Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 561 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 13 December 2010
Cat No: BFIVD826
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Chaplin at Keystone
A collection of 34 restored silent short films from Charlie Chaplin’s 1913-14 stint at Keystone Studios, which saw the little-known music... Read More
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.