Sidewalk Stories (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
October 26, 2014 by Dennis Amith
“Sidewalk Stories” is a unique silent film that is inspired by Chaplin but with its setting in late ’80s New York City, the film provides social commentary on the plight of the homeless and giving them a voice. Charming, humorous but also highly entertaining, “Sidewalk Stories” is a silent film that I highly recommend!
TITLE: Sidewalk Stories
FILM RELEASE: 1989
DURATION: 101 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1 Original Aspect Ratio, Black and White, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
COMPANY: Carlotta Films/Kino Lorber
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Written and Directed by Charles Lane
Produced by Howard M. Brickner, Charles Lane
Executive Producer: Chris Blackwell, Vicki Lebenbaum
Associate Producer: Jeff Pullman
Music by Marc Marder
Cinematography by Bill Dill
Edited by Charles Lane
Production Design by Ina Mayhew
Costume Design by Jane Tabachnick
Charles Lane as the Artist
Tom Alpern as the Bookseller
Nicole Alysia as the Child
Sandye Wilson as the Young Woman
Tanya Cunningham as Girlfriend
Toni Ann Johnson as Girlfriend
Ellia English as Bag Lady
Edie Falco as Woman in Carriage
Ed Kershen as Detective Brooks
A young artist living in New York, on the fringes of the financial district and its rushing crowds, tries to make a living sketching passersby on the street. He survives on his meager means and has found refuge in an abandoned building. One night, on the corner of a back alley, he finds a little girl whose father has just been murdered. While struggling to take care of her, he meets a young rich woman who immediately falls in love with this awkward couple.
Twenty years before THE ARTIST, SIDEWALK STORIES portrays the friendship of a tramp and a child, in a moving and funny homage to Chaplin’s THE KID. Both witty and tender, Charles Lane’s gorgeous black and white comedy pays tribute to the silent film era, with a score composed by Marc Marder. Charles Lane accurately captures the daily life of the homeless population of New York with a cinéma vérité approach that undoubtedly reminds of Lionel Rogosin’s ON THE BOWERY. His film is also an important work of the New African-American cinema of the 1980s, along with Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING and John Singleton’s BOYZ N THE HOOD, that conveyed a strong political message. Finally, with this gripping tale of the underprivileged and its beautiful portrayal of the city, SIDEWALK STORIES uniquely draws on social satire to deliver a timeless message of generosity and love.
With the success of the 2011 modern silent film “The Artist”, which helped rejuvenate interest in silent films, there was also a film back in 1989 that helped bring interest in the film genre.
In 1989, the American low-budget silent film titled “Sidewalk Stories” was created and directed by Charles Lane and received positive feedback as it paid homage to Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 film “The Kid”. The fim would be donimated for “Best First Feature”, “Best Director” and “Best Male Lead” at the Independent Spirit Awards and would win the “Audience Award” at the Wurzburg International Filmweekend in 1990.
“Sidewalk Stories” was televised on PBS and on cable, while being released on VHS until it was out of print and never seen again.
Fastforward nearly 25-years later and the film would receive restoration by Carlotta Films with the support of the Centre National Du Cinema Et De L’Image Animee (CNC) from the original camera negative. Restoration work was carried out by L’Immagine Ritrovata of Bologna in 2013.
And now the restored film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.
For director Charles Lane, the African-American actor and filmmaker would create a silent short back in 1989 titled “A Place in Time” based on the Kitty Genovese incident (Genovese was murdered in 1964 in Queens and despite over 30-people hearing the struggle and screams, barely anyone did anything to help or get help). The film would win a student Academy Award and would build interest in his work and allow Lane to create two more films, “True Identity” and “Sidewalk Stories”.
With “Sidewalk Stories”, Charles Lane would showcase his admiration for slaptick and Chaplin’s “The Kid”.
“Sidewalk Stories” features Charles Lane as an artist trying to survive in New York city and competing with other artists on the street. After trying to make a day’s worth of money, we learn that the artist lives in an abandoned building and just trying to survive with what little money he makes.
He tries to draw a picture of a woman but she ends up falling on top of him. Embarrassed, she pays him and leave.
One day, a couple with a child are strolling near the area at night. The couple are arguing and he wants to gamble on the streets, while his wife wants the artist to draw her child. The man loses his money quickly and begs his wife to give him more, which she doesn’t want to. He eventually slaps her and takes the money and the child with him.
While the artist is walking, he sees the gambling man in a squabble with a few thugs and one eventually stabs him and steals his money. As the artist goes to check on him and realizes that he is dying. The man dies and the artists finds a photo of his wife and child.
