The Unknown Chaplin

A three-part documentary based on unseen footage from Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin ordered all of his outtakes burned but some did survive. This gives us a glimpse of how he constructed a story. He relied on inspiration and rarely had anything planned out in advance and that lead to classic scenes.

He would rearrange sets and actors and if a good mistake happened he would act on it and stretch it out. This was a good way to waste thousands of dollars worth of film but it also made him a comedy genius. Chaplin said he would build sets without an idea in his head but would be inspired.

Below is an outtake he never used in his feature “City Lights” which It would have been interesting if he would have kept it in. He takes the simplest prop…a piece of wood and works a scene around it in a grate.

The documentary was in three parts.

My Happiest Years – This part is mostly on his early Mutual shorts years in 1916-1917

The Great Director – Actresses and Actors talk about working on Chaplin’s films.

Hidden Treasures – A look at a variety of informal, private or salvaged pieces of film by or relating to Chaplin, including home movie footage, visitors to his studios, and several sequences that were edited out of his final films.

Like the Buster Keaton biography A Hard Act To Follow this was produced by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. It’s worth chasing these down or click on this link in youtube. 

 

 

Buster Keaton: A Hard Act To Follow

This is a three-part documentary made in 1987. It is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen…not just about Buster but anyone.  Each part is almost an hour long. Kevin Brownlow and David Gill wrote and directed this mini-series. This documentary is interesting for fans and non-fans alike. I have watched it multiple times and showed it to friends to didn’t have much interest in silent movies and they ended up liking it.

Brownlow also worked on “Hollywood” (a 13 part history of the silent era that later I’ll review), The Unknown Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius.

This is in my top 5 of documentaries to recommend to people…I just wish it was easier to get. I had to order it from Europe to get a DVD copy of this.  You can watch all of them on Youtube...below

Buster Keaton was not only a great comedian but a great filmmaker. Some of his special effects in Sherlock Jr and other movies stand up today. I always thought that while Chaplin had the best comedy character…Keaton was the better filmmaker.

Part One (From Vaudeville to Movies)

Covers his vaudeville childhood with his parents. Because of child labor laws, his parents would claim that Buster was an adult actor. They would dress Buster to look old. This part goes through Vaudeville and up until Buster meets Roscoe Arbuckle and starts his career in movies.

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Part Two (Star Without a Studio):

Part Two sums up his great silent movies. He did not work in the studio system…Buster had free reign with his movies in most of the 1920s working for Independent film executive Joe Schenck. Part two shows some of the best scenes from his silent movies until he had to join a studio (MGM) that along with his drinking helped ruin his career.

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Part Three (Genius Recognized):

This part is the downfall and the comeback. Buster worked through the early thirties in some successful talkies but soon by the end of the 30s he was working as a gag writer. He was soon largely forgotten until he appeared in “Sunset Boulevard”, commercials and TV. Buster was in a movie with Chaplin called Limelight in 1952. He began to be praised by historians, critics, and fans alike before he passed away in 1966.

 

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There is a new Buster documentary out called ‘The Great Buster: A Celebration’ by Peter Bogdanovich that I have yet to see. I plan to track it down soon. Either way, this one will be hard to beat.

 

Below is Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow…the complete series.

 

 

 

On Any Sunday

Great documentary about motorcycle racing of all kinds.

I’ve love documentaries but I wasn’t sure this one would interest me…but it did. I’m not a motorcycle guy and I only rode some when I was a teenager but this 1971 documentary kept me watching. I would recommend this to anyone young or old. The longer I watched the more I got hooked.

Steve McQueen is in this film and he helped finance it because he believed in it so much. It was made by Bruce Brown, the same filmmaker that made “Endless Summer” an excellent documentary about Surfing. Again I’m not a surfer by any means but it was also very interesting.

This film follows about every kind of motorbike competition you can think of…  it centers on off-road competition rather than road riding.

While Steve McQueen was the draw and provided a lot of the backing to the film the two main motorcyclists they follow are today leaders in their field. The two were Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith.

Mert was one of the early pioneers in the off-road bicycling world, having introduced the first production mountain bike. He also developed prosthetic limbs for amputees.

Malcolm owns a dealership and runs Malcolm Smith Racing, a producer of off-road rider equipment. Smith was inducted into the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1996 and the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.

I gained a lot of respect for these men who gave their lives to this sport they loved. They traveled around the country with broken vehicles, raced with broken arms and backs to do something they loved without much pay.

