A Few Words About A few words about... The Chaplin Mutual Comedies

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Robert Harris, Jul 17, 2006.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    With classics arriving almost daily from the vaults, many for the first time, I'm thrilled to see an old friend upgraded with quality, elegance and style requisite to the subject.

    Image Entertainment is releasing an upgraded four disc set of the Chaplin Mutual Comedies produced between 1916 and 1917.

    This 90th Annivesary Edition is inclusive of all twelve Mutuals, upgraded and all from the highest quality surviving 35mm nitrates, which make any other DVDs on this subject look like the poor dupes that they are.

    David Shepard, who in many ways stands as the American Kevin Brownlow, has taken a very important point from the Brownlow bags of tricks. New musical scores for all of the films are now by Carl Davis, and each fit their subject to perfection.

    Along with the dozen two-reelers, the set also includes Richard Patterson's The Gentleman Tramp, a 75 minute documentary, as well as Kevin MacDonald's 52 minute Chaplin's Goliath, an important documentary concerning Eric Campbell, the heavy in many of the Chaplin films.

    The importance of this release, which easily subsumes all that has come before it, is certainly one of the most important classic releases of the summer, and should find an easy place on many Ten Best lists of the classic titles of 2006.

    Extremely Highly Recommended.

    RAH
     
  2. Sammy-G

    Sammy-G Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for the review, and I second your recommendation. It's a fabulous package - this coming from a quadruple-dipper where the Mutuals are concerned. I'm so glad I made the purchase. I haven't watched all of the shorts yet, but there's a good deal of extra footage from One A.M., almost ten minutes, that was completely new to me - almost worth the price of admission alone. I've read there are some added bits to The Rink, too, so I'm looking forward to seeing that. The Carl Davis music has so far exceeded even my high expectations, and The Gentleman Tramp is a very worthy addition. There were a few tidbits in there that were new to me, and I thought I'd seen it all. Even the packaging is lovely.
     
  3. JohnPM

    JohnPM Second Unit

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    I looked at "The Rink", and yes, it's a major improvement over what has gone before. The older prints on this subject were often splicy, and that really disrupted Chaplin's skating scenes. This one is smoother than I've ever seen it. Some of the shots are new to me as well. The whole subject plays better as a result. Any Chaplin admirer would be well advised to grab these, no matter how many times you've bought them previously.

    http://greenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com/
     
  4. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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  5. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

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    This welcome release, while closer to the definitive edition, still falls a bit short, as I suspected it would. There are still bits missing from this latest Mutuals set that exist in the hands of collectors, some of whom post regularly on the Chaplin newsgroup, and who have said they would lend the use of their materials to a restoration effort. For instance, the last shot of THE RINK is still missing; tight closeups of Eric Campbell being gassed by the streetlamp in EASY STREET are still missing; many shots (including extra shipboard vomiting footage) are still missing from THE IMMIGRANT, etc. etc. etc. A more minor nitpick is that the opening credits and intertitles still haven't properly been restored to the original Mutual style; they're still a hodgepodge of the titles created by David Shepard for the old Blackhawk releases many years ago (with the Indian image now cropped out, of course) mixed with those replaced in different styles by various distributors over the decades. Since Shepard and Co. uniformly restored the credits and intertitles of the Essanays to the original style, I can't understand why they wouldn't do the same for the Mutuals, which deserve at least that much respect, being some of Chaplin's best-loved and most popular films (and they're my personal favorites of his work).

    But, at least the missing shot of the note has been restored to THE FLOORWALKER, some missing intertitles and shots have been restored to THE RINK (alas, not ALL of them), and we now have an apparently complete print of ONE A.M., which is a cause for celebration in itself. Also, the print quality is a considerable leap beyond earlier versions, and the new Carl Davis scores fit the films much better than the Michael Mortilla scores from the previous Image release (sorry, Mike). But you know, occasionally overdone cartoony sound effects notwithstanding, I still vastly prefer the old Van Beuren scores from the '30s reissues, compiled/synchronized by Winston Sharples and played by Gene Rodemich and his extremely talented band. And for that reason I'll always hold on to my old Republic laserdisc versions.
     
