Chaplin At Keystone: An International Collaboration of 34 Original Films
Restored Definitive Edition
DVD | Box Set
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Charles Chaplin came to Mack Sennett s Keystone Studios late in 1913 as a little-known British vaudevillian, and after a year, had not only established his Tramp character, learned to write and direct his own films, and also achieved public recognition as a star comedian. Although Keystone did not publicize its performers by name, standees of Chaplin's likeness outside theaters sufficed to attract audiences. Some of the films, especially Tillie's Punctured Romance, remained in theatrical distribution for decades. The fact that all but one of the Chaplin Keystones exist is due, of course, to the star s enormous subsequent popularity. Most of the original Keystone negatives, however, were simply printed away and the survival of all but a few of these films depends upon a very few original prints, a larger number of reissue prints, and some duped prints from later years. With the support of Association Chaplin (Paris), 35mm full aperture, early-generation materials were gathered over an eight year search on almost all the films from archives and collectors around the world, and were painstakingly pieced together and restored by the British Film Institute National Archive, the Cineteca Bologna and its laboratory L Immagine Ritrovata in Italy, and Lobster Films in Paris. Most are now clear, sharp and rock-steady, although some reveal that their source prints are well-used and a handful survives only in 16mm. While admitting these limitations, one can now understand Chaplin's meteoric rise, for it is possible for the first time in generations to see clearly what clever and imaginative films he made at Keystone. Flicker Alley is proud to present the world debut of Chaplin at Keystone, a 4-DVD boxed set. These editions feature all-new musical settings by outstanding practitioners of silent film accompaniment Eric Beheim, Neil Brand, Antonio Coppola, Frederick Hodges, Stephen Horne, Robert Israel, Rodney Sauer and The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Ethan Uslan, and Ken Winokur's band Tillie s Nightmare with the UCLA Film and Television Archive restoration of Tillie's Punctured Romance. Chaplin At Keystone also includes several fascinating special features. An extensive booklet provides an overview of the importance of the Chaplin Keystone comedies and detailed notes on the individual films by film historian and author Jeffrey Vance (Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema). Inside the Keystone Project is a short documentary detailing the international restoration efforts; historian John Bengtson takes a then and now look at several Keystone film locations in a 10 minute filmed tour based on his book Silent Traces. There is also a short excerpt from A Thief Catcher, recently-discovered by Paul E. Gierucki, with Chaplin as a Keystone Cop; along with the animated Charlie's White Elephant, and a gallery of rare photographs.
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What they have accomplished is nothing short of extraordinary,and mind opening and boggling at the same time.It is a peeling away of the washed out,fuzzy and frenetically paced prints of yesteryear.They now are slowed to a more proper speed.The prints are generally good to very good,though there are some scenes where they fall short,especially when the 16mm prints are used.And unfortunately with new inter titles inserted in re-issues the pictures tend to jump,i.e.if Chaplin goes to throw a pie,the next shot might show the receiver already on the ground.Overall though we can finally appreciate one of the world's greatest comedy film superstars,in his halcyon days and in rising mode,in all his glory.We can also appreciate the talent Sennett had on hand at Keystone in 1914,much more underrated than previously thought.Chaplin is ably backed by talented Ford Sterling and Mabel Normand,a young Edgar Kennedy and we also see another rising superstar Roscoe Arbuckle,who equals and even betters Chaplin at times.
The entire story of this DVD set's release would be a book in itself,but suffice to say it is a story that stretches from the Cineteca in Bologna,Italy,to Lobster Films in France,to the BFI in Britain and to UCLA in California.They have,for years,been painstakingly scouring worldwide film archives for these films/prints,to be able to finally present to you what you will see in these four discs.Included with these DVDs is a 39 page,copiously filled booklet with notes on the films and Chaplin,by Jeffrey Vance.The DVDs themselves come in four individual single DVD slip cases(RHI Entertainment who released the still born "Essential Laurel and Hardy",take note!)and they are all packaged in a sturdy box with a sepia toned front cover of a very young Chaplin.Very classy.I must mention the fourth disc also has some very special Chapliniana on it,including a featurette and an old Chaplin cartoon!
I won't bore you with any more detail on this set,because once you have it you will discover it all on your own anyway!All in all it is a superb must have for every one interested in "silent" film and/or Chaplin.
Just before I go I must mention the price.My U.S. readers can rejoice in the cost of their set.But my Canadian counterparts will find this a very hard pill to swallow.As of this writing,it is over 50% higher there than in the States,and that while the exchange rate is almost on par with the U.S.! Go figure.
Folks,Chaplin is awaiting your presence for a fresh rediscovery of exactly where his exceptional comedic talents would take him and why.And to think,these films are just a hair shy of 100 years old! This is a 10 out of 5 stars!
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.