This documentary helped change the image of motorcyclists. There was a “sequel” to this documentary called On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter in 2014.

After watching it I wanted a motorcycle really bad…but I let the thought pass by.

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll 1987

This documentary starts off in 1986 with Chuck Berry reminiscing about the Cosmopolitan Club where he played in the earlier days.

The film is centered around Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday and Keith Richards assembling an All-Star Band to support Chuck in concert. Chuck had been touring since the 60s by traveling town to town and playing with any pickup band he found…all he brought was his guitar. He would get paid with cash in a paper bag in many places. That was his motivation more than playing with a good band. Chuck could be very sloppy playing live.

Chuck could also be difficult, to say the least. Keith was determined that Chuck was going to be backed by a great band for this concert… Chuck was Keith’s idol but Chuck seemed to want to give Keith as much trouble as possible. Richards says in the documentary that Chuck was the only man that hit him that he didn’t hit back. During the rehearsals for the song “Carol”, you can feel the tension in the air between the two.

Seeing Keith’s reaction to Chuck at times is worth the price of admission and I’m glad Keith was persistent and patient and got this done. It’s great footage of Chuck playing his classics.

The concert at the Fox Theatre ended up a success. Chuck sounded great and so did the band.

During the documentary, there are some great comments by Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Dixon and more.

Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Chuck have a very interesting conversation about how hard it was to get played on the radio because of being African American in the 50s. They also talk about payola and Alan Freed.

The band was incredible… Keith Richards, Robert Cray, the great Johnnie Johnson (Chuck’s original piano player), Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Chuck Leavell and Eric Clapton guests on a few songs.

Some of the artists that came on and sang were Etta James, Linda Ronstadt, and Julian Lennon.

Chuck was a complicated man but he was a poet as well. I can’t recommend this documentary enough. If you are a music fan you should like it. Chuck Berry may have influenced Rock and Roll more than anyone else…

My favorite story is from Bruce Springsteen. Bruce and the E Street Band volunteered to back up Chuck Berry for a show in the early seventies. Being Chuck’s temporarily pickup band must have been nerve-wracking for musicians. Chuck didn’t tell them what songs he was playing or what key…this is Bruce’s quote “About five minutes before the show was timed to start, the back door opens and he comes in. He’s by himself. He’s got a guitar case, and that was it,” Springsteen said. “[I said] ‘Chuck, what songs are we going to do?’ He says, ‘Well, we’re going to do some Chuck Berry songs.’ That was all he said!”

Below is the video…not extremely clear but watchable.

 

The “Compleat” Beatles 1982

This is what Beatle fans had until the Anthology came out in 1995 and turned a new generation onto the Beatles. I wore out the recorded VHS copy my cousin gave me. It is a two hour documentary of the Beatles. It was narrated by actor Malcolm McDowell (Clockwork Orange) and was well done. I remember watching this and “The Kids Are Alright” in the 80s. It was nice seeing the footage that was not as available as today.

I do remember some small frustrating parts of it. I think it was  “Hey Jude” about to begin (David Frost Show) and whoever cut the film placed a George Martin voice over during some of the performance. Remember this was a time when you couldn’t just go on youtube and see performances. Overall it was very well made. I still have a copy of it somewhere. Paul McCartney bought out the negative rights to the film in the 1990s to clear the way for Anthology and below is that story from Wikipedia.

The Compleat Beatles was initially released as a PBS documentary in the United States, and then on VHS, Betamax, CED and Laserdisc that same year on the MGM/UA Home Video label. The 1982 Laserdisc was released in both Analogue and Stereo versions, as well as being released in Japan and England (in PAL format) in 1983.[3]

The film did very well, and in 1984 Delilah Films and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer arranged for it to be released theatrically in the U.S. by a small distributor named Teleculture. This contributed to its continuing to be a best seller on VHS. Some years later, when Paul McCartney was preparing The Beatles Anthology, he bought the negative and all the rights to the film from Delilah to get it off of the market and clear the way for his production. That, according to the film’s director Patrick Montgomery, is why it is not available on DVD or any newer formats and “probably never will be.”

If you find a copy somewhere buy it…it is worth it. Even if you already have Anthology. The Beatles Anthology is far superior but it does make a good companion piece.

This is from Rolling Stone magazine. It went over the other documentaries of the band. They make a good case for The Compleat Beatles. The link to the page is:

Again nothing has compared to the Anthology but The Compleat Beatles was very well done.

