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KINO Video/KINO International/KINO Lorber (a J!-ENT Listing of All KINO Blu-ray and DVD Reviews)

December 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Kino International was founded in 1977 as a theatrical distribution company specializing in classics and foreign language art films. The company began operation with a license to handle theatrical distribution of the Janus Collection, a library containing over 100 important European and Asian art films of the 40s, 50s and 60s.

Kino now boasts a catalog of over five hundred films — one of the most important libraries of classic and contemporary world cinema titles available to the home video collector — and has been honored by numerous critical accolades, including the prestigious Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics for its work in film preservation in 2002 and 2003.

The following is a list of all the KINO VIDEO/KINO INTERNATIONAL/KINO LORBER Blu-ray and DVD’s we have reviewed on J!-ENT thus far.

Note: Reviews are from 1999-Present

5 Broken Cameras

Abraham Lincoln

Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and ’30s: Ménilmontant by Dimitri Kirsanoff

Barbara

Battleship Potemkin

Big Joy: The Adventures of Jim Broughton

Bird of Paradise

The Birth of a Nation

Blank City

The Blue Angel (2-Disc Ultimate Collection)

The Blue Angel: Special Two-Disc Collection

Boccaccio ’70

The Bubble

Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Café de Flore

Casanova ’70 (as part of the “Great Italian Directors Collection”)

The Cat and the Canary: The Photoplay Restoration (as part of the “American Silent Horror Collection”)

The Charley Chase Collection Vol. 2: Dog Shy

Charlotte Rampling: The Look

The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom

- City of Life and Death

College

Computer Chess

- The Constance Talmadge Collection: Her Night of Romance

- The Constance Talmadge Collection: Her Sister From Paris

David Holzman’s Diary: Special Edition

The Devil Bat

The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption

Die Nibelungen: Special Edition

Dormant Beauty

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Deluxe Edition

Drawing Flies: Anniversary Edition

- Edge of Dreaming

Elles

A Farewell to Arms

Fear and Desire

Film Socialisme

A Fool There Was

Foolish Wives

Fritz Lang: The Earlier Works

- Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916

- The General

- Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould – Director’s Cut

The Girl on a Motorcycle

Giorgio Moroder presents Metropolis

Go West and Battling Butler

Going Places

- The Good Fairy (as part of the “Glamour Girls” DVD Box Set)

Great Directors

- Great Italian Directors Collection

Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation

- happily ever after (Ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d’enfants)

- Harry Langdon…the forgotten clown: Long Pants

Hell’s House

Himalaya

The Hitch-Hiker

if i were you

Ingrid Bergman in Sweden

Intermezzo (as part of the “Ingrid Bergman in Sweden” DVD Box Set)

- Intolerance (as part of the Griffith Masterworks DVD Box Set)

- It/Clara Bow: Discovering the “It” Girl

It Felt Like Love

June Night (as part of the “Ingrid Bergman in Sweden” DVD Box Set)

King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis

Korczak

- La Ronde

The Last of England

Le Quattro Volte

Les Vampires

Little Fugitive

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Littlerock

- Liverpool

- Lost Keaton (DVD)

- Lost Keaton (Blu-ray)

- Mademoiselle Chambon

- Marriage Italian Style

Mauvais Sang

The Max Linder Collection

Metropolis: The Complete Metropolis

- Metropolis: Restored Authorized Edition

More Than Honey

- The Navigator

- The Norma Talmadge Collection: Kiki

- The Norma Talmadge Collection: Within the Law

Nosferatu

Nostalghia

- Nothing Sacred

- The Ocean Waif (as part of “The Ocean Waif plus 49-17″)

Of Human Bondage

- Our Hospitality

- Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

The Penalty

Pig

Rapt

The Red Chapel

The Robber

Russian Ark

The Sacrifice: Remastered Edition

Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

The Saphead

Scarlet Street

- The Scent of Green Papaya

- Seven Chances

- Sherlock Jr. and Three Ages

Shoot the Sun Down: Restored Director’s Cut

Sidewalk Stories

Sister

The Sound of Insects

The Spiders

A Star is Born

- Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Story of a Love Affair (as part of the “Great Italian Directors Collection”)

The Stranger

Strike

A Summer in La Goulette

They Made Me a Fugitive

A Touch of Sin

- Two in the Wave

United Red Army

- Way Down East

We Won’t Grow Old Together

The Well-Digger’s Daughter

- Winnebago Man

- Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?

A Woman’s Face (as part of the “Ingrid Bergman in Sweden” DVD Box Set)

The Woodmans

A Year in Burgundy

- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

The Saphead (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 22, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Saphead” is Buster Keaton’s first feature film and while not his best, it’s a delightful, fun silent comedy on Blu-ray that Buster Keaton fans will surely enjoy!

Images courtesy of © 1920 Metro Pictures Corp. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Saphead

FILM RELEASE: 1920

DURATION: 77 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Color-tinted, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: July 10, 2012

Directed by Herbert Blache, Winchell Smith

Based on the original play “The Henrietta” by Bronson Howard, “The New Henrietta” play by Victor Mapes and Winchell Smith, Scenario by June Mathis

Produced by John Golden, Marcus Loew, Winchell Smith

Music by Robert Israel

Cinematography by Harold Wenstrom

Art Direction by F.H. Webster

Starring:

Edward Jobson as Reverend Murray Hilton

Beulah Booker as Agnes Gates

Edward Connelly as Mr. Musgrave

Edward Alexander as Watson Flint

Irving Cummings as Mark Turner

Odette Taylor as Mrs. Cornelia Opdyke

Carol Holloway as Rose Turner

Jack Livingston as Dr. George Wainright

William H. Crane as Nicholas Van Alstyne

Buster Keaton as Bertie Van Alstyne

Keaton stars in The Saphead as Bertie Van Alstyne, the spoiled son of a powerful Wall Street financier. Unable to escape the wealth and comfort that are foisted upon him, he pursues individuality in a series of comic misadventures in the speakeasies of New York, at the altar of matrimony, and even on the floor of the American stock exchange. The Saphead was instrumental in establishing Keaton as a bona fide star and greatly influenced his formulation of the Buster persona: a lonely, stone-faced soul thwarted by circumstance yet undauntedly resourceful and indefatigable in his struggle for love and survial within a chaotic world.

Prior to 1920, Buster Keaton was best known for his shorts with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Both under contract with Joseph M. Schenck, Keaton’s feature film debut was actually started by a recommendation by popular swashbuckling silent action star Douglas Fairbanks.

Fairbanks who starred in the film “The Lamb”, a 1915 action silent film based on the play “The New Henrietta” by Victor Mapes and Winchell Smith was being remade.  And because of Keaton’s popular physical comedy and the fact that the comedy remake which would be based on “The New Henrietta” and Bronson Howard’s play “The Henrietta”, Fairbanks recommended that Buster Keaton play the part.  And sure enough, Joseph M. Schenk gave his OK for Keaton to be loaned out and headline his first feature-film, “The Saphead” would create recognition for Buster Keaton acting and physical comedy but also giving him the chance to show that he can be a headliner .

