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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Silent > Shorts > Animation > Chaplin At Keystone (1914/Shorts/BFI Region 2/Two/Import DVD Set)

Chaplin At Keystone (1914/Shorts/BFI Region 2/Two/PAL Import DVD Set)

Picture: C+ Sound: C+ Extras: B Shorts/Films: B+

PLEASE NOTE: These DVDs are in the Region 2/PAL format and can only be operated on machines capable of playing back Region 2/PAL discs. This DVD set can be ordered from our friends at BFI in the U.K. at the website address provided at the end of the review.

Charles Chaplin has company in the silent era of great comic actors, including Charley Chase, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, but Chaplin would be the only one to survive into the sound era and be the most well-known and successful of them all. Retaining his popularity to this day, he has been a constant subject of home video releases, but the quality has been shaky. We have even covered several sets. Now, after a huge eight year project that pulled the resources of several archives, the first highly prolific year of Chaplin's career has been restored and gathered in a strong, rich DVD collection. In 1914, Chaplin made his name at the legendary Keystone Studios and Chaplin At Keystone has arrived on DVD from BFI. It includes 34 of the original 35 films he made (plus a preview of a newly discovery short in the extras), reconstructed in their best versions since they debuted nearly 100 years ago.

The four-DVD set offers the following classics in an incredibly prolific year. In this time, he invented The Tramp, found his way quickly into being a strong presence on screen, was a year ahead of Birth Of A Nation in showing the permanent impact a director can have and was as vital to creating the comedy genre as follows:

Disc One

      Making a Living / Kid Auto Races At Venice, Cal / Mabel's Strange Predicament / Between Showers / A Film Johnnie / Tango Tangles / His Favourite Pastime / Cruel, Cruel Love / The Star Boarder / Mabel at the Wheel / Twenty Minutes of Love / Caught in a Cabaret

    Disc Two

      Caught in the Rain / A Busy Day / The Fatal Mallet / The Knockout / Mabel's Busy Day / Mabel's Married Life / Laughing Gas / The Property Man / The Face on the Barroom Floor / Recreation

    Disc Three

      The Masquerader / His New Profession / The Rounders / The New Janitor / Those Love Pangs / Dough and Dynamite / Gentlemen of Nerve / His Musical Career / His Trysting Places

    Disc Four

      Tillie's Punctured Romance (feature length, but in parts) / Getting Acquainted / His Prehistoric Past

HER FRIEND, THE BANDIT was made/released between The Fatal Mallet and The Knockout, but remains missing for now, but hopefully not forever. I have seen more than a few of these shorts before, but I am always amazed how funny they are, remain and how extremely well they hold up for their age. So good, you forget they are silent at times, Chaplin was a comic master from the start, which is more obvious when you see him in non-Tramp roles. He could be funny any way he choose and when you see these shorts, you understand why he had the worldwide impact he had.

All of the shorts were originally shot in 35mm film, but many survived in second-generation prints, damaged or incomplete prints and even 16mm and 28mm reductions. The immense work that went into saving these films is nothing short of amazing and each DVD has a final chapter with text explaining how the films were saved, reconstructed and all the great people and parties responsible. Though the quality can vary within some of the shorts, the 1.33 X 1 black and white 540i PAL image on all of them is better than any previous DVD (or old 12-inch LaserDisc for that matter) editions.

Sometimes the area of the frame changes because the films were later issued with a soundtrack, which permanently threw out a sliver of the original image on the left hand side of the frame! Some of the rougher footage may be so because of censorship issues and hardly any of these had been archived at all, not even by Chaplin's estate, known for their extensive restoration and preservation of his later films. Sometimes, the quality of the image is amazing, especially for its age and rates higher than the average rating listed, but other footage can show its wear. Once you start watching, you get so involved that it is not as problematic, but these are all High Definition transfers with extensive work just to fix them up to be this good and it is a giant step forward for silent cinema preservation. All the shorts also include music scores presented in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 192 kbps Stereo tracks. The result is you will not find better copies of these films anywhere else!

Extras include the 1916 animated short Charlie's White Elephant (6 minutes) by John Colman Terry and Hugh Shields featuring Chaplin and Keystone live-action co-star Roscoe ''Fatty'' Arbuckle, Inside The Keystone Project (2010, 10 minutes) short about the extensive international restoration efforts behind the films in this collection that took eight years, Silent Traces (2010, 12 minutes) by author and historian John Bengston on several of the Keystone locations that has to be seen to be believed, a Stills Gallery and Extracts from A Thief Catcher (1914, 7 minutes) a film recently rediscovered by Paul E Gierucki, with a cameo of Chaplin as a Keystone Cop that no one knew existed and makes it Keystone film #36 Chaplin made at the studio. Could there be more?

As always, BFI has also included a terrific booklet with illustrations, extensive credits on the participants in the restoration project, a strong essay entitled Chaplin At Keystone: The Tramp Is Born well written by Jeffrey Vance and a guide to every single short including summaries of its storylines, when it was released, who it also starred, how many reels does it run, who directed and how it was saved.

The result is a remarkable, stunning collection that sets a new high watermark of all silent shorts collections. I hope it is the beginning of many more and has few precedents (like the Charlie Chase set we reviewed elsewhere on this site). Chaplin was on his way, next stopping at the Essanay and Mutual Studios (now in Blu-ray sets of their own) before becoming a founder of the original United Artists. Silent films are some of the greatest films ever made and when you see them looking this good, you'll understand why.

To order, go to the following link:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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