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/the-compleat-beatles-10-takeaways-from-great-overlooked-fab-four-doc-121193/

But one Beatles doc you might not know – and its cause has not been helped by not having an authorized DVD release yet – is 1982’s The Compleat Beatles, written by David Silver, directed by Patrick Montgomery, and narrated by Malcolm McDowell, chief droog from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Clocking in at two hours – and titled in the spirit of The Compleat Angler, England’s definitive book on fishing, from 1653 – The Compleat Beatles tells the band’s entire story, from pre-fame days, with checkpoints at each album, right up through the breakup. It’s brimming with keen musical analysis, and a coterie of voices you normally don’t get with a Beatles documentary.

For a long time, in the VHS era, it was a staple of high-school music teachers, starting 35 years ago in the summer and fall of ’82. If you were lucky enough to have had the TV set wheeled in by a Beatles-mad instructor, you know this is a special film.

Here are 10 reasons to check out this overlooked masterwork of the Beatles’ cinematic canon.

1. Writer David Silver had a pitch-perfect understanding of the Beatles’ career arc – and importance in their time and beyond.
“Poets of a generation, heroes of an era,” The Compleat Beatles begins, with Malcolm McDowell reciting Silver’s lines with Shakespearean gravity. This is to be a proper assessment of a band that was so much more than a rock & roll collective, something we’re made to feel immediately. “Like all poets and heroes, they reflected the spirt of their times.” The early sequences in the film present footage of a bygone Liverpool, which looks pretty grim, as if nothing mercurial could emerge from this seaport. When the opening chords of the Beatles’ cover of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” kick in, the film itself seems to pop with possibility, as if infused with Beatle-esque spirit. There was nothing the band couldn’t do, and now there will be nothing this movie can’t do.

2. Gerry Marsden was an ace witness to what the Beatles were doing.
The leader of Gerry and the Pacemakers, perpetual Liverpudlian also-rans, Gerry Marsden was always broad-spirited when it came to talking about the band that so outpaced his own, but you don’t get to hear him very much on film. Here he explains how the Liverpool acts were able to transform skiffle into something far grittier from what he terms the “ackky dacky” sounds of Lonnie Donegan. First he whips out a guitar to show how Donegan would play “Jambalaya,” before remarking “we’d get the record and we’d rock it up a little bit,” entering forth into a cool little demonstration. It’s a great primer for how the Northern bands were able to develop their own sound from what was a reductive, chipper genre in skiffle.

3. Early manager Allan Williams was quite the character.
Williams liked his tall tales, and the Beatles basically screwed the guy over after he hooked them up with Hamburg and they jumped ship for Brian Epstein, but Williams clearly loved reminiscing about his relationship with the band, which would continue on for a while still. (And resurface later when the legality of the Hamburg Star Club tapes was in dispute.) He describes a letter from Howie Casey of Derry and the Seniors begging him not to send “that bum group the Beatles” over to Hamburg, for fear that this would mess up everyone else’s good thing. Williams then goes on to (accurately) describe the style of then-drummer Pete Best as not very clever. Hardly a feeling-sparer, which is probably why the likes of John Lennon liked him – at least for a while.

4. George Harrison’s mom deserves serious props. The Compleat Beatles does an excellent job of synthesizing how the Beatles came together in their pre-fame years (complete with an image of John Lennon’s report card decrying his “insolence”), with a clear, concise chronology, and valuable insight directed towards the subject of George Harrison and his mother. Most Beatles studies focus, in terms of maternal subjects, on Lennon and his mother, Julia, and Paul McCartney and his late mother, Mary, but Mrs. Harrison knew a thing or two about rocking out. “To his classmates, George Harrison was the boy whose father drove the bus they all rode to school,” McDowell states. “His mother sat up with him night after night as he taught himself how to play Buddy Holly songs,” with his inclusion in the Quarrymen assured because “his mother could tolerate their noisy rehearsals.” Way to go, Mrs. H.

5. Reeperbahn mainstay Horst Fascher was one badass MF.
The Compleat Beatlesmakes commendable use of the underrated Star Club material to soundtrack several scenes, and it’s a delight when self-professed Beatles protector Horst Fascher turns up on camera. He made sure that they didn’t get in too much distress on their first Reeperbahn forays, or, as he puts it in the film, “If you are in trouble with some girls who are prostitutes, and you don’t know the girls are prostitutes, and the pimps find out, you can get in a lot of trouble,” which made Horst the guy to seek out to cure your ills and keep your ass intact, given that he was a former boxer who had been booted from competition for killing a sailor in a street fight. Ah, Hamburg.