While “The Saphead” was Keaton’s first film, he would go on to create primarily shorts for the next three years until 1923 in which he would star and co-direct the films “Our Hospitality” and “Three Ages”.  Considered as “the big start” in Keaton’s film career, the film continues to entertain Buster Keaton fans and now, “The Saphead” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The Blu-ray release will feature the original film featuring music by Robert Israel plus a complete alternate version.  The alternate version featuring the same story, but featuring variant takes and different camera angles.  So, same story but different takes, so essentially a different film.  This alternative version would feature a 2.0 stereo solo piano score by Ben Model.

“The Saphead” begins with introductions to the powerful Van Alstyne family.  Nicholas Van Alstyne (as portrayed by William H. Crane) is a man who is wealthy and knows how to invest in the stock market.  Meanwhile, his daughter Rose (as portrayed by Carol Holloway) is married to a broker, Mark Turner (as portrayed by Irving Cummings).    Mark’s law business is not doing well and he worries about making money.  Meanwhile, he receives a message from a woman named Henrietta to see her.

Henrietta happens to be his mistress and he has an illegitimate child with her, but has kept it a secret from Rose.  Henrietta is very sick and wants Mark to see her before she dies, but Mark has no intention of seeing her or his child.

Meanwhile, at the Van Alstyne’s home, Nicholas Van Alstyne’s son Bertie “The Lamb” (as portrayed by Buster Keaton) is awaiting for his adopted sister, Agnes Gates (As portrayed by Beulah Booker) to come home.  Nicholas pretty much raised Agnes like his own daughter and has taken care of her, but for Bertie and Agnes, both have liked each other since they were kids, but now as they are young adults, Bertie feels he must prove his love to her and become a man.

As for Bertie, his father Nicholas thinks he is a “saphead”, a “lamb” and pretty much a weak person who is living off his father and has no initiative in becoming a businessman or anything.  And it frustrates Nicholas that his son is like this.

Despite how his father feels about him, for Bernie… all that matters is Agnes.

Bertie has been reading books of how “bad boys” attract women, so he decides to try and be a tough guy.  While showing up late to pick up Agnes at the train station, Bertie decides to hang out with a few of his guy friends and these guys take him out for a night of gambling.  But Bertie doesn’t know that the location is an underground gambling club and the police end up busting the club.  For Bertie, he sees this as an opportunity to get the police to take him to jail or the media to print something bad about him, so Agnes will think he is a”bad boy”.

But he is quick to realize that Agnes is in love with him because he is not a bad boy and both Bertie and Agnes decide to get married.  But because of the negative publicity of the underground gambling and Bertie being featured on the front page of the newspaper, his father Van Alstyne wants Bertie to move out of the house, no longer receiving an allowance from his father and for him to mature and get a job.

So, his father cuts a $1 million check to Bertie and now, Bertie must find ways to become a man and find work.  But also to prepare for his upcoming marriage with Agnes.

But when Henrietta’s message to Bertie’s brother-in-law, Mark not being answered.  Before Henrietta’s death, she asks her friend to reveal the affair that she had with Agnes.

And on the wedding day of Bertie and Agnes, right before the two were to get married, Henrietta’s friend delivers the letters to the Van Alstyne family and out Mark Walters of having an affair with Henrietta. But shockingly, Mark lies and accuses Bertie of having an affair with Henrietta.  And because Bertie is shy and never a guy to get into arguments, everyone believes Mark and Bertie is disowned by his father and also losing his love of his life, Agnes in the process.

As Bertie is now estranged from the family, he must now must make his own living and that is by working in “The Street” and getting involved in the Stock Exchange..  Meanwhile, Mark tries to scheme his way into taking care of Nicholas Van Alstyne’s investments and leaving Nicholas Van Alstyne in financial ruin.

Will Bertie be able to win his honor and the love of his life back?

VIDEO:

“The Saphead” is presented in 1080p High Definition and is color-tinted.   The good news is that fortunately “The Saphead” was restored and taken care of by film collector and archivist Raymond Rohauer.   As for the film itself, I have watched the original Kino DVD many times (via “The Art of Buster Keaton DVD Box Set).  And so I was anticipating the film to look great on Blur-ay as previous Buster Keaton films have been on Blu-ray.

But for anyone who has not seen a silent film on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, it’s important to note that Kino is not a company that spends a lot of money and dedicates many hours into restoration and clean-up.  So, with that being said, don’t expect the film to look pristine.  Especially since it is over 92-years-old.  You will see scratches, white specks but fortunately, this film was restored earlier on before any nitrate damage could have made the film unwatchable or terrible looking.

The film looks good on Blu-ray with black levels looking good, whites and grays that are well-contrast but could it look better, definitely. Could it look even clear?  Of course.  But the reality is that restoration is expensive and not many companies can afford to continually do it for each release.  Yes, Raymond Rohauer did restore the film but restoring films a decade ago or many decades ago can not compare to how films are restored today with newer and costly technology.

With that being said, “The Saphead” looks very good and no blurring or faint details as seen on the original DVD release.  I’m sure Keaton fans will definitely appreciate the video quality on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

For the release of “The Saphead”, the original film features music by Robert Israel presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and in 2.0 Stereo.  For the alternate version, Ben Model’s solo piano score is presented in 2.0 stereo.

I will say that hearing Israel’s music via lossless was amazing.  I was testing the music back and forth from 5.1 to 2.0 and the overall music came alive in lossless.    So, I do appreciate the lossless Robert Israel soundtrack being included on Blu-ray.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“The Saphead” comes with the following special features:

  • Complete Alternate Version of “The Saphead” – The alternate version is the same story with variant takes and camera angles.
  • “A Pair of Sapheads” – (7:31) A featurette comparing the two versions of the film and why an alternate version was made.
  • “Buster Keaton: Life of the Party” – (30:34) A fascinating audio recording fro 1962 as Buster Keaton recalls memories of his youth and the songs of the past.
  • Why They Call Him Buster – (1:11) The “Lost Keaton” promotional trailer.
  • Gallery - Featuring a gallery of 16 images showcasing work from Buster Keaton’s career.

EXTRAS:

“The Saphead” comes with a slipcase.

“The Saphead” may not be the best film in Buster Keaton’s oeuvre, but what a delightful and fun film.  I never grow tried of watching it!

Having seen this film multiple times, it was great to finally watch it on Blu-ray and also getting the opportunity to watch the alternative version included.  But historically, “The Saphead” was a major film in Buster Keaton’s career as actor in Hollywood and Douglas Fairbanks really gave Keaton a major chance of being a movie star.  While there are many shorts featuring Buster Keaton before and after “The Saphead” was released, it was the first film that would have a farther reach around the glove, but also would feature Keaton in his trademark, deadpan face.  But also a chance to see him his physical comedy in action.

