DVD Beaver Reviews Flicker Alley's "Chaplin at Keystone

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Jason Liller
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DVD Beaver Reviews Flicker Alley's "Chaplin at Keystone

Unread post by Jason Liller » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:30 pm

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Chaplin at Keystone

Unread post by Wm. Charles Morrow » Sat Oct 16, 2010 4:15 pm

Thanks for posting this review. Like a lot of people, I've been waiting years for this set.

Has anyone else noticed the mistake on the track listing for Disc Two? It's in the review posted by Gary Tooze, not the program page from the set itself. A film is listed there which we all wish could be included, but isn't: Her Friend the Bandit.

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Unread post by Jason Liller » Sat Oct 16, 2010 9:27 pm

I haven't seen much Chaplin, but I always planned to watch his films and to watch them in sequence. Now that this set is out I feel like I can finally do that.
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Unread post by BrianG » Sun Oct 17, 2010 10:39 am

Jason Liller wrote:I haven't seen much Chaplin, but I always planned to watch his films and to watch them in sequence. Now that this set is out I feel like I can finally do that.
I've been watching Chaplin in reverse - first films, then Mutual, Essanay and awaiting Keystone. I prefer those films where he's paired with Edna, but am looking forward to seeing the restored Chaplin/Mabel pairings.

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Unread post by Wm. Charles Morrow » Sun Oct 17, 2010 11:09 am

Jason Liller wrote:I haven't seen much Chaplin, but I always planned to watch his films and to watch them in sequence.
My very first encounter with Chaplin's films, aside from seeing brief clips in the Robert Youngson compilations, came about thanks to my local library, which had a collection of 8mm silent films that could be checked out and watched at home. I saved up my money, bought a second-hand projector, and went in and checked out three Chaplin comedies, one Keystone (The New Janitor), one Essanay (The Tramp), and one Mutual (The Count). It was such a kick to see those movies on the wall of my room, and watching them in chronological order was like watching him polish his technique before my eyes.

That was 40 years ago, and I still love Chaplin's comedies. Now that these DVD sets are available it's great to think that everyone interested in his work can pop in the discs and enjoy them. It sure beats threading a projector!

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Unread post by kndy » Mon Oct 18, 2010 10:50 am

At least the reviewer focused on quantity and the entertainment vs. overall picture quality. But it's looking like an awesome set definitely worth owning.

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Unread post by Doug Sulpy » Mon Oct 18, 2010 11:13 am

The screen shots look fantastic! ... Well, except "Recreation."

Nice to see so much of "Thief Catcher" is included, too.

:D
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Unread post by kndy » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:48 pm

Here is an article on the LA Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/ne ... 4585.story

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Unread post by sc1957 » Thu Oct 21, 2010 6:10 pm

I'm only just getting started going through these films, but they look wonderful so far. The amount of work that's been put into them is fantastic. For example, A Film Johnnie is built from 6 different positive and negative sources. A few places are quite soft, and may have facial details lost in brightness, and some have many scratches. But much is crystal-clear, too. They are amazing.

The included booklet contains an essay on Chaplin's early work, and short descriptions of each film. The inside cover of each of the four disc cases lists the source of restoration prints and negatives, and who did the work, for each film. That info also appears at the beginning of each film.

It's a great effort in a beautiful package.

I'm looking forward to seeing some of these films on the big screen next week at the Charlie in the Heartland conference.

Edit: I just found a mention of this DVD set on Roger Ebert's site. Not written by Ebert, and it doesn't have any new revelations, but it's nice to see old silent films there.
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Unread post by silentfilm » Thu Oct 21, 2010 7:25 pm

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/ne ... 4585.story

Classic Hollywood: Restoring Chaplin gems
Gone are the grainy, broken silents from the star's Keystone years. A new DVD set showcases the birth of the Tramp.
By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
October 20, 2010
For the first half of the 20th century, Charlie Chaplin was the most famous movie comedian in the world thanks to his endearing Tramp character and the masterpieces he wrote and directed, including "The Gold Rush," "City Lights," "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator." But every genius has to start somewhere, and for Chaplin that was with the Keystone Film Co., where he honed his craft and created his iconic character — the baggy-pants, bowler-hatted Tramp.

