Charlie Chaplin The Complete Essanay & Mutual Collection

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Shawn Collins, Jul 7, 2003.

  1. Shawn Collins

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    I bought the first volume of feature length movies last week and love it. I have never seen the shorts, is the collection worth buying tomorrow? I was wondering if the content quality/scripting was as good as the full length movies which came later. I understand he did a run of 36 shorts in one year. Are they any good? Is there a replay value here or am I just amped up about the first volume and might get "stuck" with just an average-watch once box set?

    Thanks for in advance for any opinions.
     
  2. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I've only seen one volume (when Turner Classic Movies ran Vol. 3 of the Essanay shorts) and they're very funny. David Shepard produced some stunning restorations of the shorts...they don't look as old as they are.

    If you're a Chaplin fan, get it. For under seventy dollars for 26 films isn't bad at all. Plus, it has the Eric Campbell documentary.
     
  3. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    The "36 shorts in one year" that you reference were done for Keystone and are not included in this collection. When I spoke to David Shepard two years ago he didn't plan to do DVDs of the Keystone shorts, since many of them are crude and have little to do with Chaplin's Tramp character, and probably don't have a market sufficient to justify the restoration that would need to be done on them.

    The Essanay shorts show Chaplin developing the Tramp and maturing his style; the Mutuals are considered Chaplin's finest work and he often described the year he spent working for Mutual as one of the happiest of his life. It was these shorts that made Chaplin a household name around the world and for that alone they're worth seeing.

    Shepard did a marvelous job in restoring the Essanays, piecing together the prints from at least three different sources to arrive at a more or less definitive print: he concluded that there were no intact prints of the Essanays remaining anywhere in the world after engaging in a project of many years' effort, and the result is invaluable to any student of film history.
     
  4. Derek_McL

    Derek_McL Second Unit

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    Yes if you like the Chaplin features you're probably like the shorts and as Patrick says you're also getting 26 films for your money. The 36 run of shorts you mention Shawn was actually 35 and these were all made for Keystone in 1914 (Chaplin's first full year of film-making : these are not in the new boxset).

    The boxset contains all the David Shepard restorations of the films Chaplin made for Essanay and Mutual (the two companies the little man worked for after he left Keystone) from 1915 to 1917.

    Modern Times among the features Warner has released probably gives you the best idea of what these are like. The disjointed nature of that film reminds me of four Mutual two-reelers stuck together. The shorts aren't as sophisticated as the later features but some critics actually prefer the earlier Chaplin before pathos dominated his repertoire.

    The Essanays (14 titles) are definitely the crudest some are almost outright slapstick with the little touches Chaplin always added through his grace of movement. It wasn't long though before Chaplin broke free from the confines of silent comedy introducing the sentimental tone which pervades his later work in films like The Tramp and The Bank. Even among these 1915 efforts there are perhaps half a dozen which stand comparison with the best of Chaplin's later work (I love Police, for instance). The rest are entertaining and fascinating in their glimpses of the master developing his style. What will impress you most about the Essanays though is the picture quality of films released in 1915-16 : this is a superb job of restoration.

    The Mutuals (12 titles) have got be to be among the greatest comedy shorts ever made. There is perhaps only one dud amongst them (The Fireman). The rest remain wonderfully fresh and funny : Chaplin called this the happiest period of his career and there are some who think these are his funniest films. Here Chaplin perfected the art of the silent comedy short with classics like The Vagabond,The Pawnshop, One A.M., The Rink, Behind the Screen, Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer. The picture quality is good for 1916-17 if a little disappointing probably only because the Essanays are so good.

    Really if you like Chaplin and haven't seen these films you
    shouldn't hesitate. For region 1 fans this boxset is the way to go : I believe the films were available before in three volume Essanay and Mutual sets which all together cost double the price and with this set you also get a fascinating documentary about Eric Campbell ; the fat man who was the villain in eleven of the twelve Mutuals.

