Chaplin’s life and work come together nicely in Swiss project
Imagine moving along the cogs of giant machinery like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, or tumbling down a cabin teetering on the edge of a cliff as he did in Gold Rush.
An ambitious, immersive museum showcasing the life and works of the groundbreaking filmmaker that opened in Switzerland on Sunday, is now making it possible.
Chaplin’s World, 15 years in the planning, premiered in the picturesque village of Corsier-sur-Vevey on Lake Geneva one day after what would have been the British screen legend’s 127th birthday.
“He wanted people to remember him. That’s why he did the films and he did it in such a perfectionist way,” says Chaplin’s 62-year-old son, Eugene. “I think he would be pleased.”
The museum is set on the vast estate ofManoir de Ban, about 26 kilometers from Lausanne, where Chaplin spent the last 25 years of his life until his death in 1977, aged 88.
He had moved to Switzerland after being barred from the United States in the 1950s over suspicion that he had communist sympathies, at the height of paranoia about Soviet infiltration.
On the Swiss Riviera overlooking the lake with a view of the Alps in the distance, the large manor where Chaplin lived with his wife, Oona, and their eight children forms half of the museum, retracing the filmmaker’s private life.
Chaplin’s 70-year-old son, Michael, recalls what it was like living in the mansion, with around a dozen helpers.
“It was like Downton Abbey, on a reduced level. For a child it was wonderful,” he says, recalling all the great hiding places.
A separate building has been built nearby as a large mock-up of aHollywood studio dedicated to Chaplin’s on-screen work that began around 1914.
Visitors can also catch a glimpse of the artist’s humble beginnings in London and his spectacular rise to become one of the biggest, most influential movie legends inHollywood history.
With clips from his iconic films flickering from a multitude of screens, visitors can walk down Easy Street, visit the barber shop from The Great Dictator and the restaurant where he ate his shoe in The Immigrant.
“What really touched me is how they managed to make his films come alive again by inserting clips into decors,” Michael Chaplin says, recalling how his father “was always in movement, and that part of the museum is in total movement, which is beautiful”.
Chaplin’sWorld is also dotted with more than 30 wax figures created by the Grevin wax museum in Paris.
The lifelike figures portray Chaplin as different characters, his wife, other actors and actresses from his films, friends and people who mattered to him like Albert Einstein, as well as artists inspired by his work like Michael Jackson andWoody Allen.
“We worked very hard to make a museum that would be as true as possible,” curator Yves Durand says.
“We are there to tell a story about a real life that was Charlie Chaplin’s life, and about a fictional life that was his work.”
In a narrow room resembling a Swiss bank vault, one can find some of the iconic objects associated with Chaplin’s work, including his bowler hat and cane of his Little Tramp persona, and the ripped trousers and patched shoes he wore in The Kid.
The museum project has faced numerous stumbling blocks over more than 15 years of drawn-out negotiations.
It took seven years to get a building permit, and before that organizers had to wait five years to settle a lawsuit brought by a neighbor worried about the implications of the project.
Eugene Chaplin admits the transformation of Manoir de Ban, where he was born in 1953 and lived until 2008, was difficult and says he had stayed away while the work was being done.
“I didn’t want to see the bulldozers digging into the grass. It’s a lot of memories,” he says.
But he is thrilled with the final result.
“This is the perfect place to show my father’s films, to remember his work and his life, in a place where he was so happy.”