6. The Litherland Town Hall show from December 27th, 1960, was the watershed gig of the Beatles’ career.The film also features a number of segments with Bill Harry, a friend of the band who was instrumental in spreading the good word about them in Liverpool – even before they deserved it – with his Mersey Beatmagazine, which documented the comings and goings of life on the local beat scene. Harry gives the backstory for the gig that would change the Beatles’ career. “They came back from Hamburg still as an unknown band,” Harry remembers, but he promoted they hell out of them, “because they were close friends of mine.” This got a promoter to book them at Litherland Town Hall, shortly following Christmas in 1960. Allan Williams was there, too. “The moment the Beatles struck up and did their stomping, every kid froze, and then they ran to the stage and started screaming.” That would be the gist of a lot of what was to follow.

7. According to George Martin, “Yesterday” was the crucial pivot point for the band’s sonic development.
Martin is eloquent throughout The Compleat Beatles: erudite, dapper, utterly sure of himself, being interviewed in a recording studio by his console, with no Beatles intruding with misremembered bits of info, something that dogged the Anthology. It’s just Martin, holding a master class in what it was like from his end to work with these guys. “They always wanted to have new ideas and sounds coming through. I found that they were almost more inquisitive than I was. In fact, in the end, it kind of exhausted me. Sometimes they knew what they wanted to do, but more often than not, they didn’t,” coming across like Yoda both frustrated and blown away by the gifts of Luke Skywalker. Regarding “Yesterday”: “It isn’t really a Beatles song,” Martin remembers saying to McCartney, then goes through how he made his pitch for the Beatles to forsake their standard drum-bass-guitar attack, which would become, through various methods, the mode of the future.

8. The doc features the coolest, trippiest, most cost-effective visual evocation of “Tomorrow Never Knows” ever filmed.
McDowell’s narration intones that “Two of John’s songs ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ were the results of his recent experiments with drugs” – fair enough – as a quick tour of Revolver begins, but what follows is brilliant: Using only the cover of the album, director Montgomery, through a series of sweeps, pans and fast dissolves, gives us something of a visual acid trip, as “Tomorrow Never Knows” blasts from the soundtrack. Once you see the effect, it’s hard to disgorge it from your mind each time going forward that you hear that mindblower of a track.

9. The band’s final world tour was pure terror, and no film better evokes it.With a collage of on-the-street interviews, footage from Beatles record burnings and people getting hurt at shows as frantic MCs plead for calm, The Compleat Beatlesprovides a strong sense of why touring had to stop for the band. As the footage unfurls, there’s a low droning figure in the soundtrack, sort of like the protracted hum of the final chord on the Sgt. Pepperalbum stretched out for several minutes. We also get a self-righteous cop in Minneapolis who goes on at some length about how much he hates the Beatles: “As far as Beatle music, I could care about it not one bit personally … one of their group, with the British accent, told us they would never come back to Minneapolis, and I told him that would be too soon for me.”

 10. In Martin’s view, the Beatles were fated to become huge. George Martin has a lot of key lines regarding his four upstarts and their career. At one point he states, “Without Brian Epstein, the Beatles wouldn’t have existed,” by which he means that success would not have come to them and they would not be the galvanic entity we all know. But Martin is in downright Socratic mode, though, when he ventures towards a larger explanation for that success. “I think that the great thing about the Beatles was that they were of their time, their timing was right. They didn’t choose it – someone chose it for them. But the timing was right, and they left their mark in history because of it.”

Ronnie Lane: The Passing Show

I didn’t know much about Ronnie Lane when I watched this documentary. It covers his childhood through his tragic death and the period after he left the Faces. He was loved by his peers and a talented musician and songwriter.

Ronnie’s mom had Multiple Sclerosis and Ronnie was in denial about himself until he was diagnosed with it. I didn’t know about the documentary until I ran across it on youtube.

I would recommend this to any music fan.

Ronnie Lane was a Britsh songwriter and bass player. He started with the Small Faces as the bass player and he and Steve Marriott wrote most of bands songs. The Small Faces never toured America so they never really broke out big. They did have 11 top twenty hits in the UK but only one in America with Itchycoo Park charting at #16.

Steve Mariott left the Small Faces in 1968 and Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood joined Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, and Ian McLagan to start The Faces. The Faces released four albums between 1970-1973… First Step, Long Player, A Nod is as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse and Ooh La La. They were one of the top grossing touring bands.

