Wednesday, May 7, 2014
THE FREAK: CHAPLIN'S UNFINISHED FILM
Charlie Chaplin is one of my favorite film makers of all time. He was a cinamatic pioneer in the 1910s, and he was a film making genius in the 1920s and 1930s. After he was forced to leave the United States in the 1952, his films changed too. They were darker and more bitter. His final movie, A Countess From Hong Kong (1967) was a box office and critical disappointment. However, it was not supposed to be his last movie. He planned a movie to be made called The Freak.
In 1969, Charlie Chaplin appeared in a special effects department of European film studio, and he was proposing to launch the film career of his youngest daughter 18 year old Victoria Chaplin. He was writing a script based upon the discovery of a young girl in a remote region of the Andes mountains who had been freakishly born with wings. The department at Shepperton had been chosen to create the huge range of effects the film would rely upon.
In 1969 Charlie was already into his 80’s but nevertheless hugely enthusiastic about directing his final film project and launching his youngest daughter’s film career. Unfortunately that enthusiasm was not shared by his wife Oona. She had begun to realise that all the technical matters and other complexities associated with the film would be far too taxing for the eighty year old who, in any event, was no longer in robust good health. On that basis it seems she insisted the project was terminated.
Not much else is known about the proposed film, but this what we do know: The Freak was an unfinished dramatic comedy from Charles Chaplin. The story revolved around a young South American girl who unexpectedly sprouts a pair of wings. She is kidnapped and taken to London, where her captors cash in by passing her off as an angel. Later she escapes, only to be arrested because of her appearance. She is further dehumanized by standing trial to determine if she is human at all.
Chaplin began work in and around 1969 with his daughter Victoria in mind for the lead role. However, Victoria's abrupt marriage and his advanced age proved roadblocks and the film was never made. Chaplin's memoir, My Life in Pictures (1974), describes The Freak as a work still in progress. He also mentioned his intent to make it in an interview on his 85th birthday in 1974. "I mean to make it someday", Chaplin writes in a caption alongside a photograph of Victoria in winged costume published in My Life in Pictures. No footage from the film is known to exist, though brief color footage of Victoria in wings can be seen in Charlie Chaplin - Les années suisses (2003).
The script is currently locked away in Switzerland, and Chaplin estate has instructions that it will never be read. It is such a shame. It could have been one last masterpiece from the great Charlie Chaplin...