DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "Modern Times"

Discussion in 'DVD' started by StuartGalbraith, Jun 19, 2003.

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  1. StuartGalbraith

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    [​IMG]


    DVD Review – Modern Times
    Director, Producer, and Screenplay, Charles Chaplin; Directors of Photography, Ira Morgan and Rollie Totheroh; Art Directors, Charles D. Hall and Henry Bergman; Editor, Charles Chaplin; Music, Charles Chaplin.
    Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Chester Conklin, Hank Mann, Stanley Blystone, Richard Alexander, Bobby Barber, Heinie Conklin, Gloria De Haven, James C. Morton.
    A Charles Chaplin Production. A United Artists Release. Black and white. Standard size. 87 minutes. No MPAA Rating. Released February 5, 1936.

    DVD: Released by Warner Home Video. Street Date July 1, 2003. $29.95
    Full Frame
    Dolby Digital Mono, Dolby Digital 5.1, French mono.

    Special Features: Documentary: "Chaplin Today – Modern Times"; Introduction by biographer David Robinson; Deleted Scenes; Karaoke Version of Nonsense Song; "Smile" Performed by Liberace; 1931 Education Film "Behind the Scenes in the Machine Age" (1931) and Promotional Short "Symphony in F" (1940); "For the First Time" (1967), a Cuban documentary featuring Modern Times; Photo Gallery; Trailers; Excerpts from other Chaplin features.

    Reviewed by Stuart Galbraith IV

    Few will dispute Chaplin's place as one of the all-time great filmmakers. Personally, I generally prefer the unpretentious artisanship of Keaton or Laurel & Hardy. Chaplin, by contrast, had the resources to support his perfectionism and lofty artistic aspirations. This sometimes resulted in screen comedy that was flawlessly executed, yet lacking in spontaneity. Beginning with The Great Dictator in 1940, Chaplin made fewer films, and these tended to be overtly political and/or sentimental. As such, critics and audiences became sharply divided and occasionally even hostile.

    But Modern Times, which finds Chaplin's Little Tramp swept up in both the Great Depression and a society obsessed with automation, is an exception. It may be a movie with a message, but that message doesn't get in the way of its considerable charm and the purity (and universality) of its comedy. Tellingly, it was made faster than almost any Chaplin feature, and was produced without the kind of writer's block that frequently plagued the director. Indeed, at 87 minutes the picture moves at a surprisingly fast clip, never appearing overlong the way several of his later pictures would. Nearly every sequence is a masterpiece of silent comedy all by itself, with several scenes becoming part of the international psyche. As cinema goes, Modern Times is nearly perfect.

    Now Modern Times is one of four classic films (the others being The Gold Rush, The Great Dictator, and Limelight) being sold on DVD both individually and as a set called "The Chaplin Collection." A second wave is due out later this year.

    How is the Transfer?
    During his lifetime Chaplin guarded his film elements with great care, and his estate has done likewise with subsequent home video releases. Rarely have any of the estate-controlled transfers been less than superb (David Shepard’s excellent laserdisc versions immediately come to mind) and few will be disappointed here. The transfer, from Cineteca Bologna, is flawless, an improvement over the Image DVD release from 2000. The image is razor sharp with deep blacks, nice contrast and virtually no scratches or other blemishes to be found.

    The Dolby Digital mono track audio is clean and free of age-related wear. There is an optional 5.1 track, but despite a soundtrack that might lend itself to all kinds of wild, late period-Spike Jones-style stereo effects, the mixers have opted for a conservative approach. For that reason, and for its overall clarity, I preferred listening to the picture on the 5.1 track. A mono French track is also included, as are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean, though the film has so little dialogue it hardly matters.

    Special Features
    This is a two-disc set, with all of the special features on the second disc. "Chaplin Today - Modern Times" is a 26-minute documentary by Philippe Truffault which intercuts fascinating behind-the-scenes information with observations about the picture by Dogma 95 directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. There are comparisons between Modern Times and their film Rosetta (1995), which seems faintly ludicrous, but overall this documentary is nicely produced. The default mode, incidentally, will play the interview with an English narration and French-dubbing over the interview, but one can also play the documentary to run with English narration and the interviews running in their original French with English subtitles.

