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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New audio commentary featuring Charlie Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance
  • Interview with Charlie Chaplin from 1969
  • New interview with Chaplinís son Eugene Chaplin
  • In the Service of the Story, a new program on the filmís visual effects and production design by effects specialist Craig Barron
  • Chaplin Today: ďThe Circus,Ē a 2003 documentary on the film, featuring filmmaker Emir Kusturica
  • Excerpted audio interview with Chaplin musical associate Eric James
  • Unused cafť sequence with new score by composer Timothy Brock, and related outtakes with audio commentary by Chaplin historian Dan Kamin
  • Newly discovered outtakes featuring the Tramp and the bareback rider
  • Original recording of the filmís opening song, ďSwing, Little Girl,Ē by Ken Barrie
  • Footage of the 1928 Hollywood premiere
  • Rerelease trailers
  • An essay by critic Pamela Hutchinson

The Circus

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Charlie Chaplin
1928 | 71 Minutes | Licensor: MK2

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #996
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 24, 2019
Review Date: September 29, 2019

Purchase From:
amazon.com  amazon.ca

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SYNOPSIS

In the last film he made during the silent era, Charlie Chaplin revels in the art of the circus, paying tribute to the acrobats and pantomimists who inspired his virtuoso pratfalls. After being mistaken for a pickpocket, Chaplinís Little Tramp flees into the ring of a traveling circus and soon becomes the star of the show, falling for the troupeís bareback rider along the way. Despite its famously troubled production, this gag-packed comedy ranks among Chaplinís finest, thanks to some of the most audacious set pieces of the director-performerís career, including a close brush with a lion and a climactic tightrope walk with a barrelful of monkeys. Rereleased in 1969 with a new score by Chaplin, The Circus is an uproarious high-wire act that showcases silent cinemaís most popular entertainer at the peak of his comic powers.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection finally makes its way around to Charles Chaplinís The Circus, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. This new 4K digital restoration was performed by Cineteca di Bologna and was scanned from the 35mm duplicate negative made in 1967 (I assume in relation to its re-release a couple of years later). It has been encoded at 1080p/24hz.

In the included audio commentary Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance mentions that of all of the directorís feature films The Circus was in the worst condition, possibly due to Chaplinís original aversion to it thanks to a problematic production. This does show through a little bit, and of Criterionís Chaplin titles so far it probably does show its age a bit more, but even then, for a film now over 90-years-old, Iíd still say itís in remarkable condition. Fine scratches still show and there is obvious wear on the edges. Black specs rain through the image every so often, and small bits of grit show up on top of that.

So no, itís not the cleanest of the Chaplin films, but again, considering its age, I still think it looks unbelievably good and what damage there is is still easy to ignore. Helping things out is the digital encode, which looks absolutely gorgeous, giving the film a wonderful filmic texture. Grain is evident and rendered incredibly well, and details are quite sharp, at least when the source allows. Contrast and brightness levels are also balanced out well, delivering superb grayscale, bright (but not blooming) whites, and rich blacks without crushing out anything.

Despite any issues with the source print the presentation is still a sharp looking one, and easily the best the film has ever looked on home video.

8/10

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AUDIO

Though originally a silent film, Criterion is presenting Chaplinís altered 1969 version, where the director provided a new soundtrack for the film. Unlike The Gold Rush, Chaplin does not insert voice-over narration, but he does provide an opening song for the film, which he sings, along with a musical score for the rest of the feature. This soundtrack is presented in lossless PCM 1.0 mono.

The soundtrack was recorded 50-years ago and does show its age. The opening song sounds a little edgy and rough, though some of that could come down to Chaplinís voice at the time (he would have been 79), but the music improves after this, showing adequate range and fidelity. It also doesnít show any heavy damage and background noise is minimal.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Despite this being the 8th Chaplin title for Criterion to release they haveórather impressivelyómanaged to pack on a wealth of material here. Things start off with a new audio commentary featuring Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance. Vance manages to keep the track moving and engaging, covering numerous topics, from its troubled production (which ranged from losing footage to sets burning down) to deconstructing and explaining how certain gags worked (though there are some minor contradictions to these found in other portions of the supplements, like how the lion gag was pulled off). He also talks about dropped gags and outtakes (also found elsewhere on the release) and how Chaplinís opinion of the film changed over the years. I think most of the key material gets covered to a certain degree elsewhere on the disc but even then itís still an enjoyable, well researched track.

