I complained in this previous post that the Broadway show Chaplin: The Musical — like most biopics — did a poor job of probing its hero's genius and artistry. There were many bad reviews that echoed this sentiment.
You might conclude from the musical, for example, that Chaplin's migration from studio to studio was just money grubbing, when in fact a lot of it had to do with his need for more production time for each film. Indeed, Chaplin shot as much footage for his two-reeler The Immigrant as D.W. Griffith did for his 3+ hour epic, Intolerance.
If you're wondering what he did with all that hard-earned production time, then clearly you haven't seen the revelatory 1983 documentary, Unknown Chaplin: The Master at Work, put together by film historians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. Brownlow's many significant contributions to silent film history include the book, The Parade's Gone By... (1968) and several other documentaries, notably Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (1987) and Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (1989).
Using rare archival footage from the Chaplin estate, this documentary takes you behind the scenes as Chaplin does take after take trying to get a comic moment just right. He would often just stop production for hours or days until he came up with a better idea. He was five to six months into production on The Kid and still had no storyline. City Lights was three years in the making. The man was a perfectionist.
Here's one of my favorite bits:
The DVD has almost three hours of this kind of fascinating (and inspirational) stuff. Definitely check it out! (Yes, available to buy from Amazon or to rent from Netflix.)