I enjoyed the film because of two things.  One would be the film’s time capsule of capturing the feel of New York’s Stock Exchange.  We see early footage of how packed “The Street” (Wall Street) was during 1920 but it also gives us a look at how investments were made in the Stock Exchange.  And I always gravitate towards films that are time capsules of the past.

Also, I always found the film to be intriguing in how a man would try to be a “bad boy” in order to get a woman back then.  It has its relevance today in the fact that many men try to read books on how to be a bad boy and date more women, so what the character of Bertie is no difference to how guys are today.  Many single men are still reading “How to” pick up women type of books and as long as these men have difficulties, many will be like Bertie and end up doing stupid things in order to attract women.

But while “The Saphead” may not be a Keaton written or directed film, it’s a film that captures comedy, as Bertie is literally clueless.  May it come to gambling or being part of the Stock Exchange, he has no clue but the way he goes about it, we can’t help but laugh.

In one scene, the men at the Stock Exchange go through their newbie ritual of hitting his hat or dropping his walking stick and just having fun with Bertie.  And for Bertie, he doesn’t see these men as mocking him but his naivety lets him believe that this is the culture among men working at the Stock Exchange.

At 77 minutes long, “The Saphead” is a shorter feature film but fortunately with this Blu-ray release, you get the film in HD, you get an alternative version of the film (same story but slightly acted differently by the talent) plus special features including a half hour rare audio recording from 1962 as Keaton recalls memories and songs of his youth.

Overall, “The Saphead” is going to continue to entertain old and new Buster Keaton fans. And one should not come to this film thinking it to be on the same level as “The General” or “Steamboat Bill, Jr.”.  It’s primarily Keaton’s first feature film but if anything, the film is delightful and funny and as a silent film fan, I love silent comedies and enjoy the work of Buster Keaton.  The film succeeds because of Keaton, the film is hilarious because of Keaton. Any other silent actor, I can’t see anyone else pulling this film off.  He was perfect for the role!

Is it worth watching?  Definitely.  Is it worth buying?  If you have purchased many Buster Keaton films on Blu-ray thus far, then “The Saphead” is another feature film starring Buster Keaton that is worth having in your silent cinema collection.

Sherlock Holmes (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The 1922 silent film of the legendary character Sherlock Holmes may be a bit different than what people presently expect from the character.  An intellect and romantic, the 1922 film is more of a detective/romantic film than a sleuth film, but still entertaining in its own right.   Featuring a restored version of the film by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department.

Images courtesy of © 2011 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Sherlock Holmes

FILM RELEASE: 1922

DURATION: 85 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Black and White, 1:33:1

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: December 20, 2011

Directed by Albert Parker

Based on the story by Arthur Conan Doyle and play by Wiliam Gillette

Written by Earle Browne, Marion Fairfax

Produced by F.J. Godsol

Executive Producer: Samuel Goldwyn

Cinematography by J. Roy Hunt

Art Direction by Charles L. Cadwallader

Starring:

John Barrymore as Sherlock Holmes

Roland Young as Dr. Watson

Carol Dempster as Alice Faulkner

Gustav von Seyffertitz as Prof. Moriarty

Louis Wolheim as Craigin

Percy Knight as Sid Jones

William Powell as Foreman Wells

Hedda Hopper as Madge Larrabee

Peggy Bayfield as Rose Faulkner

Margaret Kemp as Therese

Anders Randolf as James Larrabee

Robet Schable as Alf Bassick

Reginald Denny as Prince Alexis

David Torrence as Count von Stalburg

When a young prince is accused of a crime that could embroil him in international scandal, debonair supersleuth Sherlock Holmes comes to his aid, and quickly discovers that behind the incident lurks a criminal mastermind eager to reduce Western civilization to anarchy.

Adapted from the hugely popular stage version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories (by William Gillette), SHERLOCK HOLMES not only provided Barrymore with one of his most prestigious early roles, but also presented the screen debuts of two notable actors: William Powell (The Thin Man) and Roland Young (Topper).

SHERLOCK HOLMES was mastered from a 35mm restoration by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department, and is accompanied by a score by Ben Model, performed on the Miditzer Virtual Theatre Organ.

Back in 1867, this is when Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in a publication.

A fictional detective created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from 1187 through 1914, Sherlock Holmes was featured in four novels and 56 short stories.

By 1900, Sherlock Holmes would be featured in one-reel, minute-long films and in 1905, would be featured in a Vitagraph film.  The character would then be featured in one and two-reel films courtesy of Danish Nordisk Film Company between 1908 and 1911 and many more adaptations would be created.

But for early American cinema, the first high production film featuring the Sherlock Holmes character was created in 1922 and produced by Goldwyn Pictures Corporation (which would later be known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer three years later).  The film would be directed by Albert Parker (“The Black Pirate”, “Shifting Sands”, “The Love of Sunya”) and would star John Barrymore (“Grand Hotel”, “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”, “Dinner at Eight”) as Sherlock Holmes, Roland Young (“The Philadelphia Story”, “Topper”) as Dr. Watson and would also feature the first onscreen performance by actor William Powell (“The Thin Man” films, “The Great Ziegfeld”, “My Man Godfrey”).

For many years, this film was considered lost until a print was found in the 1970’s.  And was restored by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department.

Kino has released the film on DVD and also included it in their 2009 “John Barrymore” DVD box set collection and now this film will receive its very first release in HD via Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“Sherlock Holmes” is a film that begins with the introduction of the corrupted Prof. Moriarty (played by Gustav von Seyffertitz), a key figure that would become the arch nemesis of Sherlock Holmes in many stories to come.

Moriarty is a criminal mastermind with agents all over England willing to do the dirty work.  And one man he has targeted is Prince Alexis (played by Reginald Denny), a young man of royalty who is accused of stealing money.  For the Prince, all he wanted to do is live his life and marry his beloved Rose Faulkner (played by Peggy Bayfield), but now in trouble, he goes to his friend Dr. Watson (played by Roland Young) for advice.

Dr. Watson recommends his friend Sherlock Holmes (played by John Barrymore), an observer of life, to help him find out who is responsible.

One day, while Holmes is observing “love”, he is nearly ran over by Alice Faulkner (played by Carol Dempster), who he is smitten by her beauty.   When Watson approaches Holmes, he tells him about the problems that his friend, the Prince is having, but also that the woman he just met is the sister of Rose Faulkner, the girlfriend of Prince Alexis.  And thus giving Holmes the incentive of taking the case.

But while combing through the area that Prince Alexis may have lost the money, Holmes figures out that the person responsible is Foreman Wells (played by William Powell).  And when Holmes talks to Wells, he finds out that there is a major underground criminal activity happening in the area, activity that is led by a man known as Prof. Moriarity.

