[box cover]

City Lights: The Chaplin Collection

MK2 / Warner Home Video

Starring Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Harry Myers, Hank Mann

Written by Charles Chaplin, Albert Austin, Harry Crocker

Directed by Charles Chaplin

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Review by Mark Bourne                    

Right off the bat, we can count five reasons why City Lights is one of the Great Movies and the summit of Mount Chaplin:

The MK2/Warner Home Video Chaplin Collection DVD

How's the picture and sound quality?

Disc One of this two-disc release presents City Lights (1:22:36) in a pleasing but not jawdropping restoration. Even when we allow for some expected "softness," neither the source master nor its clean-up quite reach the exquisite quality of MK2's The Gold Rush, Modern Times, or The Kid. The black-and-white imagery is smooth, well-defined, and displays nicely balanced grayscale. But the print still bears a few minor hairline scratches and lacks the gloss of MK2's best restorations. All the same, this welcome new edition of City Lights holds its own alongside the superb work on view throughout The Chaplin Collection.

For this release, Chaplin's soundtrack, cleaned and fresh like new, comes in two Dolby Digital remastered options — the original monaural (DD 2.0) and a new 5.1 remix. Each offers a track that's full-bodied, clear, and free of hiss or wear. The 5.1 option is only nominally 5.1, keeping itself center-front with the satellite speakers only lightly widening the sound without directional gimmicks.

Subtitles are in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean.

Disc Two: Special features

Introduction (5:24) — Biographer David Robinson (Chaplin: His Life and Art) gives a fine bird's-eye overview of City Lights' lengthy production history (two years, eight months), on Chaplin's decision to keep the Tramp silent while the rest of Hollywood was leaping into the sound revolution, and the film's triumphant critical acclaim. Chaplin loved to be associated with the world-class smart set, so there he is at the L.A. premiere with Albert Einstein and the London opening with George Bernard Shaw.

Chaplin Today - City Lights (26:45) — Covering this "story of love and hope between two lost souls" is a documentary by Serge Bromberg (The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection, The Lost World). It isn't deep but it is lively and refrains from the forced analysis that blunts several of its counterparts in The Chaplin Collection. This time we get animator Peter Lord, who with Nick Park gave us Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run. During his enthusiastic breakdown of City Lights' "one gem after another," Lord points to Chaplin as both an ideal animated figure and a master animator in full control of his art.

Outtake (7:06) — Chaplin deleted this exquisite scene because it didn't contribute to the structure of City Lights. On its own, however, it's a fine record of Chaplin's ability to mine humor from the simplest of opportunities, as the Tramp tries with single-minded determination to dislodge a piece of wood from a street grate. The window-dresser is played by Harry Crocker, who became a loyal assistant to Chaplin after playing the tightrope walker in The Circus. Crocker also shares screenwriting credit for City Lights.


Trailers (8:23) — The U.S., French, and German reissue trailers

Photo Gallery — Six silent video slide-shows deliver production photos categorized by topic: Statue and Elephant, Flowers, Cane in the grating, Miscellaneous, The singing Chaplin, and Italia 1954 (City Lights promotion in Italy with sidewalk sandwich-board ads and a statue of the Tramp).

Film Posters — A click-through collection of 26 posters for City Lights from various countries spanning the 1930s - 70s.

The Chaplin Collection (10:42) — This video montage presents scenes from all the films in The Chaplin Collection. It's a nice touch that they're arranged in chronological order of their original theatrical runs.

About The Chaplin Collection

In 2001, the rights to many of Chaplin's films became available. Several companies vied to license them. The Chaplin estate chose the Parisian company MK2, which holds the rights to the films for 12 years.

With distribution through Warner Home Video, in 2003 MK2 began releasing The Chaplin Collection, two boxed sets containing definitive, authorized editions of Chaplin's feature-length films. Each film receives an exhaustive, features-rich DVD presentation. All have been digitally restored and remastered from Chaplin estate vault elements. Volume 1 of The Chaplin Collection includes The Gold Rush, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, and Limelight. Volume 2 brings us City Lights, The Kid, The Circus, A King in New York / A Woman of Paris, Monsieur Verdoux, and The Chaplin Revue. Plus, exclusive to the Volume 2 boxed set is Richard Schickel's acclaimed documentary tribute, Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, a highlight of 2003's Cannes Film Festival.

These discs feature, among their many extras, never-before-seen footage, behind-the-scenes glimpses, exclusive family home movie footage, and specially made documentaries in which Chaplin biographer David Robinson as well as world-famous film-makers discuss the films and their personal, professional, or cultural impact.

Starting in the 1940s, Chaplin went back to several of his earlier films and tinkered with them, snipping bits here, changing footage there, and adding his own musical scores for reissue prints. Under the authority of the Chaplin estate, MK2's The Chaplin Collection delivers the films in their final state, "as Chaplin intended."

—Mark Bourne

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