The terrific new "Chaplin at Keystone" DVD set arriving Oct. 26 from Flicker Alley, beautifully illustrates how Chaplin's star was born at Keystone.

"In one year and in 35 films, Chaplin not only becomes the Tramp, he learns about movies, how movies work. He becomes Chaplin," says Serge Bromberg, whose Paris-based Lobster Films got the ball rolling on the Keystone set.

In 1913, Chaplin was a young British comedian touring America with the Fred Karno theatrical company making $75 a week. That spring, Keystone Film Co. in Los Angeles asked the 24-year-old to become one of its stock company of comedic characters. He was offered $150 a week for three months with a raise to $175 per week for the rest of the year — more money than he had ever seen.

Keystone was the brainchild of Mack Sennett, often called the "king of comedy." Among its stable of comedic players were Sennett, Mabel Normand, Fred Mace, Ford Sterling, Fatty Arbuckle, Chester Conklin, Mack Swain and Edgar Kennedy. Sterling was about leave to start his own company, and Chaplin stepped in as his replacement

So on Jan. 14, 1914, Chaplin began his first Keystone short, "Making a Living," in which he plays a dandy of questionable character. When he stepped in front of the camera that day, Chaplin didn't know anything about filmmaking. By year's end, he had not only developed the Tramp but was also writing and directing the short films. Though Sennett didn't believe in publicizing the names of his actors — he considered the Keystone name to be the star — by the end of 1914, Chaplin's name would appear in some ads. Some theaters would have a poster of Chaplin as the Tramp with the sentence "I'm here today."

In these early incarnations, the Little Tramp isn't quite the sweet little guy of "The Gold Rush" or "City Lights" but a man who loves to drink, smoke and is a bit of a lecher. Because those Keystone film have been seen over the years in bad, edited prints, often with different titles and projected in the wrong speed, these Keystone comedies are often dismissed as not very good.

But that assessment should change with this new DVD set; these Keystone films haven't looked this sharp and clear in decades. Among the highlights are "Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal.," which marks the first on-screen appearance of the Tramp; "Twenty Minutes of Love," which was his first effort at writing and directing, though no one really knows if he completely directed it; "A Busy Day," in which he plays a woman interrupting a parade; and "Tillie's Punctured Romance," the first feature-length comedy, which was restored by UCLA Film and Television Archive. The set also includes an excerpt from "A Thief Catcher," a recently discovered Keystone short in which Chaplin has a lengthy cameo as a Keystone cop.

With the support of Association Chaplin (the company the filmmaker created for his children), eight years ago the British Film Institute National Archive, the Cineteca Bologna and its lab L'Immagine Ritrovata and Lobster Films began to gather from archives and collectors the best 35-millimeter early generation materials on the Keystone Chaplins. Bromberg describes the process as "one of the most difficult restorations … like climbing Everest."

Keystone went out of business in 1917, and all of the studio's remaining negatives and films were sold at auction a few years after that. By the time the negatives were sold, Chaplin was the most famous comic actor in the world. Because Keystone was out of business, "no one could sue for piracy," Bromberg says. "So a lot of people tried to grab prints or any kind of material on those 35 films, retitle them and say it is a new Chaplin comedy."

BFI and Bologna made new 35mm negatives for films they restored. Lobster did digital restoration, getting rid of any shaking in the frame and smoothing out transitions between source materials. They also used 16mm and 35mm clips supplied by restorationist David Shepard and his Blackhawk Films in the U.S.

"It turns out that [my material] was less blemished than a lot of the stuff that the archives had found from old prints," Shepard says. "We were able to put in little missing bits, and in some cases we used the entire film."

susan.king(at)latimes.com
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

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Unread post by sc1957 » Sat Oct 23, 2010 6:09 pm

I posted this in the "restoring" thread under Collecting and Preservation, but thought I'd mention it here too:

Chaplin at Keystone includes a really nice 10 minute piece called Inside the Keystone Project that describes why and how films are restored. While it includes modern scenes of people working on digital images of film, it's also full of vintage images used to illustrate the voiceover narration -- including some remarkable images of film disappearing in a burst of flame! It's a great little piece.