And when Wells arranges a confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and Prof. Moriarity, both men use their intellect to outwit each other.  For Moriarity, to have Holmes killed and for Sherlock Holmes, to find a way to get this criminal behind bars.  Who will succeed?

VIDEO:

“Sherlock Holmes” is presented in 1080p High Definition, black and white and was mastered from a 35mm restoration print by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department..  One must remember that this film was lost for decades until the mid-70’s.  While restored by the George Eastman House, for a film that was released in 1922, quality is good but definitely not great as there are a lot of scratches, white specks and flickering that can be seen.    But with that being said, there was only one print of this film found and this is the best restoration for a film that could have been lost.

With that being said, I would rather have a complete film especially one that is not littered with major nitrate damage or problems.  And there is much more detail and clarity, less blurring on the Blu-ray release of “Sherlock Holmes” compared to my DVD version (that came in the original “John Barrymore” Collection DVD box set).

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Sherlock Holmes” is presented in LPCM 2.0 monaural with a score from Ben Model, performed on the Miditzer Virtual Theatre Organ.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Sherlock Holmes” comes with trailers.

EXTRAS:

“Sherlock Holmes” comes with a slipcase.

There is no doubt that “Sherlock Holmes” is a character that has entertained generations upon generations, to most recently a sci-fi version starring Robert Downey, Jr.

While, my viewing of films featuring the famous investigator typically starred actor Basil Rathbone, watching the John Barrymore 1922 silent film is rather intriguing because not only is it an detective film, it’s also a love story.

Part of the problem that some may find with this film is that it’s quite far from the mysteries of “Sherlock Holmes” that people who have watched film adaptations, played video games or read the books, may find this film to be rather different.  If anything, Sherlock Holmes comes across more like a James Bond than the detective that some people are familiar with.

The film’s storyline tries to showcase the first meeting between Holmes and Moriarity but what viewers are left with is an unknown reason of why Moriarity is evil, why so many people would listen to a crotchety old man that resembles more of a Charles Dicken’s Ebenezer Scrooge.  The pacing is also off in the fact that the main mystery of the beginning of the film, becomes far less of the story and is more about Holmes wanting to help a beautiful young woman that he fell in love at first sight with.

Alice Faulkner had letters written to her fiance, he leaves, she commits suicide and now everyone wants to retriever her love letters that were meant for her fiance because they may embarrass his royal family and lead to an international scandal.   And as much as I want to say that the film focuses on this mystery, it does not.  It is more or less a Sherlock Holmes wanting to be with the woman he loved at first sight and protect her from Moriarity.

Sherlock Holmes are mystery stories that challenges one’s intellect of who did it?  Not so much with this film. It’s more or less a film about an intelligent investigator trying to outwit his arch-nemesis to protect the love of his life.

So, this is not the same Sherlock Holmes that people may be familiar with.  He’s more of a philosopher who has fallen in love.   Earle Browne and Marion Fairfax seemed more intent on focusing on a love story than a mystery that literally this adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes” misses its mark on mystery, deductive reasoning nor is it engaging for the audience to join in the riddle to solve a mystery.  It makes you wonder if the writers of the film have even read any of the books before writing the film.

As for the Blu-ray release of “Sherlock Holmes”, while the picture quality does feature quite a bit of scratches, white specks and occasional flickering.  And I have to admit that I was surprised to find out that of the four John Barrymore films from their 2009 “John Barrymore Collection” DVD set, that “Sherlock Holmes” was selected over “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “Tempest” and “The Beloved Rogue” (better John Barrymore films in my opinion).  But I’m guessing that with the release of “A Farewell to Arms” and “Nothing Sacred” on Blu-ray, the goal was to release films that were restored by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department.

Still, I do hope that Kino Lorber does continue to release more John Barrymore films in HD.  While “Sherlock Holmes” is not a very good film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, it’s intriguing for the fact that the character is so different than any other Holmes that we have seen on film, for some who want something fresh, may enjoy the creative choice the writers decided to take the character, or whether their goal was to romanticize him.

Overall, “Sherlock Holmes” is a decent John Barrymore film, not his best silent but definitely intriguing for the cinema fan who is interested in seeing an earlier Sherlock Holmes adaptation and also seeing William Powell in his first big screen roll.

 

Seven Chances (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“Seven Chances” is Buster Keaton’s fifth feature film and is a romantic comedy that is delightful, fun and exciting!  Featuring one of the coolest chase scenes to be featured in early American cinema but also featuring Buster Keaton continuing to raise the bar in risky, physical comedy.  Another magnificent Buster Keaton Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber!  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2011 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Seven Chances

FILM RELEASE: 1925

DURATION: 56 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Technicolor, color-tinted and B&W, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: December 13, 2011

Directed by Buster Keaton

Adapted from David Belasco’s comedy by Roi Cooper Megrue

Screen Version by Clyde Bruckman, Jean C. Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell

Cinematography by Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley

Art Direction by Fred Gabourie

Starring:

Buster Keaton as James Shannon

T. Roy Barnes as William Meekin, his partner

Snitz Edwards as Caleb Pettibone, his lawyer

Ruth Dwyer as Mary Jones, his girl

Frances Raymond as Mrs. Jones, her mother

Erwin Connelly as the Clergyman

Jules Cowles as the Hired Hand

This dazzling comedy showcases Keaton’s genius for super-sized slapstick as it tells the story of an eligible young bachelor who must marry by 7:00 p.m. in order to receive a $7 million inheritance. After bungling a proposal to his longtime sweetheart (Ruth Dwyer), Jimmie (Keaton) embarks on a desperate quest for a bride. He experiences a hilarious series of rejections, until a newspaper announcement of Jimmie’s predicament provides him with more fiancées than he can handle, setting in motion the most epic and surreal chase sequence of Keaton’s career.

In 1925, Buster Keaton created a film adaptation of Roi Cooper Megrue and David Belasc0 play “Seven Chances”.  His fifth feature film and identified by many of his fans as possibly his best romantic comedy film ever made.

While film critics were a bit split because it was an adaptation which featured several writers responsible for the screenplay, while a simple story that is introduced in the beginning and concluded at the end, it’s the middle…the main storyline which features one of the craziest chase scenes ever featured onscreen at the time, and quite timeless even today nearly 90-years later.

While the film would also feature a cameo role by future screwball comedy princess Jean Arthur, the film is also quite notable for its use of a very early Technicolor process at the beginning of the film which was recently restored by Kino for this 2011 Blu-ray release.

“Seven Chances” is a film that begins with Jimmy Shannon (played by Buster Keaton) as we see him wanting to tell his girlfriend Mary Jones (played by Ruth Dwyer) that he loves her, unfortunately as seasons come and go, it’s something he has been unable to do.

