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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New audio commentary by Chaplin biographer David Robinson
  • Two new visual essays, by Chaplin historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance
  • New program on the film's visual and sound effects, with experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt
  • Interview from 1992 with Modern Times music arranger David Raksin
  • Chaplin Today: "Modern Times" (2004), a half-hour program with filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
  • Two segments removed from the film
  • Three theatrical trailers
  • All at Sea (1933), a home movie by Alistair Cooke featuring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, and Cooke, plus a new score by Donald Sosin and a new interview with Cooke's daughter, Susan Cooke Kittredge
  • The Rink (1916), a Chaplin two-reeler highlighting his skill on wheels
  • For the First Time (1967), a Cuban documentary short about a projectionist who shows Modern Times to first-time moviegoers
  • More!

Modern Times

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard
1936 | 87 Minutes | Licensor: MK2

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #543
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: November 16, 2010
Review Date: November 25, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin's last outing as the Little Tramp, puts the iconic character to work as a giddily inept factory employee who becomes smitten with a gorgeous gamine (Paulette Goddard). With its barrage of unforgettable gags and sly commentary on class struggle during the Great Depression, Modern Times-though made almost a decade into the talkie era and containing moments of sound (even song!)-is a timeless showcase of Chaplin's untouchable genius as a director of silent comedy.

Forum members rate this film 9.2/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Criterion releases the first of the Charlie Chaplin titles theyíve acquired the rights to, presenting Modern Times in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is in 1080p/24hz.

Warner Bros. had previously released Chaplinís films on DVD and though I never did see their edition of Modern Times I did see a few others and they were all rather terrible in their presentations, looking like bad PAL-to-NTSC transfers, coming off choppy and fuzzy, and I can only figure their transfer for Modern Times would have been similar.

If thatís the case than there really is no competition: Criterionís presentation for Modern Times on Blu-ray is absolutely remarkable and other than seeing the film projected I canít imagine the film looking any better. Detail is absolutely striking, with so many minute details present in settings and costumes. The image, shockingly enough, never really goes soft, staying crisp and sharp through the filmís entirety. Film grain is present but perfectly balanced, never getting too heavy, and the filmís contrast looks spot on with distinctive grays and inky blacks.

Thereís also very little damage to speak of, with only a few minor marks present. There are also no issues in frame rate, something that did plague the Warner discs I did see (the film was shot at 18-frames-per-second and itís presented at 24 frames-per-second here.) The film plays smoothly without any choppiness.

In the end it almost looks as though it could have been filmed recently. Itís a glorious presentation and based on this Iím thrilled at the thought as to what the rest of Criterionís Chaplin discs will look like.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Originally planned to be Chaplinís first ďtalkieĒ that idea was ultimately dropped and the film is still, for the most part, a silent film, with a few interjections of dialogue here and there, mainly through electronic devices, and containing some creative uses with music and sound effects. The minimal amount of dialogue that does appear can sound a bit rough, though this could be intentional since one moment where Chaplinís Tramp breaks out into song sounds unbelievably clean, and music and sound effects are also crisp and clear, best displayed during the one sound gag involving stomach noises. Overall itís sharp and clear, presenting no background damage.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion has outdone themselves in their supplements for this edition, looking to have carried over supplements from Warnerís edition and adding in their own new material.

First up is an audio commentary recorded for this edition by Chaplin biographer David Robinson. Though he can be stale the track does cover a wide range of material involving the film and Chaplin himself. He covers his social concerns, which led to the FBI opening a case file on him (trying incredibly hard to find any strong Communist links, though never doing so in the end,) and how a trip would influence him making the film. He talks a little about Chaplinís other films, including his work at Keystone, and also briefly discusses his relationship with Paulette Goddard. On the subject of the film itself he talks up its technical aspects, how some effects were done, Chaplinís use of sound and how it originally was to be a talkie, and even gets into an alternate ending, the change of which involved moving many planned sequences around (I was surprised to learn that the Trampís visit to the hospital, which happens about 30-minutes in, was originally planned for the conclusion.) He also does bring up the reedit Chaplin did for a 1954 rerelease which involved the removal of the last verse of the song the Tramp sings late in the film. He gives a possible reason as to why this was done though feels Chaplin was wrong in making the trim. In all I did like it, but a lot of what is covered here does ultimately get covered in supplements found elsewhere on the disc.

Next up is a visual essay by film historian Jeffrey Vance called Modern Times: A Closer Look. The 17-minute feature is ultimately a sort of making-of, starting with Chaplinís travels during the Depression that led to the idea for the film, through the actual production, and then to Chaplinís career after the filmís release. Vanceís narration plays over numerous photos taken during the shoot (Vance states over 700 photos were taken, though not surprisingly only a small fraction of these are shown here) and the only visual production material available. What is of a real benefit here is we get some semblance of the alternate ending, and then deleted scenes and alternate takes. As mentioned in the commentary track Chaplin would recast roles at the drop of a hat if he felt the actor in place wasnít working out and here we get some photos of the alternates in certain scenes. Thereís also an interesting bit involving the Tramp becoming a soldier. After hearing Robinson talk about some of the alternate and deleted scenes it was wonderful seeing the material (or what remains of it through photos) here.

