IT’S AMAZING what you can pick up on eBay for a pittance, as Morace Park discovered to his delight recently.
For Park, an antiques dealer and inventor, has wowed the movie community by stumbling upon a previously unknown, uncatalogued film starring the silent era’s king of comedy, Charlie Chaplin.
He bought the film for £3.20, not knowing the nature of the footage but liking the look of the battered tin it was contained in. Should he sell it on, Park can expect to receive £3,000 to £40,000.
The just-shy-of-seven-minutes short, entitled “Charlie Chaplin in Zepped”, dates from 1916 and features an interesting mix of Chaplin footage and early animation. The film starts with a shot of the real-life Chaplin before transforming into an animated sequence with his cartoon counterpart wishing he could return to England from America and support the British war effort against Germany.
According to an excellent article in The Independent he is then “taken on a flight through clouds before landing on a spire in England. The sequence also features a German sausage, from which pops the Kaiser.
The article notes that during the First World War there was some concern that Chaplin did not join the war effort. In fact tried to enlist but was rejected, but the film certainly helps boost the impression of the actor as a patriot.
Aside from working as a piece of personal promotion, the film has been interpreted as a form of war propoganda by Park and John Dyer, a neighbour and, handily, former head of education for the British Board of Film Classification. They are currently in America along with film-maker Hammad Khan, who has been enlisted to shoot a documentary on the discovery, for now simply known as “The Lost Film Project”.
They have a fair few mysteries to solve along the way, with the question of how the Chaplin clips – believed to consist of outtakes and differently framed/angled shots from The Tramp, His New Profession and A Jitney Elopement – came to be compiled in a ‘new’ production.
Diplomatically, Park describes Zepped as an example of “either piracy or entrepreneurship – depending on which side of the fence you’re on.” He is referring to the iffy practice by San Fransisco film company Essanay (to which Chaplin was contracted to between 1914 – 15) of exploiting the footage they had of the star to make ‘new’ Chaplin comedies. The result was a fierce legal battle over copyright ownership and could explain why Zepped never enjoyed a wide circulation. The discovered print seems to have been classified for exhibition in Egypt, which was then a British protectorate.
Film historian and author of Chaplin: The Tramp’s Odyssey Simon Louvish told The Independent he doubted whether Chaplin would have had a hand in the film’s creation.
He said: “There are a number of these compilation films around, and in Senegal there were a number of films that had been cut together by other people using Chaplin footage. Keystone Pictures was going bust at the time and footage from these Chaplin films was freely available.
“This is less so of the Essanay films. Chaplin by 1916 was signing multimillion-dollar contracts and was very aware of the copyright on his films.
“It would be no surprise though if someone in Egypt, which was under British occupation at the time, decided to use one of the world’s most famous figures to support the war.”
In addition to the Independent article, The Guardian has also covered the find and you can find that story here.