Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Modern Times

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Nov 11, 2010.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Modern Times (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Charlie Chaplin

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 
    1936
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 87 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: PCM 1.0 English
    Subtitles: SDH

    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 39.95


    Release Date: November 16, 2010

    Review Date:  November 11, 2010

     

     

    The Film

    5/5

     

    It must have taken a combination of colossal ego and unabashed faith in his audience’s loyalty for Charles Chaplin to release yet another silent film almost a decade after the talkie revolution had taken over Hollywood. He had risked it once before with City Lights in 1931, but that was relatively early in the talkie onslaught when sound equipment was still rather primitive, and he had emerged not only with a masterpiece on his hands but a big hit, too. Modern Times turned out to be a brilliant comedy, and it was the second highest grossing film of 1936, but its excessive cost ($1.5 million) meant the profits from its domestic release were minimal (though it was a huge international hit for him). It would prove to be Chaplin’s grand good-bye to the silent era, especially when, at long last, we hear his lovable little tramp’s voice for the first time near the film’s conclusion. The tramp may have been singing gibberish in his showstopping cabaret turn, but his meaning was clear enough. His time with us had come to an end.

     

    A little fellow (Charlie Chaplin) has a nervous breakdown doing his part on a nightmarish assembly line with constant pressure to deliver with minimal breaks. When he’s released from the hospital, a series of unfortunate events prevent him from either landing or holding a job. During his travails, he meets a street urchin (Paulette Goddard) who’s a victim equally of the harshness of the depression and a broken home. When she finally lands a job dancing in a cabaret, she arranges for her friend to wait tables and perform as a singer. He has no experience doing either job, but he’s always willing to give it a good, honest try.

     

    Unlike his brilliant storytelling and star turn in City Lights, Chaplin’s story in Modern Times is really a collection of extended comic sequences only barely connected with a gossamer thread of a plot. One sequence often has little to do with the scenes before or after, but each is so brilliantly constructed and performed that it never matters. They’re utterly hilarious in their execution, and when a section like the assembly line factory sequence that begins the picture is so inspired that one thinks it won’t be matched, along comes the scenes with him as a department store night watchman patrolling his watch on roller skates or the return to the factory as an assistant to silent comic Chester Conklin that are just as fall down funny as the earlier moments. The prison sequence introduces Charlie to cocaine, and its effects on him, so simple and yet so side-splitting, are what kept Chaplin at the peak of popularity long after silent comedy miming had been replaced with the mostly verbal jesting of comedians like W. C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. Chaplin gently comments on the depression’s debilitating effects on morale, and the lock-step assembly lines of the factories have that eerie Metropolis vibe about them that’s satirically unsettling. But the main order of the day isn’t political stances or satirical swipes at the bureaucracy but pure, unadulterated fun, and Chaplin and his fellow clowns deliver in style.

     

    W.C. Fields called Chaplin a “ballet dancer,” not a sneer at him but his own sad realization that Charlie’s litheness and agility would forever make his physical comedy second to none, and it’s on full display in Modern Times. His instincts are as sharp as ever, and it’s just a pleasure to watch him work no matter how many times one has seen the movie. Paulette Goddard is fetching and fresh as the gamin, but a lovely face and figure are mostly all that she’s required to furnish for the movie. She always plays straight (wo)man to Chaplin’s clown, and when the pair walk off together into the distance, it’s comforting to know the sad little fellow has a companion who gives him unblinking support. It’s always wonderful to see Chaplin stalwart Henry Bergman in a small role (as the restaurant’s owner), and Chester Conklin gets some nice physical bits as Charlie’s mechanic superior. Dick Alexander’s physical presence gives Chaplin a physical opposite to play against in the prison sequences, while Myra McKinney is memorable as the minister’s prim wife whose stomach gurglings along with Charlie’s makes for a hysterical use of sound for the filmmaker.

     

     

    Video Quality

    5/5

     

    The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. It’s a beautiful, pristine image that Criterion has delivered for the film with scratches and dust specks a thing of the past. Grayscale renderings deliver such exquisite black and white images that one will be impressed with the richness of the blacks and the bright but nonblooming whites. I’ve never seen the film have this much dimensionality and detail, and one glimpse at clips in the bonus features taken from older sources show what a tremendous step forward the image quality is here. Sure, there are a couple of missing frames (not a fault of the transfer), and the intertitles show some signs of wear and tear, but the film images are joyous to behold. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.

     

     

    Audio Quality

    3.5/5

     

    The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 audio track has been cleaned up as much as possible to eliminate signs of aging, but there’s still some unmistakable faint crackle later in the movie and a little light hiss, too. High end fidelity is sometimes a trifle shrill, and there isn’t much low end present either, but there never has been. It’s a clear and clean delivery of a very dated soundtrack, likely the best it’s ever going to sound.