A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte is a fascinating 20-minute segment featuring effects men Craig Barron and Ben Burtt, who both go over Chaplinís use of effects in great detail, showing his creative use of miniatures to create the factory that appears during the first act of the film and even going into his use of sound effects, specifically the gurgling stomach effects that appear in one sequence. They also talk about how one effect (involving a Chaplin roller skating close to a deadly drop) left them puzzled and had them studying the sequence intensely until a flaw exposed how it was done. We even get a 3D computer rendering to better explain how it was done. Good fun and easily one of my favourite features on here.

Criterion next gives us another visual essay, this one called Silent Traces: Modern Times. This one is a little fluffy but no less interesting, as historian John Bengstom talks in detail about some of the locations that appear in Modern Times, offering some ďthen and nowĒ photo comparisons as well as pointing out other silent comedies featuring Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd where the locations appear. Though Iím unsure how much value it actually I did enjoy the historical aspects of it.

Next up is an interview with composer David Raskin from 1992, running 16-minutes. In his commentary Robinson mentions Raskinís involvement with the score and how he was fired and then rehired, with Raskin in this feature talking about that incident along with how it was to work with Chaplin. He also confirms Robinsonís comments about how Chaplin was primarily responsible for the scores. An excellent interview that concludes with an image of a caricature of Raskin drawn by Chaplin.

Two Bits features two deleted scenes that remain. The first is the 2-minute ďstreet crossingĒ scene involving the Trampís confusion over the traffic signals. Chaplin cut plenty of stuff from the film yet none of it survives, though this was apparently one of his favourite bits and I assume thatís why itís still around. You can also find the complete ďTrampís Song, UneditedĒ which features the complete number performed by Chaplin before he trimmed it for a rerelease in 1954. They have not been restored and look similar in presentation to how Warnerís Chaplin films looked on their DVDs: soft, fuzzy, and flat.

We next get three trailers for the film, an American one along with a German and French one.

Criterion next includes home video footage taken by reporter Alistair Cooke during a yacht trip with Chaplin and Goddard to Catalina Island in 1933, calling it All at Sea. The film itself runs 18-minutes and is accompanied by a 13-minute interview with Cookeís daughter Susan Cooke Kittredge. In it she explains how she found this footage while cleaning her fatherís bedroom shortly after his death in 2004. She mentions how he would talk about this home movie he took with Chaplin but she admits they never believed him. She then continues on explaining how her father and Chaplin became friends, and how Cooke actually worked briefly with Chaplin on his Napoleon picture that never got far off the ground. A fascinating and absolutely wonderful inclusion.

And as I figured, Criterion includes one of Chaplinís short films (or ďtwo reelersĒ) and have chosen to pair the main feature with The Rink, featuring Chaplinís Tramp as a very skilled roller skating waiter. Quite funny, it also better shows off Chaplinís roller skating skills. The transfer, which is interlaced, is okay, but itís unfortunately laced with artifacts like jagged edges.

Next up is the 9-minute short 1967 documentary For the First Time by Octavio Cortazar, about a group of projectionists who travel to secluded Cuban villages showing films to villagers who have more than likely never seen a film before. It only has a passing relation to Modern Times in that itís the film the group ends up showing to the villagers, who laugh delightfully during the feeding machine bit.

The final feature on here is Chaplin Today: Modern Times, a 27-minute segment which looks at the film and features directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Though the two offer some brief thoughts and analysis on the social issues brought up in the film and some of the techniques used, they really have very little to do with it, a narrator instead talking about the film and itís production, pretty much repeating everything weíve already learned from the other features on the disc. If youíve gone through the rest of the discís features before getting to here there really isnít much of a reason to watch this one.

We then get a 36-page booklet featuring two essays, the first by Saul Austerlitz on this film and other films in Chaplinís career, and the second, by Lisa Stein, on Chaplinís world travels and his article ďA Comedian Sees the WorldĒ which led to the development of Modern Times.

At any rate I canít imagine much else that could be added, Criterion covering all bases with maybe only one real dud in the collection. And if this is a taste of things to come, Criterionís Chaplin releases are all going to be spectacular editions.

9/10

CLOSING

For their first Chaplin release (ever, I must add, Criterion having never released a Chaplin film on any format before) theyíve hit it out of the park. It contains about as perfect a transfer one could hope for in both the audio and video department, and theyíve also collected some of the most fascinating and worthwhile supplements about the film. A beautiful edition.


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