SYDNEY, L’AUTRE CHAPLIN
Scen.: Eric Lange. F.: Alice Dusong, Valentin Urie. M.: Eric Lange. Mus.: Charles Chaplin, Robert Israel. Int.: Peter Hudson (voce narrante), Kevin Brownlow, Kate Guyonvarch, David Robinson, Lisa Stein Haven. Prod.: Serge Bromberg. DCP. D.: 56’. Bn e Col.
This documentary examines the many faces of Sydney John Hill Chaplin: the womanizer, who was truly undone by the female body, the Ur-nudist, who was there at the forefront of the 1920s craze, the street kid always on the lookout for a way to cheat someone out of money before being cheated himself, the beloved uncle of eight adoring children, the trusted and beloved brother, the accomplished slapstick comedian with 34 films to his credit. Through interviews with experts such as David Robinson, Kevin Brownlow, Kate Guyonvarch and myself, Syd’s biographer, combined with rare home movie footage, archival photographs, artifacts and documents, the story of this enigmatic character is created. He was not just Charlie’s older brother and one-time financial manager.
After a many-years tutelage in the English music hall, mostly under maestro Fred Karno, Syd followed his brother to the States (1915) where he gave into some of his baser instincts, in terms of his sexual and business appetites, attempting business ventures in opposition to entrepreneurial logic and American law that caused trouble for both he and his brother. And, although his stalwart longtime companion Minnie Gilbert came to America as his wife and lived as such, his philandering reputation began to grow, with hatch marks on dressing room chalkboards and slow cruises past Hollywood High School in the afternoons. His first solo film contract was revoked (Paramount), he worked back up to a 5-film deal with Warner’s through the 1924 success of Charley’s Aunt, then stood by as his film career ended in 1929 at the hands of his own dalliances with a young starlet at the Elstree Studios in London.
The documentary asserts, however, that Syd failed to harbor “the slightest thought of jealousy” when it came to Charlie’s success and, in fact, that working in the service of Charlie, whether it be in negotiating his contracts, organizing and salvaging his studio contents for a future archive, or filming the only color footage of Charlie at work (on The Great Dictator) may be his most important legacy.
Lisa Stein Haven