While experienced silent movie fans may not learn much that's new, anyone who's fairly new to them, who wonders why so many silents are in bad shape or lost, will.
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Unread post by Rodney » Mon Oct 25, 2010 9:55 am

Here's another fairly detailed review from Sean Axmaker in S.F.:

http://www.seanax.com/2010/10/24/chaplin-at-keystone/

There are two nice reviews on amazon.com too, by regular silent film reviewers there. The URLs are horrifically long, but go to amazon.com and type in "Chaplin at Keystone" and you'll be fine.
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Unread post by drednm » Mon Oct 25, 2010 9:56 am

I bought this set last week....
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Unread post by Chris Snowden » Mon Oct 25, 2010 2:52 pm

I haven't seen this set yet, but it seems to me that some of the Chaplin Keystones (The Fatal Mallet, Gentlemen of Nerve) are fairly manic and really should move at a brisk pace.

Others are deliberately more subdued, at least until the climax (The New Janitor, Mabel's Married Life), and they would probably work better at a slower speed.
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Unread post by BrianG » Mon Oct 25, 2010 5:09 pm

Put this non-expert's vote in the "just right" column. I'm not a big Keystone slapstick fan and didn't care for the Chaplin Keystone shorts I've seen in prior cheaper sets, but I am enjoying these immensely. A first rate Flicker Alley release from the films, to the extras, the booklet and packaging.

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Unread post by Mark Pruett » Tue Oct 26, 2010 9:17 am

I have to put in a word for Marie Dressler in Tillie's Punctured Romance. How does an actress who might have spent her career playing imposing dowagers manage to drag one's eyes from the beauty of Mabel Normand in scene after scene?

If there was ever a perfect marriage of lunacy and grace, it was in the physical presence of Marie Dressler in this film. Like Chaplin, she was utterly at home in her own body, capable of commanding it to do things one would not have thought possible.

I'm still trying to find a name for her spectacular version of the double take. It occurs several times in the film--a shuddery facial contortion that combines eye-bugging with a rapid, open-mouthed tongue-sweep. It's as if the squeezable Martian doll with the popping eyes and tongue fused suddenly with Señor Wences's lipsticked hand. I've never seen anything like it.

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Unread post by drednm » Tue Oct 26, 2010 9:27 am

I agree about Marie Dressler. After decades on the stage, she brought her full bag of tricks to cinema. There was never anyone else like Dressler.

In her talkies like Min and Bill and Dinner at Eight she can turn on a dime, going from broad comedy to pathos and back to comedy in a flsh. She nearly stole Anna Christie from Garbo.

Like Chaplin and Pickford, Dressler instinctively understood how the "sentimental" was just a whisper away from comedy. These three (and sometimes Keaton and Normand) could manipulate an audience from laughter to tears and back to laughter at will.

They are amazing.
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Unread post by sc1957 » Tue Oct 26, 2010 10:30 am

Mark Pruett wrote:I'm still trying to find a name for her spectacular version of the double take.
I love her tongue-out expression when she takes her first drink.

And any woman who will wear a duck on her head is OK by me.
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Unread post by Danny Burk » Tue Oct 26, 2010 5:25 pm

I've reopened this thread, after pruning the numerous argumentative posts. I'd like to see the topic continue, but without resorting to arguing, insulting, whatever.

I requested that the speed arguments end - twice - yet they continued regardless. Any further speed-related arguments, snippy remarks, and the like will be automatically deleted. Guys, please - argue all you want, but take it to a PM. I've heard from enough folks here to know that the great majority don't want to see Nitrateville turn into another a.m.s., and really don't care to see the same issues rehashed again and again.

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Unread post by Shaynes3 » Wed Oct 27, 2010 6:14 am

Danny Burk wrote:I've reopened this thread, after pruning the numerous argumentative posts. I'd like to see the topic continue, but without resorting to arguing, insulting, whatever.

I requested that the speed arguments end - twice - yet they continued regardless. Any further speed-related arguments, snippy remarks, and the like will be automatically deleted. Guys, please - argue all you want, but take it to a PM. I've heard from enough folks here to know that the great majority don't want to see Nitrateville turn into another a.m.s., and really don't care to see the same issues rehashed again and again.
Danny -

I understand your annoyance with "circular arguments" (they go all the way around and start over again at more or less the same point in the circle.) At the same time deleting ALL (did I miss any?) refernces to the possibility that some folk might be unhappy with the transfer speed doesn't seem to me to serve the community well either.