    Chaplin biographer David Robinson offers an intelligent and compelling six-minute Introduction. Why this isn't offered on the other disk is anyone's guess, but either before or after viewing the picture this feature is highly recommended. Deleted Scenes include the full version of Chaplin's "nonsense song" and a brief, silent clip of the Little Tramp bemused while trying to cross a city street.

    The nonsense song is also offered in a Karaoke Version. This struck me as having very limited appeal until I actually watched it; who'd have guessed Chaplin's genius extended to writing cleverly silly lyrics? Liberace performs the famous song "Smile" in an excerpt from his phenomenally popular television show (an Emmy is overtly displayed behind him). The clip, however, is very slightly out-of-synch.

    The disk features three extremely odd short films. The first is a 42-minute silent educational short from 1931, Behind the Scenes in the Machine Age. While it offers some interesting historical footage, some of which parallels scenes in Chaplin's film, it is so full of inter-titles, cartoony graphics, etc., that it becomes absolutely excruciating to watch. Better is Symphony in F, a 1940 color film running nine minutes, which focuses mainly on assembly line work at a Ford plant. For the First Time (Por Primera Vezi) is a Cuban film from 1967 showing peasants reacting to their first experience watching a motion picture - Modern Times.

    Unlike most Still Galleries, this one is actually worth the viewer's time, with enlightening behind-the-scenes photos. It's coupled with an equally impressive collection of posters from around the world. There are three trailers, from England, France, and Germany. All appear to be reissue versions from the 1960s forward and are not subtitled. Finally, there is a selection of clips, running a total of 23 minutes, from other films in the series. It functions mainly to impress viewers with the high quality of the transfers, even such early films as A Woman of Paris (1923) and The Kid (1921).

    (A video interview with arranger David Raksin, which appeared in earlier home video incarnations, is not included here, despite some reports to the contrary.)

    Parting Thoughts
    Modern Times uses the same packaging as other two-disk Warner releases such as The Right Stuff and Once Upon a Time in America. The packaging for these Chaplin Collection titles has an attractive and distinctive look, and this is carried over into the menu screens. Like the Ruscico label DVDs, Modern Times gives the viewer has the option of three menu languages, in this case English, Spanish, and Portuguese. While the design is admirably different stylistically, I was annoyed with certain aspects of the authoring. For instance, when the film and main documentary end, one must sit through a full two minutes of international Interpol-type anti-copying warnings in about 15 different languages. And there's no avoiding this; you simply have to suffer through it to get back to the main menu.

    These minor quibbles aside, Modern Times is one of those movies with a greatness matched by its value as entertainment. It's the kind of film that belongs on the shelf of serious film buffs and casual DVD buyers alike. And Warner Bros., in conjunction with mk2 editions and Titra Film, have produced a DVD Chaplin himself would be proud of.
     
  2. Mark_vdH

    Mark_vdH Screenwriter

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    Thanks for the great review. [​IMG]

    I will get the complete set BTW, have you also received the other discs?

     
  3. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    Excellent Review!

    I can't wait for July 1st. It's going to be an expensive July with this Chaplin Box on the 1st. On the 8th Chaplin shorts box that combines all of the Essanay and Mutual shorts, and finally the Billy Wilder boxset on the 15th.
     
  4. Conrad_SSS

    Conrad_SSS Second Unit

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    Thank you, Stuart! What a superb and provocative review for what is my favorite Chaplin film. Sounds like MK2 and WB have done an outstanding job. I'm glad I pre-ordered the boxed set.
     
  5. Jo_C

    Jo_C Second Unit

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    Even though Mk2 now has the distribution rights for the next 10 years, Stuart, does the "Roy Export Establishment" (aka the Chaplin Estate) still hold the copyright to this disc?

    Answer when you can.
     
  6. ChrisJefferys

    ChrisJefferys Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks Stuart!
    I can't wait to get this DVD.
    Yes, those documentaries seem kind of odd to have on this set, but the Cuban one does sound kind of interesting.
     
  7. StuartGalbraith

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    To answer a few questions:

    Yes, I also received The Great Dictator, The Gold Rush, and Limelight. I'll be going through those over the next few days.

    I've also just received The Long Ships, The Mouse That Roared, and Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River, and will somehow try and cram reviews for all of these over the next week or so.

    As for Modern Times, the Roy Export Company Establishment stil holds copyright and trademark rights.

