very dif­fer­ent and we wished and hoped that the image could become real­i­ty

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