As the artist takes the child, knowing he doesn’t have money to take care of her, tries to leave her on the sidewalk. But feeling bad for her, he ends up trying to take care of her.
He goes into a children’s boutique and tries to steal children’s clothing and the owner happens to be the woman that he tried to draw earlier. She is aware that he was trying to steal clothing but she lets him leave and giving the little girl a stuffed animal of Big Bird and glasses.
And often, the woman goes to visit the artist and the child and try to help them out by giving him extra money, which he ends up putting back in her coat pocket.
While the artist tries to continue his work, he is having a difficult time making money. When he goes to teach her how to paint, he realizes that more and more people start to show up as people are willing to give donations because of the little girl. Meanwhile, two homeless men watch and see how this girl has made money for the artist and now, these men are planning to kidnap her.
Meanwhile, the mother of the child is desperate because she finds out that her husband has been murdered and her baby girl is missing. And there are no leads of where her daughter may be.
And as the artist takes care of the child, in the short time that she has spent with him, he realizes how much this little girl has made an impact on his life, but he knows that he can’t take care of her forever.
“Sidewalk Stories” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). The film would receive restoration by Carlotta Films with the support of the Centre National Du Cinema Et De L’Image Animee (CNC) from the original camera negative. Restoration work was carried out by L’Immagine Ritrovata of Bologna in 2013.
The film was scanned and restored at 2K resolution. After scanning, images were digitally stabilized and cleaned, and all wear marks were eliminated.
Picture quality is great as it retains the grain but the video is sharp and well-contrast. There is no problems with exposure and white and grays look great, while black levels are nice and deep. I didn’t notice any problems with any film warping, artifacts or any negative issues during my viewing of the film.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Sidewalk Stories” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the musical soundtrack is crystal clear. According to Carlotta films, for sound restoration, after digitization, the soundtrack was digitally cleaned and background noised reduction eliminated all wear marks.
“Sidewalk Stories” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Charles Lane and Marc Marder
- Vibrations – (27:59) Interviews with director Charles Lane and composer Marc Marder.
- “A Place in Time” – (34:17) The 1977 short by Charles Lane that initiated the project of “Sidewalk Stories”.
- 2013 Trailer – (1:26) The 2013 theatrical trailer for “Sidewalk Stories”.
“Sidewalk Stories” comes with a slipcover.
“Sidewalk Stories” is a silent film that captivates you right from the beginning of the film.
A film that captures New York City and the struggle of homeless trying to get by as street vendors, a silent film that captures New York City in the late ’80s but also a film that utilizes an African-American cast but almost in Chaplin fashion, showcasing a dramatic musical score to set the mood, but a film that rides on the chemistry between a struggling artist, an energetic child and caring woman.
An ode to Chaplin’s “The Kid”, viewers watching a Chaplin film are expecting physical comedy and the best facial expressions and movements of the Tramp.
With “Sidewalk Stories”, part of the unknown and lends to the efficacy of the film is we do not know director/actor Charles Lane.
Are we going to see physical comedy? Is this film more or less an African-American take on Chaplin’s “The Kid”?
What we get is a film that captures the plight of the homeless in New York City, the film captures wonderful chemistry between actor Charles Lane and the young Nicole Alysia. And while the musical score sets the mood, you can only hope the child actor can bring spontaneity and moments that will eventually win your heart.
Charles Lane accomplishes that with his film. The casting of Nicole Alysia worked because she shows an energetic side but also showing us trust that her character, a young girl, has no one but the artist to trust. The artist being poor, is willing to do all he can to take care of the girl, even if he doesn’t have the financial means to do so.
He is a man that struggles to survive but he also is a man of honor that he will give a paying client their extra change or at times, not take their money, even though he knows it would help him.
Without spoiling the ending, it’s a finale that is surprising but realistic and even 25-years-later since the film has been made, we know that nothing much has changed and it’s a story that remains relevant even today.
As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality of the restored film is fantastic. The film is well-contrast and detail is evident throughout the film. There is a good amount of grain that can be seen and if anything, “Sidewalk Stories” looks great in HD! The musical score is also crystal clear through the front channels with no signs of hiss, crackling or pops. And you also get a good number of special features including an audio commentary with director/actor/producer Charles Lane and composer Marc Marder. You also get an exclusive interview with both men plus Charles Lane’s short film “A Place in Time” which he created back in 1977.
Overall, “Sidewalk Stories” is a unique silent film that is inspired by Chaplin but with its setting in late ’80s New York City, the film provides social commentary on the plight of the homeless and giving them a voice. Charming, humorous but also highly entertaining, “Sidewalk Stories” is a silent film that I highly recommend!
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