One of the more pleasant and surprising supplements in this release (and in Criterionís Chaplin releases overall) is the next one, an interview with Chaplinís son (the 5th between him and wife Oona OíNeill Chaplin), Eugene Chaplin, recorded last year and running 15-minutes. This wonderful interview not only features Chaplin talking about his father (as well as what it was like in their home in Switzerland) but he also talks about their home movies (which we get samples of through restored footage) and the museum that was opened in their Swiss family home, focusing on his father and his work. He also talks about his own career. Itís a really sweet, really touching inclusion.

Craig Barron yet again shows up for another overview of the filmís gags and effects with In Service of the Story. He talks about many gags in the film, explaining how Chaplin switches up expectations for how things will play out. Barron then does what he does best, explaining how the gags were pulled off and how effects were done, offering wonderful visual aids to accompany these explanations. He even goes further here by showing and explaining the special camera used for the filmís many split screen shots, even showcasing the various plates that were used to expose portions of the film elements and how everything comes together. Yet another engaging and fascinating contribution from Barron, running a breezy 20-minutes.

Criterion includes another episode of Chaplin Today, which I believe were produced for the 2003 MK2 and Warner Bros. DVDs, running 26-minutes. Like the others it first provides a bit of a making-of around the respective film (in this case The Circus) before looking at from a modern perspective, which includes how it has influenced other filmmakers, which in this case is through the eyes of director Emir Kusturica (Underground, Arizona Dream). Itís fine I canít say Kusturicaís comments offer anything noteworthy.

Stepping Out is a multi-part section that first presents a sequence cut out of the film by Chaplin (because it left the circus setting), and then looks at how Chaplin filmed and constructed his gags. Chaplin would shoot a large amount of material for every sequence, usually working on the jokes over every take until he got what he wanted. For this deleted sequence Chaplin filmed a large amount of footage over multiple takes, and during a 30-minute visual essay narrated by comedy choreographer Dan Kamin, we see the many takes around each shot in this sequence, observing how the gags change and build up, either by moving characters or objects around, or having gags play out slightly differently in comparison to the last take. There are even cases where the shot gets ruined and has to be done over again, and we can also see Chaplin play with camera positioning to get a better angle on things (we also get to see some use of the split screen camera since the scene involves twins, each played by the same actor). Thereís also some playful banter between performers. Barron in his feature and Vance on his commentary get into how meticulous Chaplin was in developing his sequences and this is an amazing feature that really shows off this aspect.

And as mentioned before Criterion does include an reconstruction of the deleted sequence, which was put together by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. Itís unclear whether Chaplin actually edited the sequence together so itís possible this doesnít play out at all as Chaplin may have intended. Even then itís actually a great little sequence around Chaplinís Tramp trying to go out on a date with his love interest, only to end up becoming a third wheel. The sequence runs about 10-minutes and is in decent condition. This is followed by a A Ring for Merna, which presents a series of outtakes around the scene where the Tramp is listening in on Merna Kennedyís character. The outtakes are edited around shots from the actual film and runs 7-minutes.

Criterion then provides a couple of features around the filmís music, starting with a rather funny audio interview with Chaplinís musical collaborator Eric James, recorded by Jeffrey Vance in 1998. Here James recalls how difficult Chaplin could be to work with, the director being particularly stubborn and not above calling James names. Chaplin would come to his senses, though, and apologize, even barbecuing a steak for the man. This is then followed by about 5-minutesí worth of audio from the 1969 recording sessions for ďSwing Little Girl,Ē the song written for the filmís opening. The first few takes feature Ken Barrie singing the song, though the audio ends with Chaplinís own recording, which I believe is what was ultimately used.

Criterion then digs into the archives, first presenting over 6-minutesí worth of silent footage from the filmís 1928 premiere, which features several celebrities showing up, including (but not limited to) W.C. Fields, Cecil B. DeMille, John Barrymore, Dolores Costello, Jackie Coogan, and more. There is also 5-minutesí worth of footage from a mass interview with Charlie Chaplin from 1969, where the director talks about the film, which he admits he now finds to have a certain charm. The disc then closes with the filmís North American and French trailers for its 1969 release. The included insert then features an essay by Pamela Hutchinson.

It doesnít include any bonus shorts but outside of that aspect the supplements feel pretty complete, covering the filmís trouble production and growing stature through the years in a satisfying manner.

10/10

CLOSING

The materials may be weak but the restoration and final presentation still look wonderful, while the supplements offer a very satisfying overview and analysis of the film and its production. One of the more impressive Chaplin releases from Criterion.


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