     

     

    Special Features

    5/5

     

    David Robinson, Chaplin expert par excellence, provides the striking audio commentary offering biographical information and behind-the-scenes stories in an interesting and frank discussion of the movie.

     

    Modern Times: A Closer Look” has critic Jeffrey Vance offering a 16 ¾-minute overview of the film and its principal contributors. It’s in 1080p.

     

    “A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte” is an examination of the visual and audio special effects Chaplin used in the film discussed by visual expert Craig Barron and audio effects man Ben Burtt. It runs 20 minutes in 1080p.

     

    “Silent Traces: Modern Times is critic John Bengston’s examination of the locations around Los Angeles Chaplin used for the movie (and some of his other films), often comparing scenes where fellow comic directors Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd had shot sequences for their movies. It runs 15 ¼ minutes in 1080p.

     

    “David Raksin and the Score” features a 1992 interview with composer David Raksin who worked on the musical score with Chaplin, his stories of his hiring, firing, and re-hiring being of great interest. It runs for 15 ¾ minutes in 1080i. There is also 9 minutes of orchestral excerpts of the score that may be played.

     

    Two outtakes are shown: a crossing the street bit runs for 1 ¾ minutes. The complete 4 ¼-minute version of the gibberish song with the last verse reinstated (as Chaplin should have retained when he reedited the film for a later release) is played, unfortunately with quality much removed from the brilliance of the Blu-ray transfer. Both of these clips are in 1080i.

     

    There are three trailers: the U.S. version runs 2 minutes, the French version is 2 ¼ minutes, and the German version is 3 ¼ minutes. All are in 1080i.

     

    “All at Sea” is a 17 ¾-minute silent home movie in 1080i shot by Alistair Cooke showing Chaplin and Paulette Goddard on Chaplin’s yacht Panacea as it sails around the Catalina area. A new accompanying score is provided by Donald Sosin. There is also an interview with Cooke’s daughter Susan in which she discusses her father’s two year friendship with Chaplin. It runs 13 minutes in 1080p.

     

    The Rink is Chaplin’s 1916 Mutual comedy in which ideas for restaurant gags and roller skating comedy were first formed later used in Modern Times. It runs 24 ¼ minutes in 1080i. The image is windowboxed.

     

    For the First Time is a 1967 documentary running 9 ¼ minutes. Projectionists in Cuba take a film into the rural areas of the country where the residents have never seen a film before. The movie chosen to show them is Modern Times. It’s in 1080i.

     

    “Chaplin Today: Modern Timesis another in the series of Chaplin discussions featuring filmmakers Jean-Pierre  and Luc Dardenne focusing on this particular film and what about it impresses them so much. This 1080i featurette runs 27 ½ minutes.

     

    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

     

    The enclosed 38-page booklet features a chapter listing, cast and crew lists, several striking black and white stills and behind-the-scenes shots, a celebratory essay on the movie and Chaplin’s career by movie historian Saul Austerlitz, and an overview on Chaplin’s world tour which had a profound effect on his political and social views by professor Lisa Stein.

     

     

    In Conclusion

    4.5/5 (not an average)

     

    One of the cinema’s greatest comedies comes to Blu-ray looking for all the world like a new film. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is one of the classics of American cinema, and this complete edition with terrific bonuses is a not-to-be-missed treat. Highest recommendation!

     

     

     

    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    Love this film.


    Thanks for the review as I "forgot" about this.


    So many titles at once.
     
  3. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    Thanks for the review, Matt. This is my favorite Chaplin film. I am glad to read that Criterion has once again done an excellent job.


    With all the great releases the past few weeks I do not know when I will finally get around to watching this, although my copy should be on its way next week.
     
  4. robertdavis1234

    robertdavis1234 Auditioning

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    I also love this movie.Thanks.
     
  5. Jarod M

    Jarod M Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm not sure how this release can receive the "highest recommendation" when the original 1936 version of the film is not included.
     
  6. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

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    Agreed. Imagine a Criterion Blu-ray being incomplete, bested by a ten-year-old DVD from Image. The same fate will befall their Blu-rays of the First National shorts, THE KID, A WOMAN OF PARIS, LIMELIGHT, and A KING IN NEW YORK (and THE GOLD RUSH too, unless the Estate allows the Brownlow/Gill restoration of the real version of the film to be included as an "extra", as it was with the WB/MK2 DVD release). These films will all be missing footage cut by Chaplin for reissue, due to the draconian dictates of some members of Association Chaplin (reportedly not all of the family shares the view that the "official" versions should be the ones butchered by their creator ala Lucas decades after their original theatrical release). I encourage everyone who desires the original complete versions of these films to seek out the Image DVDs, which still look very good, thanks to the care of David Shepard who really concerned himself with getting these films right for their laserdisc releases (the DVDs are mostly taken from the same masters, but I'm not sure if additional work was done), and managed to do it before the Estate's misguided sledgehammer came down. (Note: the only way you can get LIMELIGHT complete is on laserdisc; for some reason this film was the first one to fall victim of the Estate's new "official" policy, and even the Image DVD was shortened. Also, the real version of THE GOLD RUSH is missing from the Image release, so if Criterion's release doesn't include it, you'll want the WB/MK2 DVD for that.)