  6. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    I picked it up for the new Davis scores alone, and was frankly suprised at the improved image quality. The new versions are more shades of gray, whereas the previous release was high contrasty, stark black and white. I think the previous release may even have been a PAL transfer, as the image looks a bit stretched to me compared to the new set. it also had those annoying interlaced scan lines whenever anything moved rapidly. Also, the aspect ratios vary on the films in the new set, with some more "window-boxed than others.

    Davis' scores borrow some of his best silent-movie themes from programs he has scored, such as Unknown Chaplin and the Hollywood series. For Easy Street, when the destitute Charlie hears Edna playing the organ during the church service, Davis plays a nice rendition of "Nearer My God to Thee", and at the close, gives us "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", which makes for a sweet ending to a charming short.

    Another cool thing is that the films are (finally) presented in chronological order. The growth from the early films to the late ones is much more apparent in that sort of presentation. Only thing: it makes the second disc way better (IMO) than the first. This is a triple dip for me, from the laserdisc set to the single Image DVDs to this excellent package.

    There are even two versions of The Gentleman Tramp. I had an old VHS version of it, and that version is the first one on disc three. However, they include another version with footage of Mathau travelling to Chaplin's home, etc. i have not watched this version yet, but it is interesting that a hitherto unreleased documentary gets released in 2 versions in this set. haven't watched the Campbell doc yet, but I always wanted to know more about him, so it's all good.

    Definitely a must-have, which I have not finished watching yet. I will probably hang onto my old set though. There were a few themes on those older scores that I really enjoyed (particularly the "chase" theme in The Adventurer.
     
  7. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I forgot that this just came out!

    The previous editions were just not suitable for DVD... too much video noise and inappropriate scores. I'll be getting this not only for the new remasters and more complete prints, but for Carl Davis. His music for silent films is always appropriate and breathtaking.

    While it's hardly a complaint, it would have been nice if the Essanay DVDs were re-issued as a 3-disc set so it's not necessary to buy them individually or as part of the old Mutual/Essanay box set.
     
  8. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    You guys are killing me!!

    I really didn't need to find another release to double-dip on and had convinced myself that this set wasn't needed. Now, you have me thinking again. Actually, this would be a partial triple dip for me, as I had the Volume One before the Essanay/Mutual box was released.

    Are all four discs in full DVD cases? This seems like a great use for the slimline cases, and might also push me over the fence. I'm running out of shelf space.
     
  9. Jack Theakston

    Jack Theakston Supporting Actor

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    Don't be deterred by this minutiae-- this edition is the best we're going to get for long time.
     
  10. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    The set is is one plastic box, a bit thicker than a standard DVD case, with an outer cardboard sleeve. Inside, the outer discs are fitted onto the walls of the box, and the inner discs are on both sides of one of those flapper thingmies. There is a booklet by Jeffrey Vance that provides background and critiques of the films, and a booklet on how The Gentleman Tramp came to be made. These booklets fit in the front of the box, and obscure the first disc, which is fitted to the wall. I may change this and put one of the documentaries there and keep the Mutual discs on the flapper.

    More Carl Davis goodness: I watched The Pawnshop last night, and during the scene where Charlie dissects Albert Austin's alarm clock, Davis uses Haydn's "Clock" symphony to underscore it. Not only clever, but the tempo of the music fits the rather deliberate tempo of the scene.
     
  11. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp
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    I should get this any day from my online order, Great to hear it's as good as it seemed to be when I pre-ordered it!

    I too would love the Essany titels released with the same class as I never got the other releases.

    What other Chaplin would be left?
     
  12. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I've noted comments in this thread that tell me that some don't seem to understand the history of these films, and what this release is all about.

    There are several different cuts. There were A and B negatives, and as shots were damaged in printing, they were replaced with repair shots from the outtakes, so there are really several versions of each. There may have been some Pathescope one-reel versions assembled from completely alternate takes.

    A decision was made to stay with good 35mm elements. Mr. Shepard did once conflate a Chaplin film using all the available material (A NIGHT OUT, in the Essanay set) and it did not turn out well. It was clearly longer and much more repetitive than it was ever supposed to be.

    It must be kept in mind that during the early era, there were no high quality dupes available, and virtually everything was printed from original negatives... multiples of them.

    My comfort level with any decisions made for this release by Mr. Shepard is absolute.

