Charlie Chaplinís 1972 re-edit of his first feature film, The Kid, receives a new Blu-ray release from Criterion, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1. The 1080p/24hz presentation comes from a new 4K scan of what is referred to as a 35mm ďfirst-generation 1921 element.Ē A small portion of the film (370 ft) was severely decayed so in its place a first-generation 1921 fine-grain was used.
Similar to the last couple of Chaplin and Lloyd pictures Criterion has released on the format, The Kid really looks astonishing. The film is half a decade shy of its centennial yet it really looks like something that could have been filmed not too long ago. There are some flaws that remain, which is expected, but what is so surprising is how little damage is actually present. There are a few large marks like specs and mild stains, along with some mild fluctuations, but they barely register. Likewise fine scratches that remain also donít draw attention, and a lot of the time you have to be looking for them to notice them. That 370-foot portion that comes from a different source looks to be the sequence where the Tramp first takes the baby home and feeds him with that homemade contraption. This portion does look a bit softer and has some more prominent flaws present, but even then itís not too bad and the restoration work looks to have been as thorough as possible here as well.
Of course all of that work would be pointless if the digital transfer and encode arenít up to the task, but that is not the case. The 53-minute film gets a lot of room to breathe on the disc and the end result is a very filmic, clean look. Detail is extraordinary, unbelievably fine at times, with long shots delivering an impressive amount on the dilapidated settings and the worn out rags the characters wear. I couldnít pinpoint any digital anomalies and film grain is cleanly rendered, without any noticeable compression issues shining through. In the end this is probably one of the most impressive silent film presentations from Criterion yet. 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.
Criterion offers a fairly complete special edition for the film, though there is one glaring omission that I suspect was out of their control. Criterion first provides a newly recorded audio commentary by film historian Charles Maland. Maland impressively packs in quite a bit of material into the short 53-minute track, though this one unfortunate aspect of the short running time is that it doesnít give him the ability to focus too much on one topic. But he does what he can and on the whole I enjoyed the track as he talks about the history of the production, Chaplinís discovery of child performer Jackie Coogan, the narrative flow and gag set ups, while also covering Chaplinís personal issues (his divorce from Mildred Harris in particular became a big problem). He also notes problems that came up with First National and talks a little bit about the 1972 reissue and the edits that were made. All in all, despite the handicap of the short running time (and my mildly negative reaction to how he pronounces ďpathosĒ) I found the track quite informative and worth the listen.
Criterion then groups together a number of archival interviews, starting with one recorded in 1980 by Kevin Brownlow with Jackie Coogan. Coogan talks about his early performing days, which sounds to have been thrown upon him by his parents, and first meeting Chaplin. He talks about shooting the film and working with Chaplin, and shares some interesting anecdotes you wonít hear elsewhere, like how the glue from Chaplinís moustache left an incredibly offensive odor that he seems to clearly recall. He even gets into detail about his directing style and how he got the heartbreaking performance out of him at the end. Most amusingly Coogan fell asleep during the initial screening of the film and never actually saw The Kid until 1938, where Chaplin, upon learning Coogan hadnít seen it yet, gave him a personal screening, complete with Chaplin providing a score. The interview runs 11-minutes.
A 1993 interview with Chaplinís former wife, Lita Grey Chaplin, follows. She first talks about being discovered by Chaplin for a role in The Kid and then being hired for The Gold Rush, where she then had to drop out of after a relationship with the director led to a pregnancy and, eventually, marriage. She talks about her marriage with Chaplin, which was troubled from the start, and her two children that came from the brief relationship. She then covers her career after the divorce, which led to her acting as an agent in the 1950s when her career began to slow down. Itís a nice, honest, personal interview, yet she has no animosity towards Chaplin and still fondly recalls the time period. This interview runs 10-minutes.
We then get two audio interviews, one with cinematographer Rollie Totheroh recorded in 1964, and another with distributor Mo Rothman, recorded in 1998. Totheroh talks a bit about editing The Kid outside of California, done to hopefully keep Mildred Harris from going after the film during Chaplinís divorce from her. Rothman talks with Jeffrey Vance about the partnership he had with Chaplin during the 70ís and early 80ís in reissuing his films. Rothmanís interview is brutally honest, with him explaining how in the 80ís the market just wasnít there for silent black-and-white films, which led to him ending the relationship. And amusingly, since most interviews do present a brighter picture of Chaplin, Rothman doesnít have many nice things to say about him, rounding it up with he was ďnot a nice man.Ē Both running 8-minutes and 10-minutes respectively, they both offer great behind-the-scenes accounts about the filmís production and re-issue in theaters.
