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.