But Jimmy and his financial brokerage firm business partner, Billy (played by T. Roy Barnes), are suffering from major financial problems and they will need to raise enough capital to keep afloat and nothing is looking good for both men.  That is until Jimmy learns from his grandfather’s lawyer (played by Snitz Edwards) that he is left seven million dollars, but there is one condition, he must be married by 7:00 p.m. on his 27th birthday.

This is the only way both men can rescue their reputations and this money can help both of them, but first, Jimmy must get married.

Unfortunately, when he proposes to Mary, he makes it sound like he is marrying her only for the inheritance and not for love.  And because he has not confessed his love for her yet, she doesn’t know how he really feels about her.

So, as Mary is unable to marry her, she has second thoughts after talking to her mother and overhears a conversation between Jimmy, Billy and his lawyer of how much he loves her, money or no money.  Hearing that, validates her love for Jimmy and she is ready to marry him.  Unfortunately, the men are unable to hear her on the other line and thus a plan goes into effect, Jimmy must find a wife as soon as possible.

While Mary tries to stop Jimmy from marrying anyone but her, Jimmy begins his journey of finding a wife and taking chances on whoever he can meet.

But unfortunately, not many women are too keen on the idea of marrying a stranger and so Billy comes up with an idea.  To put a story in the local newspaper that Jimmy needs a wife to inherit seven million dollars and whoever is up to the task, will be his wife.  All they have to do is meet with him at a local church.

And as Jimmy awaits for whoever will show up, what he doesn’t expect are possibly a hundred or more women showing up and filling up the church.  Women of all ages and sizes wanting their chance to marry Jimmy.  And immediately, Jimmy is scared and begins panicking, that all he can do is run.

And thus, the chase featuring hundreds of women as they try to catch Jimmy throughout Los Angeles in hopes they can marry him and be his wife.  Meanwhile, his true love Mary awaits for him with Billy and the lawyer in hopes that Jimmy will marry her.  But as the clock continues to tick and nears 7:00 p.m., will Jimmy get married in time in order to get his inheritance?

VIDEO:

“Seven Chances” is presented in 1080p High Definition and the film looks absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray!  But first, let first preface with discussion of the introductory Technicolor scene.

“Seven Chances” was a film that utilized early Technicolor for the introduction and before this Blu-ray release, the Technicolor portion was in bad shape and degraded to the point that many people who saw the film felt it was color tinting combined with Nitrate damage on the sides.  And then the US Registry has their own version of the intro which is in black and white, so there were people who were unaware of the Technicolor process that was used and thought it was just bad color tinting and Nitrate issues with the original print.

For this 2011 Blu-ray release, according to a special feature included with this Blu-ray release, film historian Eric Grayson talked about how the scene was remade by Kino to keep it as close as what people have watched back in 1925.  With newer technology, they were able to restore the early Technicolor introduction and it literally took 80 hours to fix 3 minutes of footage.  Sure, the Nitrate damage is still there in the introduction but now you can tell it is an early Technicolor process and not bad color tinting.  But it’s great to see Kino having redo those scenes, especially utilizing the best source material out there to recreate it.

With that being said, “Seven Chances” uses the restoration mastered from 35 mm materials preserved by the Library of Congress.  While there are a few white specks from time-to-time, the clarity of the film is absolutely beautiful and for those who owned Kino’s “The Art of Buster Keaton” DVD box set and watched “Seven Chances”, there were many scenes, especially during the outdoor sequences that really never registered to me as a viewer because it looked quite blurry, but with this Blu-ray releae, you can actually make out grass, leaves, water, etc. Especially the contour of objects.  The detail of this Blu-ray release compared to the older Kino DVD release is noticeable and definitely an example to silent film fans of why upgrading to Blu-ray from the older DVD is worth it!

There is a good amount of grain on video but its the detail and clarity that is possibly the highlight of this Blu-ray release.  The contrast is great and black levels are deep and for the most part, the film via HD looks fantastic!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

For the release of “Seven Chances”, Kino has kept to the wonderful score by Robert Israel and we are given the LPCM 2.0 stereo score (which was featured on the original DVD release) but also a brand new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.   The score actually sounds wonderful via lossless, absolute clarity and definitely a major difference from the original stereo track that I watched the film on DVD nearly a decade ago.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Seven Chances” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Audio commentary by film historian Ken Gordon and Bruce Lawton who give us an idea of the time period that “Seven Chances” was shot in and comparisons to Chaplin and Harold Lloyd films.
  • A Brideless Groom – (16:48) In 1947, the “Three Stooges” remade Seven Chances, not surprising as “Seven Chances” co-writer Clyde Burkman worked on this “Three Stooges” short.
  • How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Columns – (9:44) A 1904 Edison short showcasing a similar style of story to “Seven Chances”.
  • Tour of Filming Locations – (10:17) John Bengston, author of “Silent Echoes” and well-known for visiting filming locations for Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd films, showcases how various locations where “Seven Chances” was shot looks like now.
  • About the Technicolor Sequence – (6:15) Film historian Eric Grayson talks about the restoration process of the early Technicolor scene for “Seven Chances”.
  • Stills – Featuring a gallery of 16 stills.

EXTRAS:

“Seven Chances” comes with a slipcase.

I can remember the first time I watched “Seven Chances” and literally seeing hundreds of women out on the street of Los Angeles as they tried to chase down and catch the character of Jimmy, played by Buster Keaton.

For the most part, Keaton’s classic film “Seven Chances” can be seen as not deep as his previous films because the premise of the story is rather easy to follow.  Man needs money, many has a chance of inheritance but must get married, so man needs to find a wife to get inheritance before 7:00 p.m.

Keaton’s style of making sure the beginning and the end were worked out by the writers, what he needed to complete on his own was the entire middle section of the film.  Where people would gasp at the stunts or whatever he would bring to the big screen.

While D.W. Griffith was a filmmaker who loved using hundreds of extras in his film, Buster Keaton loved utilizing masses.  As he did in “Go West” with dozens upon dozens of cattle walking through the streets of Los Angeles, this time around, it’s over a hundred women who wanted to marry the character Jimmy.

And like other Keaton films shot around that time, as a filmmaker and actor trying to raise the bar of how much risk he can take in creating the best stunts on film, one stunt featured Keaton dangling from a mechanical fork lift, another featuring the actor jumping from short cliffs to a large tree that falls to the ground after being cut by a logger.

But possible the most visual scene in cinema was Keaton running downhill but this time not being chased by women, but boulders.  Sure, the boulders were specially made but according to Buster Keaton, these boulders were so large that they could hurt someone if they weren’t being careful.  According to Robert K. Klepper, “The Golden Era of Silents 1877-1996″, Keaton’s body was covered by bruises for weeks because of the filming of this chase sequence.

While film critics were inundated with actors doing these stunts, while Buster Keaton was a marvel in doing his own stuntwork, it was part of the banality of silent films as others like Chaplin, Lloyd, Fairbanks and others were doing physical work onscreen in order to entice their viewers.