I have not seen any of this set, and probably won't, because I've seen very little Sennett stuff that I really like very much, but since I am also among the camp of those who believe that, while there is probably no "correct" running speed for silent films made before they were realeased with synch soundtracks and at 24 fps, it is WAY better to err on the side of running them a bit fast than it is to run them a bit slow.

I have found from my own experience that nothing kills a film quicker, especially a comedy, than too slow a projection/transfer speed.

The point of this statement is NOT to start the arguement over again (I do not know from personal experience whether it's an issue with this set or not) but to say that if some folk are unhappy with the speed of the transfer I'd like to know it so I can approach any purchase with some caution.

Since everything I've written here is my opinion and not presented as fact, maybe this can stay as a warning to potential buyers that if they are "transfer speed sensitive" they may have issues and should try to view some of the set first if possible.
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Unread post by boblipton » Wed Oct 27, 2010 6:28 am

I see that on other threads there's discussion of possible new forums. Howsabout one for Film Projection Speed and then those who enjoy that sort of thing can wrangle there?

By the way, I am in substantial agreement with Mr. Haynes. Doesn't mean I am right in any absolute sense.

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Wed Oct 27, 2010 6:59 am

Steve, the reason is that that subject seems to immediately jump to Condition Red every time it starts up-- as it did yesterday. And at the point it does that, it's basically not about film speed any more. I don't know what it's about at that point, but it's not something that conveys useful information, or allows for any other form of discussion about any of the other possible topics this set ought to elicit.

If we're going to talk about talking about this set, rather than talk about this set, let's take it to a Site Chat thread. If the subject of film speed must be introduced, again, it will only be for as long as it's civil and, well, actually about film speed.
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Unread post by drednm » Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:16 am

I'd like to see a forum on film speed because I want to learn about it.

Until I joined here it had never occurred to me (as a casual film buff) that film speed was a conditional or changeable thing. I assumed the film was the film and had never compared various "speed" versions of a film.
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Unread post by boblipton » Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:19 am

Ben Model has posted a series of videos to Youtube in which he runs through cranking speed and projecting speed in a very persuasive manner, but it seems to have vanished for the moment.

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:51 am

He's giving a presentation this week, and will put them back up soon in new improved form, apparently.
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Unread post by Danny Burk » Wed Oct 27, 2010 8:07 am

What Mike said.

I'm all for having useful and important info here, of course. But not in the manner that typically happens within a couple of posts, and offhand I don't recall any time that the latter hasn't happened with this subject. If cool heads prevail, great, let's have a speed discussion, but there's no place in it for insults, name-calling, and other childish behavior that we've so often seen here.

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Unread post by Rodney » Wed Oct 27, 2010 10:14 am

Shaynes3 wrote:I requested that the speed arguments end - twice - yet they continued regardless.
Firstly, I do apologize for my post after you posted that -- I had started composing it before your post appeared, took my time meditating on it, and I didn't see your post until later. I have a bad habit of responding when attacked rather than letting the last post stand. I am trying my best to be reasonable and polite, and vow to do better in the future.
Danny Burk wrote:The point of this statement is NOT to start the argument over again (I do not know from personal experience whether it's an issue with this set or not) but to say that if some folk are unhappy with the speed of the transfer I'd like to know it so I can approach any purchase with some caution.
Since several people want third-party evaluations of this particular boxed set regarding film speeds, there are some valuable comments out there on the net. Note that none of these are my opinion, so please don't flame me, and I have not selectively edited this collection to exclude negative comments; this is all I can find. If anyone has found other reviews in either direction, please feel free to add them.

Reviews at The New York Post, Wall Street Journal, dvdbeaver.com, and Roger Ebert's web site are enthusiastic, but make no mention of speed one way or the other. Either it didn't bug them, they didn't feel it was worth mentioning, or they weren't aware that film transfer was an issue, but all think these films have never looked better on video. Feel free to follow the links if you want to see what they said.

