Chaplin at Keystone DVD
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Directed by Charlie Chaplin, Mack Sennett
Produced in 1914
Main Language - Silent with English subtitles
Countries & Regions - American film
Charlie Chaplin took a gamble when he went to Hollywood but he soon became its biggest star. James Oliver marvels at this collection of his early films which confirm his growing brilliance.
Charlie Chaplin took a gamble when he went to Hollywood. After all, he’d built a useful reputation in the music halls and could look forward to a long career on the stage. Moving pictures offered an uncertain future. Was it really worth the risk? But Chaplin took the plunge: the rest is history.
This painstakingly reconstructed and restored 4 DVD set containing 34 films does more than show his movie apprenticeship: it demonstrates exactly why Chaplin achieved such rapid, overwhelming fame. Put bluntly, it was because he was better than everyone else on screen. From his very first appearance in Making a Living, his clowning is more sophisticated, more inventive and just plain funnier than other Keystone players. Mack Sennett’s movies were lowest-common denominator slapstick but Chaplin plays even the crudest gag with a compelling grace.
It wasn’t until Chaplin started to direct that talent blossomed into genius. The change in quality is both dramatic and near instant. The Property Man was his third film as director and his first masterpiece. The familiar Keystone chaos is there, but it results from a tightly controlled story rather than casual violence.
This is Chaplin evolving. Although the Tramp character makes his appearance early (in Kid Auto Races at Venice), Chaplin hadn’t settled on him as his only role: he plays toffs and drunkards too. Even the Tramp is not quite the figure he would later become. He’s a rougher figure, an agent of chaos rather than a loveable rogue.
Chaplin was also experimenting with form, moving away from eruptions of anarchy to more sophisticated formats, such as the comedy of errors of His Trysting Places. He’d make better films, but there’s authentic joy here, a young man exploding with ideas and seeing what he could do.
By the end of the period documented here, Chaplin was on his way to becoming the most famous man in the world. That is another story. Let’s hope it will be told in another set as good as this one.
James Oliver on 26th November 2010
Author of 147 reviews
This stunning collection of the 34 surviving Chaplin Keystone films is the result of an 8 year international restoration project to restore Chaplin's earliest films to as near to their original release versions as possible.
After being seen in Fred Karno’s touring vaudeville troupe, Charlie Chaplin joined Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company in late 1913. After a few initial uneasy steps, his rise was meteoric – making 35 films in a single year, directing more than half of them.
Reconstructed from the best surviving 35mm fragments from all over the world, the Chaplin Keystone films are a revelation, showing how Chaplin learned to apply his talent to film, how he developed the much loved 'Tramp' character and why he shot to stardom. A host of extras include the recent rediscovery of Chaplin's very first appearance on film in A Thief Catcher (1914).
This project is a partnership between the BFI National Archive, Cineteca Bologna/ L’Immagine Ritrovata and Lobster Films, with the cooperation of UCLA Film and Television Archive, Library of Congress, and the support of Association Chaplin. The films in this collection are presented with new musical accompaniments by international musicians including BFI Southbank regulars Neil Brand and Stephen Horne.
Length: 561 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Cat No: BFIVD826
Format: DVD B&W
- 4 discs
- All 34 surviving Keystone films newly transferred to High-Definition from original film elements
- 58-page illustrated booklet written by the American film historian Jeffrey Vance which includes the essay 'Chaplin at Keystone: The Tramp is Born' and notes on every film
- A Thief Catcher (1914, 7 mins, extracts): a film recently rediscovered by Paul E Gierucki, with Chaplin as a Keystone Cop
- Charlie's White Elephant (1916, 6 mins): an animation by John Colman Terry and Hugh Shields featuring Chaplin
- Inside the Keystone Project (2010, 10 mins): a short documentary about international restoration efforts behind the films
- Silent Traces (2010, 12 mins): historian John Bengston on several of the Keystone locations
- Stills gallery.