Lost Chaplin film bought for $5 off eBay

"Zepped" film canisterThe seller didn’t know it was a lost Chaplin film, of course. He just had an old can of nitrate film to sell, and inventor and antique collector Morace Park bought it for £3.20 ($5.68) because he liked the look of it.

It is a pretty awesome canister. It’s from 1916 — the same year the film was produced — and still has the remains of a couple of labels.

It was Mr. Park’s friend John Dwyer, a former member of the British Board of Film Classification, who discovered Charlie Chaplin inside the canister.

The unearthed film, called Charlie Chaplin in Zepped, features footage of Zeppelins flying over England during the First World War, as well as some very early stop-motion animation, and unknown outtakes of Chaplin films from three Essanay pictures including The Tramp. These have all been cut together into a six-minute movie that Mr Park describes as “in support of the British First World War effort”. It begins with a logo from Keystone studios, which first signed Chaplin, and there follows a certification from the Egyptian censors dating the projection as being in December 1916. There are outtakes, longer shots and new angles from the films The Tramp, His New Profession and A Jitney Elopement.

Chaplin himself was not involved in the production of this short. He determinedly refused to get involved in the war effort and he got a fair amount of grief for it at the time. This movie is almost like the studios’ and the British Empire’s dream propaganda Chaplin.

Film of Charlie Chaplin in ZeppedIn the movie, Chaplin wishes he could leave the US, return to England and fight the Germans. A fantasy animation sequence follows which sees him magically transported to England where he single-handedly brings a Zeppelin down in flames and makes good his escape.

Park and Dwyer are working on a documentary about the film now. They borrowed a bunch of money from friends and relatives and filmed themselves visiting locations associated with Chaplin, Zeppelins, Essenay and Keystone studios. They’re hoping to reconstruct the making of Zepped as well as covering Charlie Chaplin himselfand his early career.


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Comment by jonathan
2009-11-13 09:58:12

Not to be too cynical but I am guessing the $5 canister and the money spent on this documentary is in the ultimate goal of making a lot more by exploiting the new footage. Not that there is anything wrong with that but at least they shouldn’t tell us this is an altruistic venture.

Just a thought.


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Comment by livius drusus
2009-11-13 10:09:33

Who said it was an altruistic venture? I didn’t read that implication in the article.

Mind you, documentaries rarely make a lot of money, so the investors are certainly risking that they’ll never see their £120,000 again, but I’m sure they hope to get their money back plus some profit.

I also don’t think it’s exploitative to make a film about the find. It’s unique, historical, features one of the most famous actors of all time, and covers all kinds of interesting WWI-era political ground. I’m looking forward to seeing their research pay off.

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