From a private discussion group of the silent film mafia, these are the only negative comments I've seen other than those deleted here. The comments break the rules of civility set by Danny, so I won't quote them, but here's a link if you want to read them:

http://www.silentcomedymafia.com/viewto ... ?f=7&t=447

From a review by Paul Mular of a screening of the digital reconstructions at the Niles Film Museum. I'm not familiar with Mr. Mular, though he reviews a lot of classic sound comedy. The complete review is posted under Chaplin at Keystone at amazon.com:
Imagine seeing the Keystone Chaplins projected on a theater screen, most looking as good as the Chaplin Mutual restorations! Seven films from this set were shown to an amazed audience. All were accustomed to the washed out, fuzzy, jumpy videos that have been on the market for ages, making it hard to enjoy the films. Now they are razor sharp, with perfect contrast & stabilized images. The projection speed has been slowed down, now you have time to see Charlie's facial reactions & body mannerisms. At this corrected speed these comedies feel more mature, Chaplin's genius is more apparent.
From Chip Kaufmann's review at amazon.com. Mr. Kaufmann reviews almost every silent DVD that is released, and he doesn't pull punches when he doesn't like something, as I know from experience.
...By the start of the 21st century his first starring comedies for Essanay and Mutual had been restored and were made available but the Keystones still languished because no one thought they were of any real value. That's because no one had seen them the way they were first shown. Until now.

After an unprecedented 8 year effort of combing the world's archives for every available print, silent film specialist David Shepard of Blackhawk Films and Film Preservation Associates along with the British Film Institute, Lobster Films of Paris and Italy's Cineteca Bologna have found and restored 34 of Chaplin's first 35 short films allowing us to watch him develop as a movie performer and see the birth of a cinematic icon as he creates and refines his famous Tramp character. No versions of these early Chaplin efforts survived in original form having been re-edited many times and virtually re-printed out of existence due to their initial popularity. By restoring them as close as possible to their original look with original intertitles and by scoring them properly and projecting them at the right speed, Flicker Alley has given us an unprecedented glimpse back into cinematic time.
And I'd keep an eye out for a New York Times review this weekend.
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Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:54 pm

Okay, so the film speeds ban is verboten for less than 24 hour, then it is apparently allowed but only if it does not disagree with Rodney Sauer and is allowed to make veiled insulting references to me. This is the new "fair and balanced" Nitrateville.

Kevin Brownlow's article on silent film speeds indeed does say it all, it was what I was largely quoting from the last time Mr Sauer tried to discredit me and my informed opinions on silent film speeds:

viewtopic.php?t=5770&start=60

And as you can see in that thread, I am only answering Mr Sauer's insults, which seem to be allowed only to come from him and not be rebutted. In fact, it is apparently perfectly allright to allow Sauer and Aldrich to make any sort of abusive comment in my direction, and for Mr Sauer to control the arguements by getting upset and causing them to be deleted.

At least at a.m.s, there was a level playing field, the new "fair and balanced" Nitrateville sems to be heading in a GOLDEN SILENTS direction.

Lets see how long this stays up before it dissapears.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:00 pm

Richard M Roberts wrote:Okay, so the film speeds ban is verboten for less than 24 hour, then it is apparently allowed but only if it does not disagree with Rodney Sauer and is allowed to make veiled insulting references to me. This is the new "fair and balanced" Nitrateville.

Kevin Brownlow's article on silent film speeds indeed does say it all, it was what I was largely quoting from the last time Mr Sauer tried to discredit me and my informed opinions on silent film speeds:

viewtopic.php?t=5770&start=60

And as you can see in that thread, I am only answering Mr Sauer's insults, which seem to be allowed only to come from him and not be rebutted. In fact, it is apparently perfectly allright to allow Sauer and Aldrich to make any sort of abusive comment in my direction, and for Mr Sauer to control the arguements by getting upset and causing them to be deleted.

At least at a.m.s, there was a level playing field, the new "fair and balanced" Nitrateville sems to be heading in a GOLDEN SILENTS direction.

Lets see how long this stays up before it dissapears.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Okay, you won some points deleting Aldrich's last post here. There may be some hope yet.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:44 pm

Just looked at the transfer of TILLIE, way too slow, you can definitely see the motion frames blur whenever anyone moves fast. If this is natural speed to David Shepard, he definitely needs some uppers.

Has anyone noticed that on the cover of the set, Chaplin looks like he's mouthing the word "sloowwwwwww"?

RICHARD M ROBERTS

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