And suffice to say, the stunts done by Buster Keaton were risky but how awesome do they look onscreen.  Wonderful, physical comedy, risky and amazing and from the hundreds of women in the chase scene, to those hundreds of boulders falling down hill and heading towards Keaton’s character, how thrilling was a scene like that.  And the fact that it does last a long time, it’s definitely one of my favorite chase scenes in a film!

And I believe that is why a film like “Seven Chances” is so intriguing for us today.  Unlike those filmmakers who were bombarded with action sequences in silent cinema back in the day, for us, many of these scenes are done via stunt men and large crowds are now created in CG.  Watching “Seven Chances” was intriguing in the fact that you see so many people utilized in one film but also, to see a part of Los Angeles that while the streets and some buildings are still around, they looking nothing like what we see in this film.

This film is a great time stamp to an era of what once was of early Hollywood or Los Angeles.  “Seven Chances” for me, was more than just a comedy film but that captured the look and feel of Los Angeles in 1925 but also the pop culture fashion and hairstyles of women during the 1920’s.  And because there were a good number of women featured in this film, it was rather interesting to see those styles come to play.  May it be the dapper teen that was about to get married to Jimmy, to the women with the Louise Brooks hairstyle.  For me, as a silent film fan, I’m drawn into the historic pop culture of that era and “Seven Chances” does capture that moment in time quite well.

As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality of “Seven Chances” is fantastic.  Especially if you compared it to the original DVD release, watching the film in HD definitely made a big difference that I feel that for many silent film fans who have not wanted to stray from Blu-ray because they can’t see a difference, well…watch this film and compare it to the older Kino DVD and you can see a difference in quality!  As for the lossless audio, Robert Israel’s score is magnificent via DTS-HD MA 5.1 but it would have been nice to have another musical score.

But I’m quite appreciative of the special features included with this release.  I would have never expected to see a “Three Stooges” short on Blu-ray let alone on this Blu-ray release, but I was pretty happy about that.  Also, for a film that showcases so many locations, I am so grateful that Kino once against featured John Bengston’s visual essay.   And of course, you get more features including audio commentary as well.

Overall, “Seven Chances” may be a shorter Buster Keaton feature film than others that were previously released on Blu-ray, but it’s definitely one of his most delightful romantic comedies that he had partaken in.  Also, for those who love Buster Keaton’s risky stunts, “Seven Chances” doesn’t disappoint in that either because this film required a lot from Buster Keaton in terms of physical comedy. And last, “Seven Chances” features one of the coolest chase scenes ever featured in early American cinema.

Once again, another magnificent Buster Keaton on Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber!

Go West and Battling Buttler (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Two exciting and hilarious Buster Keaton films on one Blu-ray!  Highly entertaining, hilarious and all-out fun!  For Buster Keaton fans or fans of silent comedies, this double feature Blu-ray release featuring “Go West” and “Battling Butler” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2011 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Go West and Battling Butler

FILM RELEASE: Go West (1925), Battling Buttler (1926)

DURATION: Go West (68 Minutes), Battling Buttler (85 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: B&W, Color-Tinted, 1080i High Definition, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: N/A

Release Date: September 27, 2011

Go West

Written and Directed by Buster Keaton

Assistant Writer: Lex Neal

Scenario by Raymond Cannon

Music Composed and Performed by Eric Beheim

Produced by Buster Keaton, Joseph M. Schenck

Cinematography by Bert Haines, Elgin Lessley

Art Direction: Fred Gabourie

Battling Butler:

Directed by Buster Keaton

Written by Paul Giard Smith, Al Boastberg, Charles Henry Smith, Lex Neal

Original Book of Musical Play by Stanley Brightman, Austin Melford

Cinematography by Bert Haines, Devereaux Jennings

Music Arranged and Directed by Robert Israel

Go West

Buster Keaton as Friendless

Howard Truesdael as Owner of the Diamond Bar Ranch

Kathleen Myers as the Daughter

Ray Thompson as the Foreman

Brown Eyes as Herself

Battling Butler:

Buster Keaton as Alfred Butler

Snitz Edwards as His Valet

Sally O’Neil as The Mountain Girl

Walter James as Her Father

Budd Fine as Her Brother

Francis McDonald as Alfred Battling Butler

Mary O’Brien as His Wife

Tom Wilson as His Trainer

Eddie Borden as His Manager

With his trademark deadpan demeanor and his gift for inventive visual humor, Buster Keaton’s unique brand of comedy has proven to be a timeless source of laughter and an enduring influence upon several generations of screen comics. This Ultimate Edition showcases two of Keaton’s lesser known films, newly mastered in HD from the 35mm nitrate elements preserved by the Library of Congress.

In GO WEST, Keaton plays an idealistic young man known as “Friendless,” who rides the rails to a dude ranch, forms a sentimental attachment with an especially lovable cow, and, in the film’s breathtaking climax, finds himself at the center of cattle stampede through the streets of Los Angeles.

Based on a popular stage musical, BATTLING BUTLER stars Keaton as a pampered socialite who pretends to be a famed prizefighter in order to impress his girlfriend’s bullying brothers. Once begun, however, the charade is not easy to end, and Butler – aided by his personal butler (Snitz Edwards) – must endure physical training, sparring, and, unless he can stop it, a title bout with the “Alabama Murderer.”

Exciting, enjoyable and the magnificent physical comedy of one of the greatest stars of all time…Buster Keaton!

Have you been wanting more Buster Keaton on Blu-ray!  Kino Lorber has a new Blu-ray release planned for Sept. 2011 with the release of “Go West” (1925) and “Battling Buttler” (1926).

“Go West” is a film written and directed by Buster Keaton and it was a film in which Keaton wanted to capture the realistic scenery by filming in the deserts of Arizona (something that his film crew did not want to do because of the extreme heat).    In fact, during the filming of “Go West”, the film had to be reshot a few times because the film stock melted and the crew realized, the only way this film was going to be made is by quick thing and that was to submerged their cameras in ice to keep cameras operable and film stock intact.

The film also became one of Keaton’s most expensive films ever made as it required a stampede of cows, especially having the cows walk through the city.

In 1925, the film didn’t exactly do great in the box office but many years later, many fans of Keaton’s silent films do feel that it’s one of his most entertaining silent comedies.

“Go West” revolves around a man known as Friendless (played by Buster Keaton), who has sold everything in order to move from Indiana and travel out to the west.

He manages to find himself near the Diamond Bar Ranch and although he knows nothing about ranch life or taking care of animals, needing a job and wanting to make money, Friendless takes a cowboy outfit and eventually gets a job.

But despite not knowing how to milk a cow or how to ride a horse and bring cows in to their stable, Friendless meets a cow named Brown Eyes who is unable to walk due to having a rock caught in her paw.  Friendless removes the rock and immediately both Friendless and Brown Eyes become friends.

