Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Charlie Chaplin's Vintage Year: The History of the Mutual-Chaplin Specials

Chaplin's Vintage Year
Even with hindsight and romance temporarily shelved, it remains impossible to overstate Chaplin's popularity during the time period when he signed a precedent-setting contract with the Mutual Film Corporation and subsequently produced twelve comedies that fans refer to as "The Chaplin Mutuals." According to author Michael Hayde, several theaters made a point to include one of his films on every program, in an era when lineups changed no less than three times a week. "Not even Beatlemania had as great an impact on its generation," Mike writes in his prologue. "A Hard Day's Night (1964) didn't open in 130 New York metropolitan area theaters simultaneously. Chaplin's The Floorwalker (1916) did."

If this kind of fascinating Ken Burns-style narrative is what you like (and who doesn't), then you'll be pleased to know that Michael Hayde wrote a superb book that was recently published titled Chaplin's Vintage Year: The History of the Mutual-Chaplin Specials. With 464 pages documenting the history of these twelve comedy shorts, you can be certain that this book is going to be welcome on the bookshelf of all the Chaplin fans across the globe. 

The book tells the full story of the Mutual comedies, the famous $670,000 contract, and the various acquisitions and releases those comedies have enjoyed for nearly 100 years. Dozens of trade advertisements are reproduced with the best scans, including Chaplin's registration card for the draft, initiated shortly after the U.S. entered World War I. Vintage comics from newspapers, Billy West vaudeville ads and... well... you get the idea. Tons of great photographs.

Whether you want to know the dates of filming, the cost of production, cast lists not included on the screen, alterations done to the shorts over time, length of film, copyright registrations and what the exhibitors said, this book has it all. If you are not a fan of Charlie Chaplin or was casually interested, this book is an excellent guide to watching the shorts one by one and then consulting the book to receive a film school education on the best that Charlie Chaplin has to offer. 

With only so many bookshelves at home to fill, I find myself becoming selective in what kinds of books to have. Well-researched, well-documented reference works are always worthy of shelf space. (Books that were haphazardly slapped together from a cut-and-paste off the internet are discarded through various forms... statistically three out of every four books I receive in the mail.) I am happy to state this book will remain on my bookshelf for decades to come.