    As for the song, I don't recall whether Chaplin originally used the last verse in the original theatrical release or not. In any case, for this DVD the song does end rather abruptly, but this may have been Chaplin's design, either originally, or perhaps for a subsequent reissue. Both versions (the 1925 release and 1942 reissue) of The Gold Rush are included on that DVD, however.

    Stuart Galbraith IV
     
  8. Lowell_B

    Lowell_B Second Unit

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    Thanks for the excellent review Stuart. I've never seen a Chaplin film yet, so these new editions will be a great place for me to start.
     
  9. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Sounds great!

    One thing to point out....

    The last verse of the nonsense song was omitted before the release of the film. This was in preview screenings, but not the final cut. The previous DVD used an element from this preview cut rather than the final.

    I'm very happy to hear how great the film looks and sounds. Plus, the extras sound wonderful.

    Now I just have to decide if I want to get the collector's set for this film (and The Great Dictator) or get the 8-disc box.

    ADD: The Gold Rush would be a great one to do next. The silent version has been out of circulation for the longest time...
     
  10. Brian W.

    Brian W. Screenwriter

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  11. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    I ordered the then-available MODERN TIMES last year, but eventually got an OOP response, so have been looking forward to this re-release.

    But it sounds so good, that I''ll be tempted to get the set.

    (PS - The Mouse That Roared is on its way too?!! Oh frabjous day!)
     
  12. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    wow absolutely cannot wait to see this

    [​IMG]
     
  13. Simon_Lepine

    Simon_Lepine Supporting Actor

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    This ones a no-brainer [​IMG]
     
  14. SteveP

    SteveP Second Unit

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    This has been a favorite of mine since my father took me to a university screening of it when I was about ten years old.

    Looking forward to seeing it on DVD, along with the considerable charms of Miss Paulette Goddard.
     
  15. Derek_McL

    Derek_McL Second Unit

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    Not sure whether to invest in this one as I already have the Image DVD. I always felt the picture quality on that was just fine for a film made in 1936 so its great to hear that this is even better which bodes well for other titles in the collection.

    If you're totally new to Modern Times it's an obvious purchase for any true film fan but I don't know if there is enough new here to merit a double dip. The documentary on the film while it sounds interesting is only 26 minutes long I would have preferred something a bit longer along the lines of "The Tramp and the Dictator".

    The rest of the extras seem to me mainly a ragbag of items with tenuous links to Chaplin and Modern Times. Most of them may well be entertaining but it's a shame the interview with David Raksin (one of the few surviving people who actually contributed to the film) seems to have been ditched.

    What I really would have loved to see is audio commentaries on these films. Still we have the silent version of "The Gold Rush" to look forward to.
     
  16. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Producer

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    I compared the Image Entertainment version to the New Warner... here: http://www.compare.dvdbeaver.com/

     
  17. Rain

    Rain Producer

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    The WB version does look a bit sharper, but artificially so.

    I sincerely doubt the original exhibition of this film (and others of the period) would have been razor sharp to begin with.

    To me it looks like the Image DVDs are a clear winner.

    There is another thread going on right now disucussing the fact that one of the WB transfers, The Gold Rush, among other things, are too cropped.

    I'm very glad I rushed out to pick up all the ones I wanted from Image before they went OOP.
     
  18. CraigF

    CraigF Cinematographer

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    I got the new Chaplin set anyway. As far as I'm concerned, transferring film to DVD is TOTALLY artificial. I expect artifacts, but the fewer the better. Whatever the transfer, it won't be film. I missed the Image transfers, but in a few years we'll be crapping on the WB transfers too, though most aren't now.

    This using of PAL DVD sources is bothersome though, seems to be becoming annoyingly common for Canadian releases by some studios. Must admit it doesn't bother my eyes on my WS TV, just bothers me technically, maybe if I had a projector...
     
  19. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    This isn't looking good...why would they use PAL-to-NTSC conversions? Surely the Cineteca is capable of making NTSC transfers as well?

    I know that Robert Harris will have some input on The Digital Bits and I'll wait for his comments. I'm really saddened if this is that bad. I'll have to stick with my Image editions...I can't tolerate PAL-to-NTSC ghosting.
     
  20. Rain

    Rain Producer

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    In all honesty, I have to wonder why people seem so desperate for the Image DVDs to be improved upon. They are pretty damn gorgeous already IMHO.
     

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