A new video essay by film scholar Lisa Haven, Jackie Coogan: The First Child Star, comes next. Running 19-minutes Haven goes over Cooganís early career, his work with Chaplin, and then the work that would follow over the years. She gets into great detail about the ordeals he would have with his parents and his money, his parents spending most of it over the years. This ended up leading to new laws to protect child stars. Itís a packed history, and at times fairly infuriating. Yet sadly, despite the tragedies along the way (a car crash that killed everyone in the car, except Jackie Coogan) itís one of the happier stories about a child star.
Next we get what first comes off as an odd, maybe unnecessary feature, A Study in Undercranking, a 25-minute discussion with Ben Model, about the technique of filming at a slower speed (anywhere between 8 fps and 16 fps) to create a different look when sped up at the projection speed of somewhere between 20 fps and 24fps. At first I thought Model was presenting this as some sort of surprise discovery but then I realized he is actually showing how this type of technique was taken into consideration when the likes of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd were planning their gags. We get demonstrations with scenes from The Kid, City Lights, short films, and even Keatonís own Cops and Lloydís ďjigĒ from The Freshman, showing how the scene plays out at projection speed and then how the play out at what was probably the filming speed. I knew the gags would play out differently but at times I was surprised how un-choreographed and sloppy they seemed when played at the suspected ďoriginalĒ speed. At the original speed the gags are really off, with things happening too soon or too late, but then when sped up to projection speed the timing has the illusion of being perfect and the gags work far better. He then talks about how the art was essentially lost when sound films came into the picture, since it became more difficult having to synch up sound, but Chaplin still found ways to use the technique in some of his sound features. In the end the feature proved to be a decent surprise.
Criterion then provides two-minutesí worth of footage of Chaplin conducting the new score for The Kid in 1972, which is then followed by deleted scenes from the 1921 version. The one rather glaring omission from the release is the original 1921 version of the film. In 1972, for a re-issue of the film, Chaplin composed a new score for the film and edited out three sequences, apparently preferring this new edit to the original. It sounds as though the Chaplin estate has requested that Criterion only provide this cut of the film and not the original cut. The lack of this cut is disappointing to say the least, but Criterion does what they can and, at the very least, do provide the excised scenes, bookended by the sequences they would have appeared between. Chaplin ultimately cut out sequences featuring ďThe Woman,Ē played by Edna Purviance. The sequences in question feature The Woman coming across a wedding before abandoning her child, The Woman longing for her child after coming across another baby, and a later scene where she runs into The Man (the actual father of the child) after the two have both found success. Though again Iím disappointed that the original edit isnít here in its entirety (and the material appears to be in excellent condition) I think I can see why Chaplin felt the desire to cut it out. The scenes do take the focus away from the relationship between the Tramp and the Kid, though again I donít think leaving the scenes in is a death blow to the film of any sort.
Altogether the scenes run a little over 7-minutes, including the bookending scenes that still appear in the 1972 version. Criterion also includes the original title designs from the 1921 version of the film, presented in a 6-minute montage comparing them to what was created for the 1972 version. The original titles, taken from a 16mm print that is in terrible shape, point out a few surprise changes. Phrasing appears to be the same, other than some differences in punctuation, but I was shocked to see graphics created for the original titles were not carried over for the 1972 version. Whatever the reason for that Iím at least glad Criterion saw fit to present them all here.
Some newsreel footage from 1921 comes up next, featuring Chaplin returning to Europe for the first time since moving to America in 1914, spending most of its 4-minutes on the boat watching Chaplin interact with crew and passengers. Criterion also presents the 1922 short film, Nice and Friendly. The short film, running 11-minutes, features Chaplin and Coogan and centers around Chaplinís Tramp having to save a young couple from a gang of crooks looking to steal a priceless jewel the young woman has. The short is, ultimately, not very good, but was made as a present for two of the stars, the newly married Louis and Edwina Mountbatten. No restoration work has been done and it looks like itís an upscale from a standard-definition transfer, but itís here for the curious.
The disc then closes with three theatrical trailers for the 1972 reissue, made for the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands. Together they run about 8-minutes. The included insert features an essay by Tom Gunning, who looks at the mix of humour and humanity in the film, which had been built up in previous short films. He also offers some observations on the autobiographical aspects of the film. He also includes the poem ďChaplinesque,Ē written by poet Hart Crane after seeing The Kid. This insert nicely closes of the release.
Other than the lack of the original cut I found this to be a very well-rounded, fairly packed release. Considering the filmís short length Iím a little surprised more shorts werenít included, but I guess Iím hoping Criterion is going to being putting out a release featuring nothing but shorts. 9/10