Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Professor (2018 reconstruction by Roy Export of the unreleased 1922 Charles Chaplin film)

The Professor. Charles Chaplin as Professor Bosco, Loyal Underwood as the dosshouse proprietor.

US 1922. Roy Export "reconstruction" 2018. P+D+SC: Charles Chaplin. CIN: Roland Totheroh. C: Charles Chaplin (Professor Bosco), Edna Purviance (customer buying a mousetrap), Albert Austin (barbershop customer in Sunnyside outtakes / Dr. Francis Maud in Shoulder Arms outtakes), Loyal Underwood (dosshouse proprietor). Charlie's sons are played by True Boardman Jr., Frankie Lee, and Marion Feducha.
    25'27", no soundtrack.
    Released in YouTube by Roy Export.
    Viewed on a laptop at the summer cottage, Punkaharju, 18 July 2018

Steve Massa's alert on Facebook yesterday led me to view this new Roy Export reconstruction of The Professor, an unreleased Charles Chaplin film. I register here my first impressions having just viewed the film on YouTube where it has been legally released.

The Professor consists of the Professor Bosco sequence which we have seen in Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's Unknown Chaplin (1983) plus rejected outtakes from Shoulder Arms (1918: Charlie's family life and the recruitment bureau) and Sunnyside (1919: the barber scene also seen in Unknown Chaplin).

The Professor was compiled by Chaplin in 1922 as an alternative for First National while arguing on the terms of release for The Pilgrim (1923). The Pilgrim, a four-reeler, was Chaplin's last short film.

Pay Day (1922) was Chaplin's last released two-reeler. The Professor was his last completed two-reeler, but it was never released.

The Professor is not a masterpiece. The compilation is highly episodic but fun to watch.

We are introduced to Chaplin as a family man with three kids. They perform Chaplin's signature sharp streetcorner turn in unison like in a musical number.

At home Chaplin is immediately hit by a frying pan and a hail of heavy kitchenware. A rolling pin is the lightest item. We never see the harridan wife, but when Chaplin, who apparently has to perform all the hard work, hangs her laundry on the clothes line, we register her XXXL underwear.

It's off to work. Charlie runs a small store with a barbershop service. The barber's chair is incredibly decrepit, coming apart all the time. The customer (Albert Austin) barely manages to get seated. Charlie splashes his entire face with shaving cream and blinds him because he is also simultaneously reading the customer's magazine. Every now and then he performs splendid knife-sharpening rituals. Fire is burning in a stove in the middle of the floor.

A customer (Edna Purviance) asks for a mousetrap, and Charlie produces a huge one. The comic possibilities of Albert Austin blinded by shaving cream, a burning stove, a pretty woman, and a ferocious mousetrap are not ignored.

It's war time, and Charlie receives a letter from the army celebrating the "romantic life of a soldier".

"He sought the army to find peace".

An episode at the draft office focuses on Charlie's overdone shyness in undressing, especially when he notices the text "Francis Maud, examining physician" on the door. There are two innovative scenes in this episode. The first is based on deep focus choreography with Charlie playing hide and seek in a maze of rooms with glass partitions. He mistakes the nurses for Dr. Francis Maud who is actually a bearded male (Albert Austin).

The second is a silhouette scene seen through a bevelled glass door where the doctor examines Charlie with forceps and other formidable instruments, all of which Charlie swallows and which need to be fished back with a line. The verdict: "your feet are too flat". There is "no turning back home when he failed to qualify".

Years later he has turned to Professor Bosco with his Flea Circus. Because the "public is unappreciative of true art" he stays at a dosshouse, its proprietor played by Loyal Underwood. The misery of the dosshouse is heartbreaking. When Bosco goes to bed he accidentally kicks his Flea Circus box, and immediately everybody is scratching. With his lion tamer's whip and his formidable drill approach Bosco gets his act together and the fleas back into the box in no time. Enters a curious dog...

Chaplin is not instantly recognizable as Professor Bosco, his face puffy, his moustache thicker, his attitude commanding, yet fundamentally resigned. The most moving aspect is the change of character. The gentleman tramp has turned coarse. His spirit has been broken by hard times.

Visually the compilation is for short moments based on footage with damage marks.

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