In terms of supplements City Lights may not be the most loaded release from Criterion but I did find it to be one of the more satisfying editions. The supplements begin with an audio commentary by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance. Vance delivers a rather energetic track and first gives a brief history of the film industry around the time of the filmís release (the introduction of sound being a key moment obviously) and Chaplinís way of working around it. He talks a bit about Chaplinís early life, history, and influences, while also sharing stories about what happened on the set of the film, with quite a few about Chaplinís quick jump to firing members of the cast and crew when they didnít entirely get or agree with his vision. He gets into technical aspects, some of the effects, and then enjoys breaking down sequences to show the genius in Chaplinís ability to construct comedy sequences. Unfortunately he ends up just simply dictating whatís on screen during most of these moments. Thereís nothing too surprising to be gained from the track, and itís pretty standard by scholarly-commentary standards, yet Vance does keep the momentum going and this does make it a fairly entertaining commentary.
The remaining disc supplements then start with Chaplin Today: City Lights, a 26-minute featurette on Chaplin and his influence today. These are found on most of the other Chaplin releases and usually feature a director (or directors) talking about the film in question and Chaplinís work. Other ones featured the Dardenne brothers or Claude Chabrol. This one features Peter Lord, director of Wallace and Gromit shorts, Chicken Run, and other stop-motion animations. Lord, while looking at video playback, breaks down certain sequences and examines how Chaplin built up his pieces. He also talks about how Chaplin has influenced his work and his legacy today. A lot of the material found here is actually covered in the commentary but itís still worth a view just to have yet another director talk about the effect of Chaplin on their work.
Chaplin Studios: Creative Freedom by Design is a 16-minute interview with effects expert Craig Barron. He talks briefly about the history of Chaplinís studio and the freedom it gave him, and then looks at set design work through surviving sketches. He also explains why Chaplin moved from location shoots to shooting on a set, while explaining (with examples) how Chaplin could give the illusion of large sets. Barron has been featured in supplements on some of Criterionís other releases for Chaplinís films, and even on their edition of Harold Lloydís Safety Last! and as usual his piece is illuminating and fascinating.
A section called ďFrom the Set of City LightsĒ Criterion offers four more features. Tramp Meets Flower Girl offers over 8-minutes worth of home movie footage shot by Chaplinís brother, recording Chaplin at work directing the key scene in the film where (as the title of the feature suggests) Chaplinís Tramp first meets the blind flower girl. Heís still trying to figure out how the scene will play out so itís interesting to see some alterations to the sequence. It took him so long to get it right it apparently took over 340 takes before he got what he wanted. The footage, which is without sound (but is narrated by Hooman Mehran,) does also show Chaplin becoming short with his leading lady (who he apparently couldnít stand, even firing her just before the shoot was finished, only to have to rehire her once he realized he would have to reshoot everything she was in) and members of the crew, who all seem less than thrilled. Great behind-the-scenes addition.
Stick Stuck in the Grate is a 7-minute outtake involving the Tramp becoming obsessed with a stick stuck in a sidewalk grate and his battle to get it unstuck. Itís a great scene showcasing Chaplinís ability to build gags up so naturally. It also is fairly funny in and of itself and managed to give me a case of the giggles with the introduction of a mouth-breathing idiot who becomes fascinated by Chaplinís self-created problem. But despite the scene working on its own I can only assume it was cut out because it would have brought the film to a stop for 7-minutes, and we also get a number of city gags already in the film. Still itís absolutely wonderful to get it here.
Window-Shopping Rehearsal provides over a minuteís worth of footage showing Chaplin plan out the window-shopping sequence involving the sidewalk elevator. This footage also appeared in the Chaplin Today feature.
ĒChaplin the BoxerĒ then presents two addition features. First is a 9-minute excerpt from the short film The Champion, which pits the Tramp in a boxing match similar to what was shot in City Lights. Disappointingly itís not the whole film. Criterion also includes Boxing Stars Visit the Studio, which is over 4-minutes worth of footage of Chaplin pretty much goofing around with boxers Harry Mansell and Benny Leonard.
The disc(s) then close with three theatrical trailers: one from the US, another from France, and another from Germany.
The included booklet features an essay on the film by Gary Giddens, followed by an article written for Life magazine called ďChaplinís Anatomy of ComedyĒ. Written by journalist Richard Meryman, it was put together from interviews with Chaplin but is presented as though Chaplin has written the piece. In it he reflects on his work and how he constructs his comedy, and exposes his nervousness when a new film of his is being released. Itís a rather engaging read.
It doesnít actually feel like a lot of material but itís all rather good, all worth going through, and ultimately, all together, the supplements are satisfying. 9/10