But when all the cows must be branded and sent to the slaughterhouse, Friendless will do all he can to prevent his new friend from getting hurt and killed.

In the 1926 film “Battling Butler”, But Keaton plays the role as Alfred Butler, the child of a wealthy aristocrat, who feels that his son has grown up too comfortably and has not become a real man.

So, the spoiled Alfred is sent on a hunting trip in the mountains and is accompanied by his valet (played by Snitz Edward) but for Alfred, instead of taking on the role of a hunter, he brings his wealthy life to the hunting ground, with a very large tent, oven, tables, bed and bath.  As well, as bringing his tuxedo and other garments.  Also, while camping out in the mountains, Alfred’s valet discovers that a boxer is using his name and is known as Alfred “Battling” Butler.  Alfred requests his valet to contact the boxer and to not use his name.

As Alfred knows nothing about hunting, nor does he know how to use a firearm and ends up nearly shooting the mountain girl (played by Sally O’Neil) and needless to say, their first exchange is not pleasant.  But for Alfred, he is amused to find a woman so brash. But is charmed by her and now wants to marry her.

While trying to catch a fish, Alfred falls of his boat and is rescued by the mountain girl and invites her to dinner near his tent.  While having dinner, the mountain girl’s father and brother comes to check out the man that the mountain girl is with and does not want her to be near someone that is so weak.

So, to defend his master’s name, the valet tells the father and brother that Alfred is a professional boxer and shows them the newspaper.  He tells them that they are in the mountains and he is training.

Feeling that now he is a tough man, they give Alfred the permission to marry the mountain girl if he wins his upcoming boxing match.

Feeling the pressure of their lie, when Alfred and his valet go to watch the live boxing match, Alfred “Battling” Butler manages to win and becomes the championship boxer.

For Alfred, the good is that he would now get to marry the mountain girl and when he goes back to the mountains, the whole village has a parade for Alfred and immediately, a wedding ceremony.  Alfred is happy that he has a wife but just when he thought the lie of being a professional boxer would end, news circulates that Alfred “Battling” Butler will be defending his title in a bout against the “Alabama Murderer”.

And to make things worse, now Alfred must continue the charade and stay and train in the same area where the real boxer is at to fool his wife.   But when the real Alfred “Battling” Butler catches wind of Alfred Butler’s lie, the boxer then chooses Alfred to fight the real boxing matching against the “Alabama Murderer” and for his trainers to get him ready for the real boxing match.

Will Alfred Butler have any chance in fighting against a real boxer?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Go West” (1925) and “Battling Butler” (1926) receives its HD release and are presented in black and white while the latter does have color-tinting.  Having previously owned “The Art of Buster Keaton” Kino DVD boxset, I can easily say that these two films do look great on Blu-ray.  The contrast looks great, the films look sharp and these are the best version of both films via picture quality to date.

While “Go West” is the better of the two when it comes to picture quality, both still manage to look better than its DVD counterpart in the fact that the whites and grays show awesome contrast, much more detail and black levels are nice and deep.  You do see lines and white specks from time-to-time on “Battling Butler” but by no means does it take away from the viewing of these two films.

The fact that both of these films show no major nitrate degradation and are complete films is a major plus and have no doubt that Keaton fans will agree that the picture quality for both films are very good!

As for the audio, for “Go West”, the music is composed and performed by Eric Beheim and “Battling Butler” features music arranged and directed by Robert Israel.  There are no alternate soundtracks but for those who enjoyed the music from the previous DVD release, will be happy that they are featured in the Blu-ray release.

The music for both films are well done and compliment the film just perfectly!

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Go West” comes with the following special features:

  • Go West - A 12 minute comedy short produced by Hal Roach and features the trained monkeys (The Dippy Do Dads).
  • 60-Minute Audio Recording - An audio recording of Buster Keaton working on a script proposal for the Western TV series “Wagon Train” (courtesy of Bob Bergen).
  • Photo Gallery – Production stills from “Go West”.

“Battling Butler” comes with the following special features:

  • Screenplay Excerpt - A screenplay excerpt featuring text on the unproduced remake of “Battling Butler” written by Keaton in 1947.
  • Gallery – Gallery of photographs from the 1922 stage production of “Battling Butler”.
  • Photo Gallery – Production stills from “Battling Butler”.

EXTRAS:

“Go West and Battling Buttler” comes with a slipcase cover.

Once again, Buster Keaton fans are treated with two more films from the filmmaker’s oeuvre showcasing his physical comedy as an actor but also his directorial and screenplay writing efforts in “Go West” and  directorial effort for the film adaptation of the stage play “Battling Butler”.

Both films precede his “The General” (1927) and “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” but there was no doubt that Buster Keaton, a perfectionist, would cause concern with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with “Go West” as it was an expensive film that required multiple do-overs because of filming in the desert of Arizona proved to be problematic for the cameras and the film stock.

While “Go West” would showcase Buster Keaton as a cowboy, it was a silent comedy western that was unlike any Western ever made and still is a unique film that holds up perfectly well in 2011.  In 1925, Buster Keaton brought in a large numer of cows to walk the streets of Hollywood.  Just watching the scene of, who knows how many cows were featured, walking through the city of Los Angeles in broad daylight was accomplished.

It’s probably the only film in which a woman is not Buster Keaton’s leading lady but a cow named Brown Eyes who is his true friend throughout the film and the female that he is trying to protect.  It really is an absurd film but it is a hilarious film that showcases Keaton’s comedy.  From being a cowboy that doesn’t know how to milk a cow, nor does he know how to ride a horse or to lasso a young cow, “Go West” is a film that provides a lot of laughs but a stampede sequence that is literally shocking when you watch it today.

As for “Battling Butler”, this is a straight-up Buster Keaton film that takes misunderstandings and lies to make for one exciting sports film.  In fact, I’m not really sure if “Battling Butler” is the first boxing film ever created but what we do know is that it is an adaptation of a popular Broadway play that ran from 1923-1924 and that the film was Keaton’s most financially successful feature film in the box office.

Keaton has said that “Battling Butler” is one of his favorite films, despite it being forced on him by Joe Schenck but it’s a wonderful farce as we see Keaton put into a boxing role and having to go one-on-one with experienced boxers.

But in this screenplay, it diverts from the original Broadway play in the fact that fans do get to see Keaton’s character Alfred Butler actually getting into a fight to protect his wife’s honor.

But it’s a hilarious film that is classic Keaton.  Farce combined with Keaton’s physical comedy, “Battling Butler” is highly entertaining!

And of the two films, I admit that I am more fond of “Battling Butler” in terms of story but admire the direction of “Go West” because how Keaton directed a large herd of cows through Los Angeles is surprising but yet an amazing thing to watch onscreen.  Many decades before CGI and yet, Keaton as always ahead of his time, was able to make it happen.

