Art And Culture

Book Reveals Charlie Chaplin’s Never Made Masterpiece

Book Reveals Charlie Chaplin’s Never Made MasterpieceBook Reveals Charlie Chaplin’s Never Made Masterpiece

A large crate tucked away in a musky storage room reveals a treasure: a pair of meticulously crafted wings covered with swan feathers made for a final film Charlie Chaplin never completed.

The seminal filmmaker had the surprisingly heavy contraptions made for his daughter Victoria, whom he envisioned in the role of “The Freak” - a winged girl who brings hope to humanity, but also exposes its deepest flaws.

“It seemed to me to be a very beautiful fairytale. Something that maybe only a man of his age can imagine, can dream. A very charming dream,” Chaplin’s now 69-year-old son Michael told AFP.

Comic  genius Charlie Chaplin, whose iconic films like “The Kid”, “Modern Times”, “The Great Dictator” and “City Lights” are admired and loved the world over, was planning something very different for what he intended to be his last picture.

A book published this week in Switzerland, where Chaplin spent the last 24 years of his life, for the first time gives a full account of the unfulfilled project.

Swiss author Pierre Smolik says he was able to consult archives containing hundreds of pages of Chaplin’s notes detailing the evolution of the project, two scripts, dialogues and a synopsis, as well as pictures that together give a picture of what his final film may have looked like if he had finished it.

After what turned out to be his last finished film, “A Countess from Hong Kong” flopped in 1967, Chaplin was distraught, but immediately dived into a new project, “The Freak”, Smolik told AFP.

He wrote the synopsis for the story in 1969, at the age of 80, and worked on the project for another two years at his sprawling, idyllic estate, Manoir De Ban, overlooking Lake Geneva.

He had the wings made, and even held a few rehearsals at a studio in Britain with his 18-year-old daughter Victoria, whom he wanted to embody the mythical lead character.

The film was meant to tell the story of a winged girl, a “freak” born to a couple of British missionaries, who one day falls onto the roof of a professor working in Chile.  He takes her in, names her Sarapha, and sees his house become a pilgrimage site for invalids who see the girl as an angel who might provide a cure.

Smolik, who grew up near Chaplin’s estate and occasionally ran into the filmmaker as a boy, says there is no single explanation why it was never completed.

“He was quite old, and his wife did not want the shoot to weigh on his health,” the author said, pointing out that Chaplin was a perfectionist who worked himself ragged on all of his films.

After Chaplin’s death in 1977, “the family generally was very protective about the script.”

That was until 2010, when Smolik, who had already written a book about Chaplin and knew the family, asked if he could take a look at the documents.

“It’s Pierre who pulled the wings out of the box again,” Michael said.

The public can soon catch a glimpse of the now yellowing feathered contraptions.  They will go on display at a new Charlie Chaplin museum opening at Manoir de Ban next April.