    RAH
     
  13. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

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    I agree, it's probably the best we're going to get for a long time, and it's a must-buy for fans, but don't let notations and laments of missing Mutuals footage be so casually dismissed as mere minutiae...if nobody cared about this stuff, the films wouldn't be as complete as they are. They'd still be missing even more footage and most of the intertitles, like the original cuts of the Van Beuren reissues. Wouldn't that be nice? I fail to see how the striving for completeness of some of Chaplin's finest creations can be anything but a good thing. Your apathy regarding this puzzles me, Jack, as does that of all who say likewise. These films are extremely important and well-loved, and they deserve to be as complete as possible and to have their credits and intertitles properly and uniformly restored. And before the usual snottiness of "well, if you don't like 'em, go ahead and release your own versions" occurs, let me say that I would have hoped that the people who are doing it anyway might as well get it right while they're at it. It would be far from difficult to recreate the proper Mutual titles like they did for the Essanays and the Keaton shorts. A friend of mine did it on his computer, for chrissakes. Why the Essanays and not the Mutuals? Perhaps David Shepard just can't bear to let his personally designed credits go.
     
  14. Jack Theakston

    Jack Theakston Supporting Actor

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    While I agree the Mutuals can and should be restored to their original, Chaplinesque glory, there is something to be said for restorative morals behind this, too.

    I'm not making a big deal that several shots are missing for the same reasons that Harris isn't. Considering all of the various re-issues of these films over the years, and more importantly, the number of negatives created to supply these re-issues, is there any doubt that some of these missing shots are out-takes or extra footage and were not OKed by Chaplin in the firs place? Would it be nice for those shots to be there for completionist's sake? Sure. However, does it warrent a jump in quality and even in some cases, continuity, to have every last frame out there included? Not really.

    How are we to know what Chaplin wanted? I think Mr. Shepard took the "safe" route that any film restorationist should by working and sticking with original materials as much as possible. He himself will admit that this set isn't perfection (he was also limited by the Carl Davis scores having been already recorded by the time he was restoring these films), but for those who want to see fairly accurate representations of these films with excellent orchestral scores and supplements as far as the eye can see, this latest edition is too good to be brought into "question" by others as to whether or not it's a buy!

    But don't feel discouraged, Jeff-- if you hadn't stunk about a few things missing and their sources, some shots included in THIS edition wouldn't be there. I'm just drawing the line for the casual viewer who is concerned with quality, and the scholar, who is concerned with seeing it all.
     
  15. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    For the record, several of these films are based upon the original 35mm nitrate negatives. While the transfers are undoubtedly from fine grain masters as a safety precaution, the Onegs have been sheparded (no pun intended) by DS for a number of years, and survive because of his efforts.

    RAH
     
  16. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

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    Well, I'd like to think that my repeated postings of the missing Mutuals bits list had something to do with it, but I'll never know. [​IMG]
     
  17. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    It is indeed a very nice set. My review at dOc:

    http://www.digitallyobsessed.com/sho...w.php3?ID=8780

    The ending of THE FLOORWALKER seems awfully abrupt; is there some footage missing from this?

    Frankly, there's already too much seasickness foolishness in THE IMMIGRANT, so I can't say I'm terribly eager to have more added back in.

    Unfortunately, despite Shepard's best efforts, some of the original nitrate materials that these were taken from originally have since decomposed, so this may be as good as many of these films will ever look.
     
  18. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

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    I try to hold out hope that better material on some segments will turn up someday...but at least, overall, they look pretty damn good considering the hell they've been through. And thank god they exist. Imagine hearing about twelve of the best films of the great Charlie Chaplin's career, which were all lost in a vault fire in the '60s. Yikes!
     
  19. ScottR

    ScottR Cinematographer

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    Jeff Nelson,
    Thanks for pointing out the omissions! I love coming to this forum and discovering things I didn't know about films.
     
  20. Geoff-R-L

    Geoff-R-L Auditioning

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    I happen to have a VHS tape of a Van Beuren print of "The Pawnshop" that has extra footage. I'm assuming that the David Sheppard 35mm prints are Van Beurens (originally) as well. The extra footage is the very first shot in the film. It has the pawnshop owner pacing in front of the counter, rather than behind it (two shots later). This footage is brief and almost looks as if it is truncated on my version. I've always noticed a jump in the Van Beuren music where the credits end and the opening scene (Edna with the pie and kitten) starts. The version I have still jumps, but a few extra notes of music are present. This would lead me to believe that at one point, the Van Beuren version of the film had this scene fully intact.
     

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