    It's too bad Criterion knuckled under so easily. What a wasted opportunity to put out truly definitive editions of some of these films. They'll not be getting my money for the films they're releasing incomplete. I can only hope that true home video justice be done to these films whenever sanity prevails at Association Chaplin.
     
  7. bigshot

    bigshot Cinematographer

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    No mention of the cuts in this review? Hmmm.... It might be a good idea to check running times before you publish in the future. For some reason, Criterion doesn't seem to care about classic comedy as much as drama. The "Three by Fields" laserdisc had goofy cartoon music over The Dentist that had been added by Jay Ward in the late sixties. People complained, but when the time came to release it on DVD, Criterion didn't bother to fix it.
     
  8. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Read more carefully. I did mention the cut musical number in the special features section.
     
  9. rich_d

    rich_d Cinematographer

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    As the WB versions are PAL speed-up, it's fairer to say that the original version of The Gold Rush is unavailable except for vhs and laserdisc versions.

    "Definitive" version is not really the issue. It's getting the film as originally released. I don't blame Criterion for releasing films that meet the filmmaker's wishes. What I DO mind is that they didn't make it a win-win by ALSO issuing the film as original released. Certainly the Association Chaplin release could be primary with the user's option for the other release. Sadly, the Image releases are getting quite pricey after the WB PAL botched efforts and I don't see that changing too quickly.
     
  10. bigshot

    bigshot Cinematographer

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    Ah! Thanks for the heads up. Who would have thought to look for mention of cuts under "special features"?
     
  11. Brian Borst

    Brian Borst Screenwriter

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    Criterion works with the filmmakers, or their associates whenever possible. Most of the time that's the right thing to do, but when something like this happens, it's really unfortunate. It has happened before, with the John Cassavetes box set, where Gena Rowlands insisted that all of Ray Carney's work on the set was removed, and The Last Emperor, where Vittorio Storaro insisted that the film's 2.35:1 ratio was cut down to 2.00:1. The people that work at Criterion probably reason that if they don't cooperate, nobody wants to cooperate with them, making the work so much harder, if not impossible.
     
  12. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp
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    While having both versions would be preferred, I'm ok with releases like this since I understand that Chaplin himself made the cuts. The quality of this release and the extras, plus that B&N 50% off sale means I'll be picking this up. Great job on the review. :)
     
  13. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

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    He made this particularly unfortunate cut twenty years after the film's original release. Sad.
     
  14. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    The commentary explains his reasoning behind the cut: he felt the mime he was doing with the last stanza lacked freshness and imagination and that it would be better to cut his losses and end it sooner. Watching it again, I see what he was thinking, but I think he underestimated its appeal.
     
  15. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp
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    Which is why I'm ok with it. It was still his decision.
     
  16. bigshot

    bigshot Cinematographer

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    Modern Times has a relatively small cut, but some of the other Chaplin films have more substantial cuts. The fact that Criterion is releasing this version bodes ill for future Chaplin releases on Criterion. Unfortunately, right now, in order to have uncut copies of the Chaplin films, one has to compile a combination of overlapping DVD box sets and laserdiscs, much of it out of print.
     
  17. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp
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    I think Criterion always releases director approved editions when available, so these Chaplins are no different.
     
  18. bigshot

    bigshot Cinematographer

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    I'm trying to explain to you... There's more than one "director approved" version of these films. There is the version Chaplin approved at original release when he was at the height of his powers, and there is the edited/narrated/rescored/retitled version that he did decades later. The reason Chaplin reworked the films is because he felt that contemporary audiences couldn't relate to the conventions of silent film any more. That may have been true back in the broadcast TV era, but with DVD and bluray, audiences are more literate about the history of film. Most of us who appreciate and love these films, and who form the target consumer base for these bluray releases, would much rather see the version of the film that was originally released. The "dumbed down" version (if a Chaplin film can be dumbed down) is fine for an alternate in the supplements, but not as a substitute for the main feature.
     
  19. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp
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    As I said earlier:



    Lucas approved THX and Star Wars on release, he still saw fit to modify them and rel-release them based on current technology. Wither YOU like it or not is irrelevant. If this was a case of where the current owners manipulated the film, I would pass on it. That's not the case. It's still a directors approved version based on technology innovations. I enjoyed it in the Warner set, and I'm curious to see how it looks restored on Blu.

    And yes, I've seen the original version and enjoyed it too.
     
  20. bigshot

    bigshot Cinematographer

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    Have you seen the original release version of The Gold Rush? That's probably the next one to be released by Criterion.
     

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