Music recorded and played by the Orchestra Città Aperta conducted by Timothy Brock
Original version with subtitles
January 1919: Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks hire three private detectives to gather information about a supposedly imminent merger of all the major distributors in the country, a multi-million-dollar monopoly that would notably reduce the power of individual directors and stars. A file preserved in the Chaplin archives reveals that the investigators set up base in the Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles, where negotiations between producers and exhibitors were taking place; “Zucker [sic], S. Goldwyn, A.B. Schulberg and Tally” are among those taking part. Just before the agreement is about to be reached, Chaplin, Fairbanks and Pickford turn up at the Alexandria with D.W. Griffith and Bill Hart and call a press conference where they announce the future creation of United Artists. While this (highly novelesque) episode may have sped up the process, Chaplin nonetheless had to wait another four years before he could get out of his contract with First National and taste the kind of creative independence he had long desired. “I could not wait to achieve this goal. Every day I was filled with new ideas for a feature film.” When Chaplin was finally free, in 1923, he defied all expectations and made a melodrama. Without the Little Tramp. The public was so bewildered that the cinemas were forced to put up a notice to this effect in the box-office.
Created specifically for Edna Purviance, A Woman of Paris was inspired by the relationship between Peggy Hopkins Joyce, a dancer with the Ziegfeld Follies and well-known gold-digger, and the rich Parisian editor Henri Letellier (Menjou’s name in the first draft of the story), over which a young man who was in love with her took his own life. However, the film is anything but a morality play; it digs into and transcends the moral conventions and bourgeois respectability which Chaplin had already targeted in his comedies. It was praised by the critics for its sophisticated psychological analysis, “worthy of Ibsen or Maupassant”, and for the “Cartesian scepticism” which elevated its author to the status of “philosopher of human nature”. One hundred years after its release, it remains a Chaplin film ripe for rediscovery.
The score for A Woman of Paris
When preparations for the rerelease of A Woman of Paris were being made in 1976, Chaplin’s health was in full decline. He had had a stroke and only with great effort had he managed to complete with the assistance of Eric James – the scores for the reissues of The Circus, The Kid, Sunnyside, Pay Day, The Idle Class, and A Day’s Pleasure: 226 minutes of fully orchestrated scores in only 6 years at an advanced age.
The 1977 score suffers primarily from the lack of material. One can only speculate that James used what little Chaplin was giving him at the age of 87 and tried to stretch the material as much as possible. James also drew from available unused compositions by Chaplin, originally written for comedies, which were most likely difficult to convert to dramatic situations. The assistance given in the orchestration by Eric Rogers – perhaps not as familiar with the Chaplin technique and style – might have been another contributing factor to a not altogether successful score, which made A Woman of Paris – Chaplin’s only melodrama – even harder to exhibit.
A few years ago, the Association Chaplin in Paris had miraculously recovered a series of over 19 hours of home and studio recordings. Dating back as early as 1951, these recordings are of Chaplin composing music on the piano; he subsequently gave them to his musical associates to transcribe but curiously, almost none of these recordings exist on paper. A large portion of it, though not all, is the music he was composing for Limelight, and the creative energy and vitality in his music are the same that come through in his films.
So, I carefully proceeded to create a new score for A Woman of Paris, by using both the 1951 recordings recently discovered, and reconfiguring some of the existing themes from the 1977 score, but more in the manner of previous Chaplin treatments of his own material. This experiment, I earnestly hope, will prove a worthy companion to A Woman of Paris which has for so long gone without proper musical support.
None of this would have been possible without the Orchestra Città Aperta, not only for offering to record this music, but also for saving the master recording from one of the most terrible earthquakes Italy has suffered in recent years.
Cast and Credits
Sog., Scen., M.: Charles Chaplin. F.: Roland Totheroh. Scgf.: Arthur Stibolt. Int.: Edna Purviance (Marie St. Clair), Adolphe Menjou (Pierre Revel), Carl Miller (Jean), Lydia Knott (madre di Jean), Charles French (padre di Jean), Clarence Geldert (Paulette), Betty Morrissey (Fifi), Henry Bergman (capo cameriere), Harry Northrup (gagà), Nellie Bly Baker (massaggiatrice), Charles Chaplin (facchino). Prod.: Regent Film Company. DCP. Bn.
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