The Chaplin heritage

The future Chaplin Museum

The future Chaplin Museum, from

How long do you have to be deceased before you start generating a heritage? In Charlie Chaplin’s case, it would seem to be thirty years, pretty much to the day (he died Christmas day, 1977). Rumours of a Chaplin museum have been confirmed. The mansion at Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzlerland, where Chaplin spent the last twenty-four years of his life, is to become a museum commemorating his life – or, to be precise, a Charlie Chaplin Heritage Site. A Charlie Chaplin Museum Foundation has sold the Manoir de Ban to some Luxembourg investors. The project is costed at 30 million dollars (21 million euros).

Remarkably, there is already a Chaplin Museum website. This coldly fascinating document promises a “unique, must-see cultural attraction for those seeking a profound experience of discernment and variety”, featuring the following:

  • a MANOR, beckoning visitors to enter the very private world of Chaplin the man (“Private Encounter”);
  • OUTBUILDINGS converted into exhibit halls dedicated to the humorous and moving works of the artist and filmmaker (“From Laughter to Tears”) and to the heyday of silent movies ( “The Spectacular Beauty of Silence”);
  • the MAGIC ZONE, a tribute to the earliest forms of cinematic expression (“The Magic Labyrinth”);
  • the Charlie Chaplin MOVIE THEATER highlighting repertory films and film offerings from the emerging generation;
  • an OUTDOOR STAGE under a marquee that provides the setting for an annual line-up of pantomime and cinematic activities and festivals;
  • a SHOPPING AREA where visitors can obtain exquisite souvenirs related to the artist and his adopted domicile;
  • TRAINING activities and gatherings targeting young people worldwide that will be organized with the same attention to perfection and human elements for which Chaplin was renowned, as well as his passion for pantomime, image and film;
  • its DINING AREAS and vantage points nestled among the luxuriant garden-park and pathways that offer unparalleled views of the Swiss landscape.

A news report states that “visitors to the museum will have access to the most intimate rooms occupied by the Chaplin family, including the first floor room where he died on Christmas Day 1977”, while “in the vast vaulted cellars the museum’s designers plan to install a “Hollywood street” complete with street lamps to recreate the atmosphere of the 1920s.”

Is it too cruel to suggest that ‘heritage’ is what phenomena attain when they have lost all real popular appeal or social meaning, and that as Chaplin’s films retreat to little more than a certain archaeological fascination, so a heritage site represents the ultimate embalming of his artistic reputation? Or, just as heritage masks history, is all this corporatising of the Chaplin legend (e.g.,,, only hiding the genius of films whose time must return one day, when we have need of their real insight once again?

The museum is expected to open at the end of 2009.

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