The ‘little big man’ in the black tuxedo, Charlie Chaplin, with his trademark wobbling gait, iconic moustache, bowler hat and cane, reminded his audiences to laugh through the dark times. Chaplin’s World, in Switzerland, is an ideal tribute to the legendary comedian. By Kalpana Sunder
In a little nondescript cemetery at Corsier Sur Vevey, Switzerland, one of the greatest stars of Hollywood lies in a shaded grave secured by concrete. Next to his plot is the grave of his wife, Oona. The gravestones are marked with the couple’s names and dates and the only adornments are a few purple flowers. It’s a very low profile end for a man who rose to meteoric heights and spent a lifetime in the limelight.
I am at Chaplin’s World, a multi-million-dollar museum devoted to the life and times of this comic legend—a dream project which took 15 years in the making. It has three main areas:
- The Studio, a building inspired by Hollywood that presents his cinematographic work.
- His former home, the Manoir de Ban, which retraces his domestic life.
- A four-hectare lawn dotted with hundred-year-old trees. The beloved comedian made his home here with his wife Oona and their eight children, on a hill overlooking the shores of Lake Geneva.
What to Expect:
- The visit starts with a Charlie Chaplin movie—The Great Dictator—followed by and a montage of images tracing Chaplin’s life and work.
After the film ends, the screen lifts and you find yourself walking into the personal life of Charlie Chaplin, through his streets and film sets and
multi-media displays, where the wax models
(made by Grevin) are very realistic.
- A Walk through Easy Street: Lined with gas lamps and fruit stalls, this street imagines his childhood in London. Here, a replica of the south London bedroom that Charlie shared with his mother and brother have also been recreated.
- An Editing Room: This is where visitors get an idea of how the unforgettable videos were edited, and synchronized with the music in an era of silent movies. Spools of films on shelves add to the ambiance.
- The sets of The Circus: A scene from the movie has been set up where you can discover Laurel and Hardy.
- The Hollywood Boulevard: More recreated movie sets send you on a dramatic journey through time. The barbershop in The Great Dictator, the replicated restaurant in The Immigrant, the Klondike Cabin in The Gold Rush, all in interactive exhibits. You can sit beside the blind girl in ‘City Lights’, or have a haircut by Charlie from ‘The Great Dictator’ or imagine the experience of entering a production set and feeling the atmosphere of a film set under the projectors. In the Klondike Cabin, the actor crouches beneath a table, while visitors can step on the floor to make the shack teeter, just as it did in a blizzard, in this 1925 comedy. The Modern Times set features cogs and wheels, near a lifelike wax model of Paulette Goddard, who co-starred in the 1936 classic.
- A narrow room resembling a Swiss bank vault featuring iconic objects: The bowler hat and cane from his Little Tramp persona, and the ripped trousers and patched shoes he wore in The Kid are on display here.
“Our intention is to show that he was much more than a clown. He made movies which were commentaries about life and society. He was a crazy genius who would shoot reams of film and then edit it. He shot 145 kms of film for The Great Dictator out of which he used 3,500 metres!” says French historian Yves Durand.
- At the Manor: A life-like Charlie reaching out to say ‘Welcome’ with a black and white photograph of Oona on the wall behind him. The walls are dotted with family photographs from the family’s private collection: Charlie as a doting father on picnics with his kids, birthday parties and Saturday barbeques, holding hands with Oona. His study lined with bookshelves with calf bound tomes, and great views of the snow fringed mountains and lake, is where he wrote his autobiography and film scripts. Here I get a glimpse of the man behind the façade of the actor:
A man who was a disciplinarian with his kids, who insisted that the family met for dinner every evening. Though it was Charlie who was the film maker, it was Oona who was responsible for making all the heartwarming family movies. We see one where Charlie is clowning around with his kids
under fruit trees and miming funny scenes.
Out in the garden, beside the giant sequoia and cypress trees, I ask Yves Durand if his project is a success. “Well, the children who have been here just love the place and were laughing all the time. I guess that speaks about the place. And Chaplin’s children and grandchildren said that they were reminded of all the great times they had here with Chaplin… So that means our project has touched hearts,” he says. I cannot but agree with him.
- The corners of Vevey: This is where the actor used to wander about the market, catch a movie at the Rex Theatre or walk along the lakeside with Oona. Visit the chocolate store called Laderach, where master craftsman Blaise Poyet, pays a tribute to the master with the chocolate shoes that only he is licensed to make in the world! Made with caramel for his romantic nature, dark chocolate denoting his strong character, and pine nut for his revolutionary style. I am awed by the giant frescoes of the actor from the movies ‘Modern Times” and “The Gold Rush” displayed on the 40-metre-high Gilament towers in Vevey, by French painter Franck Bouroullec in 2010. I pose for a photograph with my arms around the actor: his statue overlooking the lake with his signature hat and cane…it’s a great souvenir to carry back from a trip along with the chocolate shoes, and my memories of Chaplin’s World.
[box]STAY HERE: Modern Times is a tribute to Charlie Chaplin with posters of his films, and black and white photographs of the actor around the hotel. In your room, just above your bed is an image of Charlie walking into the sunset with Oona.[/box]