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The spark for this book came out of an experience a friend of mine, Jim Politano, recounted to me a few years ago.
He'd signed up for a film class at Scottsdale Community College, Intro to Cinema under Ed Everroad. The textbook was Flashback: A Brief History of Film in a custom edition for S.C.C. that had a still from The Gold Rush on the cover. The student in front of Jim turned around, pointed to the book and asked, 'Who is this dude on the cover?'
While a few of the thirty or so students had heard of Charlie Chaplin, nobody except Jim apparently knew who he was. That shocked Jim and it shocked me when he told me about it. It didn't just shock me because Chaplin was an important filmmaker, it shocked me more because the Little Tramp, the character he played in most of his films, had been the most recognisable image in the entire world, the equivalent of perhaps the golden arches of McDonalds or Mickey Mouse's ears today. To go from that to being unrecognisable by college students in a film class is a truly scary tumble from fame.
A few years later, at the tail end of 2013, I realised that the coming February would mark the centennial of Chaplin's screen debut in the Keystone comedy, Making a Living. Surely the time was ripe for me to bring at least a little attention back to the man who had changed the worlds of comedy and American film. So I planned to revisit each of the 36 films that he made at Keystone in 1914 and review them each a hundred years to the day after their original release dates. This approach would allow me to see his growth over that year by watching him grow as audiences in 1914 watched him grow.
The final piece in the puzzle was a DVD box set from Flicker Alley called Chaplin at Keystone, which presented 34½ of these films in remastered editions. Having seen many of these films before on washed out videos or DVDs, watching them like this was a revelation. I could see things I'd never been able to see before and that cemented my approach as the right one to take.
Incidentally, there are only 34½ films in that box set instead of 36, because Her Friend the Bandit is a lost film and A Thief Catcher had only just been rediscovered. It's the half of a film in Chaplin at Keystone and would debut fully in a later box set by Flicker Alley.
I thoroughly enjoyed this project and found it a fascinating experience. Hopefully I can transfer some of that fascination across to anyone who reads this book, whether standalone or as an accompaniment to a viewing of Chaplin at Keystone.
Here's a complete list of chapters which details the films included:
With the spark of this project in the change of one man from worldwide icon to unrecognised actor over a century, I knew I wanted a front cover that was abstracted down to the simplest elements.
After a strange incident with a missing cover artist, I found Adele Hentz of Mad Hatters Design at Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest in 2015 and felt that her artistic simplifications of modern movie icons like Marvel superheroes into highly recognisable blocks of colour would lend themselves to this cover magnificently.
With my previous artist, I'd already looked into the idea of styling the cover as a playing card, as they've been iconic images for centuries, and, purely by coincidence, Adele had an image in this style on her table, based around the DC character, Harley Quinn.
So I asked her to create something in that vein that focused on Charlie Chaplin, with the Keystone logo as framing, avoiding colour to reflect that the book covered films from 1914 which were all in black and white. I was amazed by her image, which needed only minor tweaks, mostly to the text, to meet my idea of what should advertise the book.
She was quick, efficient and thoroughly professional. I'd recommend her highly.
I wrote this book in OpenOffice running on Linux because I like free software (free as in both beer and speech), so naturally I laid out this book in OpenOffice too [note: I've since switched to LibreOffice but the same applies].
I found that I didn't know as much as I thought I did on that front, so had to google a few things. Many thanks to Alexandra Rowland, a fantasy author who doesn't know me from Adam but who wrote a thoroughly informative blog entry on the subject, Formatting POD Novels with OpenOffice in Linux. She taught me a lot and saved me a lot of time.
It's typeset in Gentium, which is a open source font, released under the SIL Open Font License, which means that it can be used, modified and redistributed for free.
Current copyright law in the US tells me that I should be able to profit from my work until 75 years after I've been buried. I don't buy into that because copyright was always intended to benefit the public (not creators) by ensuring a constant flow of work into the public domain where the public could do whatever they liked with it. It's how Disney got famous! To ensure that creators kept creating, it also gave them a temporary monopoly on their work, which was originally 14 years. If I couldn't make money off a book in 14 years, then let the public have their turn.
I toyed with the idea of copyrighting my books for 14 years and then releasing them into the public domain, but quickly realised I'd never remember to do that. Instead, I chose to license my books through Creative Commons, using the CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 copyleft license. That means that you are legally allowed to copy and distribute them, with my blessing, as long as you:
So please download a PDF of Huh? An A-Z of Why Classic American Films Were Made from the link below, read it and share it with others so that it can reach as wide an audience as possible. Remember, piracy is not the enemy; obscurity is the enemy!
Of course, I don't get paid anything from a free download so, if you enjoy the book, please consider buying a print copy to show your appreciation and help me pay my bills. If you don't have room for dead tree products, then please consider buying a print copy for a friend or donate one to a library instead. Either way, I get paid and someone gets to read a good book.
New copies are available for $15.99 at Amazon.com. If you're in the UK, the book is £11.99 at Amazon.co.uk. It's also available from the various other Amazon sites.
Signed copies are available from the Dog Eared Pages used bookstore in Phoenix. Trust me, it would not be a hardship for me to travel to a great used bookstore to replenish my stock!
Even if you only read the free PDF, please consider writing a review of it on Amazon.com. Reviews are like gold at Amazon, who will promote books which have obtained enough of them. Getting fifty reviews at Amazon would be like a Christmas present to me.
Of course, the same goes for other independent authors too. If you review their books at Amazon as well as mine, you can help to make it Christmas every month in indie world and we'll love you all the more!
Charlie Chaplin Centennial: Keystone is my third book and the second volume in my Filmographies series that focuses on covering entire filmographies or at least subsets of them. Other technical details are:
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