    If you've enjoyed the features I would think the shorts particularly the Mutuals and some Essanays should be easy to enjoy. I think introducing Chaplin to a young audience is probably easier to do through a bouncy Mutual short than any of the features (wonderful and entertaining as many of them are).
     
  5. Shawn Collins

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    Thanks for all the info. I think I will pick the box set up today. Derek, it's funny you mention introducing chaplin to a young audience. I tried to get both of my older boys (15 & 16) to watch Modern Times and Gold Rush. One almost made it through 15 min. of Modern Times and they both almost finished Gold Rush. They enjoy the comedy but start to get bored during the romantic parts. That's a teenage boy for ya. Maybe I can persuade them to sit through a couple of Mutuals to appreciate the history and influence in modern movies.

    Thanks again.
     
  6. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    Yes, in the shorter format there's much less opportunity to bog things down with improbable romances between Chaplin and his generally jailbait costars. [​IMG] The pace is far brisker than in the features and is probably more likely to hold the youngsters' interest.
     
  7. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    thanks for all the info from the above posters and will try to get the box as well as the 4 dvds

    [​IMG]
     
  8. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    A followup: I just spoke to David Shepard (who OK'd passing the info on) and a project to release the Keystone Chaplins on DVD is in fact under way: it's a collaboration of the British Film Institute, Lobster Films in France and the Cineteca Bologna. The Blackhawk Films elements have been mixed into the pot as well, so the final result should be well worth seeking out for those interested in the primitive Chaplin. No ETA for disc release, though--no time soon. I expect that the parties are still assembling footage and doing much-needed restoration, since these pictures are probably in even more hapless condition than the Essanays were, and there are more of them to contend with.

    So once this project comes to realization, all of the filmed Chaplin that survives (not counting random newsreel footage) will have hit DVD. How many other major stars can say that?
     
  9. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    Things can only get better indeed

    Great news indeed and I heard something similar when I met David Robinson a few weeks ago at the Glasgow Film Theatre where he said similar things

    [​IMG]
     
  10. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    For the "customer input" file:

    Mark -- if you speak to Mr. Shepard again soon, please let him know that a Chaplin Keystone set (and indeed Keystone sets in general), as complete as possible, has long been eagerly anticipated by at least one silent fan, and I'm sure, in fact, by many, but please also pass along my concern that they use native NTSC masters for the NTSC DVD releases of the films. Carefully mastered discs from native NTSC film-to-tape transfers can look so very film like, and even the best PAL-NTSC conversions leave something to be desired. That he's working with the BFI and Cineteca Bologna is what brings the matter to mind, as the UK's Kevin Brownlow/Channel 2 restoration of The Iron Mask, with Fairbanks, as presented on DVD by Kino, suffers the motion blur of a PAL-NTSC conversion, and the film looks so truly, absolutely stunning otherwise that this (economic necessity?) seems very unfortunate. There's been discussion of its effect on the recent French MK2 Chaplins, of course, and I could name other culprits. If the money allows, I for one would greatly value the extra effort of a native NTSC master for the collection (and all PAL territory film restorations brought to North America).

    As Bill Hunt so often says (he wasn't the first [​IMG]): just my two cents. David Shepard's outstanding work in the preservation and presentation of silent films continues to garner both my thanks and admiration.

    If it ever proves financially viable, I would also gladly purchase a digitally restored, chronological presentation of the Mutuals. I understand the film elements have deteriorated still further since the time of their current video masters (I'm paraphrasing David Shepard here), but the restoration of those elements by whatever methods are required (digital seems most likely if other film materials have not been found), followed by new video masters and a chronological presentation on disc, would find a ready customer in me.

    I very much enjoyed your interview with Mr. Shepard when it was posted at Digitally Obsessed a few years ago, by the way. [​IMG] Nicely done.
     
  11. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Thank you, Mark, for the info. I have The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection on DVD which was a collaboration between Lobster Films and David Shepard's Film Preservation Associates...top-notch work!

    Amazingly, only one Chaplin film is lost (Her Friend the Bandit). I think only Buster Keaton has an equal survival record. (A Country Hero is his only lost film)
     

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