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CHAPLIN'S RESTORED KEYSTONES ARE LIKE PULLING AWAY THE VEIL,
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This review is from: Chaplin At Keystone: An International Collaboration of 34 Original Films (DVD)
It's always been my belief that Charlie Chaplin's Keystone comedies rank alongside his best work as clever and funny films in their own right, and now with this fabulously restored boxed set from Flicker Alley, that belief has been amply confirmed.
For decades these films have had significance in the minds of historians only because Chaplin created his tramp character at Keystone, this despite the fact that he made 36 movies while at the studio in 1914 - a considerable output. For the most part though, the Keystones have been unfairly dismissed as unimportant and primitive in their knockabout comedic style. This opinion has been fostered largely because the films, which were hugely popular in their day, have been available in very poor quality prints with improperly sped up projection and inappropriate musical accompaniment. This kind of careless presentation through the years gave a wrong impression and hid the true merits that the Keystone films contain. Roughly 95% of the material in this new collection has been pieced together from 35mm nitrate sources so that we can now better appreciate the importance of the films and view them as they were intended to be seen.
Chaplin's tramp is already the familiar "little fellow" in these films, and he displays a knack for mischief - like the early Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny - which he gradually discarded in his later work but in retrospect is very refreshing to see. The pathos Chaplin became so famous for may not be as evident in the Keystones, but everything else - the costume and make-up, the body language, the facial expressions, the waddling walk - is all there right from the start. This period laid the groundwork for what followed, and we can see many of the comedy situations in the Keystones that figured into Chaplin's later films for Essanay and Mutual. On the other hand, some of the things Chaplin does in the Keystones are sans the tramp character, being carry overs from his days in the London music halls which makes these films special in that sense alone. The fact that they were largely shot outdoors in local streets and parks also makes them a fascinating historical record of the Los Angeles area in the early 20th century.
Finally the time has arrived for us to re-assess the value of Charlie Chaplin's formative first year in films and this superlative DVD set from Flicker Alley has thankfully made this possible.