After Rod Stewart’s solo career took off his interest in the band began to wane and in 1973 Ronnie Lane quit. After Ronnie left the Faces, they made no more studio albums.

Ronnie started his own folk-country band named “Slim Chance” and released a surprise hit single “Come On” in 1973 and it went to #11 in the UK. Ronnie had a unique idea of touring. His tour was called “The Passing Show” which toured the countryside with a circus tent and included a ringmaster and clowns.

In 1976 he owed a record company an album and he was in financial trouble. He asked Pete Townshend to help him record an album. The album was called “Rough Mix” and it was a very strong album with great reviews but the record company didn’t promote it and the sales were not great.

During the recording of “Rough Mix” Lane diagnosed with was Multiple Sclerosis. He still toured with Eric Clapton and others afterward and released an album in 1979 called “See Me.”

In 1983 Ronnie called some of his musician friends to do some charity concerts for the Research for Multiple Sclerosis. They were known as the ARMS (Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis) Charity Concerts. Musicians such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and more came out to support Ronnie.

Ronnie Lane died of Pneumonia while in the final stages of Multiple Sclerosis in 1997

How Come

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The Kids Are Alright 1979

Besides the Beatles Anthology, this is my favorite rockumentary for the lack of a better word. Jeff Stein the director did a great job on this film about The Who.

Jeff was a fan of the band and pestered them until they let him do this. He had no prior experience in filmmaking but this was the 1970s and he got the gig. His timing was eerily perfect. He caught the original band at the very end of their tenure with the great Keith Moon.

He searched high and low for clips of the band in earlier years. Stein keeps the appearance mostly in order. There is sadness in this. You see the band through the years from 1964 to 1978… you see all of them gradually age of course but Keith Moon ages faster than any of them. I’ve read where it hit him hard while watching the rough cut right before he died. His drinking and drug taking had taken its toll on him. He saw a young energetic kid that looked like Paul McCartney’s younger brother to a man who was 32 and looked like he was in his 40s.

This may be the first or one of the first video bios on a major rock group. Led Zeppelin had The Song Remains the Same but it focused on one concert in New York… The Beatles had Let It Be but those films didn’t show their history like The Kids Are Alright.

It this film you see a band that is fun… unlike Zeppelin the Who were more open to their audience and didn’t have a dark mystique hanging over them. They would crack jokes from the stage and Moon treated it like a High School talent show until he started to play…then he got serious.

You see film segments that were fun like the video of Happy Jack, the interview on the Russell Harty show, Keith with Ringo, and Keith and Pete sharing a joke that only they could understand. One of my favorite segments is The Who playing Barbara Ann with Keith singing and the band having a good time. They also played I Saw Her Standing There but it didn’t make the film…you can watch it in the outtakes. I can’t imagine Zeppelin doing Barbara Ann and goofing for the camera.

The Who did a couple of live shows for the film besides being interviewed. Stein mostly used old clips but he convinced the band to do a couple of concerts where he could get a definitive version of Won’t Get Fooled Again… which personally I think is the greatest rock song live you will ever hear. You see Keith’s last performance as he is looking pudgy, older, and slower but still pulls it off. Pete wasn’t too thrilled about doing the concerts for the film but it turned out good. They ended up only using a version Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley.

Keith died a few months before The Kids Are Alright debuted. The film showed The Who at it’s best. Kenney Jones from the Faces replaced him but it was never the same. You cannot replace Moon…he was the engine that drove the Who. The only drummer that has worked well with the Who since Keith has been Keith’s Godson Zak Starkey…Ringo’s son.

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I acquired a VHS copy of this in the mid-eighties. It wasn’t a great copy but my friends and I wore it out. One of them worked at a small cable station. The station was in a small county that usually aired farm reports and advertisements. Basically, it was a very small building in the middle of nowhere. All they would do there is broadcast videos.

We had the tape in hand and wanted to see it so we went there one afternoon. He popped it in the VHS player and played it. He had no idea but it was going out live. Near the end of the film, he took a phone call from his boss. I didn’t think anyone ever watched that station…but it turns out they did and they were not fans of The Who. He didn’t get fired but they took his key for the door. It was a big subject the next day at school as some teenagers loved it but their parents didn’t appreciate their videos on farming being interrupted by My Generation and Keith Moon in bondage.

This film covers the original Who and being such a Who fan I’m glad Jeff Stein was so persistent in doing this because many of the tapes he was able to borrow probably would have been erased and used again by the BBC as was their policy.