An interview with David Robison
by Ramin S. Khanjani
David Robinson is one of the most famous British film critics and historians, who has been writing for various British newspapers and film magazines including Sight and Sound and Monthly Film Bulletin for about 40 years. Perhaps best known for his comprehensive official biography of Chaplin, Chaplin: His Life and Art, he has also written several books on other famous silent stars including Keaton, Greta Garbo and Méliès. Full of energy and never losing his enthusiasm for cinema, he spends most of his time in various festivals throughout the world. At the moment, he is director of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto and its central figure. The following interview took place in October 2007 during this festival and David patiently replied all my questions despite he was very busy. Later, he checked and revised the text of the interview and I should deeply appreciate his cooperation.
Film International: First of all, would you please tell me how you became fascinated with cinema and how and when did you decide to pursue cinema as a career; as a writer and historian?
David Robinson: I'm afraid nothing in my life was planned and everything happened accidentally. I was first taken to see a film when I was 3 years old. It was Paramount's Alice in Wonderland and it made a great impression on me. And at least one of its stars, W. C. Fields, has remained to this day one of my favorite people on the screen. My father had seen the first Charlie Chaplin film when he was a young boy in the provinces. The films were then so new that the boys did not even know Chaplin’s name and simply called him “Dummy”. They would tell one another, “Hey – there’s a new Dummy film at the cinema this week. My father was totally bewitched by Chaplin, so as soon as I was able to go to the cinema, I was taken to see every available Chaplin film. At this time, my mother took me to the cinema every week. I remember my grandmother saying, “Well, that's not a very suitable film for a child!” But I grew up loving the cinema.
Then as I grew up and took a more analytical view of things, I realized that what most fascinated me was popular art – the kind of art which reaches the greatest number of people and speaks to the greatest number of people and which, of course, means the cinema and above all comedy, which speaks most directly to the audience. My interest, however, is not just in cinema but in all popular arts, whether vaudeville, music, or any kind of show that attracts the large mass of people.
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