As for the Blu-ray release, once again…these are the best looking versions of the film to date.  In fact, I don’t know if I can even watch my older Kino DVD’s ever again because these films look so fantastic on Blu-ray. Granted, these films were never 100% pristine but the fact that the contrast and overall look of both films are an improvement from the original DVD release is a major plus.

The special features for this latest Blu-ray release offers different special features compared to the previous release.  As I would have loved to see the special features on the behind-the-scenes of the making of both films, at least we are given a rare 60-minute audio recording of Keaton working on “Wagon Train” plus an excerpt of the screenplay for the “Battling Butler” 1947-remake.  Sure, I would have loved to have additional choices for audio score but the Eric Beheim for “Go West” and the score for “Battling Butler” from Robert Israel which were used on the original DVD release are already wonderful and compliment the films really well!

Overall, if you have been watching the previous Buster Keaton films on Blu-ray, more than likely you will purchase “Go West” and “Battling Butler”.  If you are new to Buster Keaton, both films are highly entertaining…are they better than “The General” or “Steamboat Bill Jr.”, in my opinion, definitely not.  But these two films are still very entertaining and do a great job of showcasing Keaton’s physical comedy but also his efforts as a director.

Enjoyable, entertaining and fun…these two Keaton classics are definitely worth watching and this Blu-ray release is definitely recommended!

 

Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

A fantastic release for all Buster Keaton fans!  “Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923″ is a must-buy, must-own Blu-ray release for anyone who wants to see Buster Keaton before he went on to focus primarily on feature-length films.  Hilarious, risky and highly entertaining, this latest Keaton release from Kino International is a winner!

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Images courtesy of © 2011 Kino International Corp. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923 – Three Disc Ultimate Edition

SHORT FILMS: 1920-1923

DURATION: 19 shorts (390 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Black and White, Color-Tinted, Intertitles

COMPANY: Kino International

RELEASE DATE: June 14, 2011

 

Directed by Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, Malcolm St. Clair

Written by Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, Malcolm St. Clair

Cinematography by Elgin Lessley

Produced by Joseph M. Schenk

Music by Robert Israel

Edited by Buster Keaton

Starring:

Buster Keaton

Sybil Seely

Joe Keaton

Joe Roberts

Edward F. Cline

Virginia Fox

James Duffy

Al St. John

Luke the Dog

Malcolm St. Clair

Jean C. Havez

Myra Keaton

Bartine Burkett

Charles Dorety

Ingram B. Pickett

Bull Montana

These celebrated comedies come to Blu-ray and DVD in a splendid three-disc ultimate edition, with all 19 shorts remastered in HD from archival elements. The set is loaded with special features, including The Men Who Would Be Buster (consisting of clips from silent comedies by other comedians that show the influence of Keaton’s work), alternate and deleted takes, a video tour of Keaton’s filming locations (by John Bengtson, author of Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton), and a series of visual essays on individual films written by leading scholars of silent comedy.

This three-disc set presents Keaton’s short films in chronological order (The High Sign, while released in 1921, was actually the first short film Keaton produced, but it was held back from release for about a year). Select titles are presented in both standard and digitally enhanced versions. This special set will also contain a booklet with an essay by Jeffrey Vance, author of Buster Keaton Remembered (co-authored with Eleanor Keaton).


When we think about Buster Keaton, we think of one of the kings of slapstick comedy during the silent era. The master of physical comedy, a talent known for his deadpan expression and his films, well-revered today as one of the best actors and directors of all time and beloved by many.

With the release of five Blu-rays consisting of Keaton’s well-known feature films, the side of Buster Keaton during the silent era that many people may not be familiar with are his silent shorts.

From his older work with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (presented in “The Best Arbuckle Keaton Collection” featuring shorts from 1917-1919), Keaton was able to learn from Arbuckle, especially how to make his own films and eventually going from a bit player to his partner while working and impressing his producer Joseph M. Schenk.

But by 1920, impressed with his work with Arbuckle and with Keaton starring in his first feature-length film titled “Saphead ” (1920), Schenk gave Keaton his own production unit “Buster Keaton Comedies” and Buster Keaton wanted to show that he can make his own two-reel comedy short films and also become the film’s main star and from 1920-1923, the actor would create nearly two dozen short films and would later graduate towards creating feature length films.

Fast forward over 80-years later and the shorts were released by Kino Video as part of their 2005 “The Art of Buster Keaton” DVD Boxset and a short two would be included as special features for the feature-film release.

With the success of the Buster Keaton Blu-ray releases, Kino International will now be releasing the shorts as part of a special three-disc Ultimate Edition on Blu-ray.

Included in this set are the following shorts (featuring a spoilerless summary of each short):

DISC 1:

  • The “High Sign” – (1920, 19 min.) Buster plays a drifter who tries to find work and ends up recruited to protect a man who is planned to be killed and is also recruited by the organization to kill the man.  What will Buster do.  (Note: Although this was the first short produced by Keaton, because he was disappointed in the short, it was shelved.  It was later released in 1921 when Keaton suffered a broken ankle and a new short needed to be released.)
  • One Week  - (1920, 24 min.) Buster and his bride (played by Sybil Seely) are newlyweds who have received a “build-your-own house in a week” as a wedding gift.
  • Convict 13 – (1920, 19 min.) Buster plays golf but at the same time, an escaped inmate (who is to be executed) is wanted by the police.  When Buster accidentally knocks himself out with his golf ball, the inmate switches clothes with Buster and now Buster is thought of as the convict who will be planned for execution.
  • The Scarecrow  - (1920, 18 min.) Buster and Joe (Keaton) are farmhands who both want to marry the farmer’s daughter (played by Sybil Seely).  Which man will she pick?
  • Neighbors – (1921, 19 min.) Buster and the girl across the other building are lovers but their families are feuding.
  • The Haunted House – (1921, 20 min., color-tinted) Buster is a bank teller who accidentally is accused for robbing the bank and ends up trying to hide in a haunted house.
  • Hard Luck - (1921, 21 min.) Buster tries to kill himself after losing his girlfriend.  (Note: This short has been lost for over 60-years and was in partially reconstructed in 1987.  Unfortunately, the final scene is missing and happens to be a film that Keaton had once said received the loudest laugh ever.)

DISC 2:

  • The Goat – (1921, 23 min.) Buster is accidentally mistaken as the criminal “Dead Shot Dan”.
  • The Play House – (1921, 23 min.) Keaton plays the conductor of nine members of a minstrel show.
  • The Boat - (1921, 23 min.) Busted is married with two children and creates a big boat known as the Damfino. (Note: This is Buster’s final collaboration with actress Sybil Seely)
  • The Paleface – (1922, 20 min.) Buster is a butterfly collector who accidentally wanders into an Indian camp while chasing a butterfly.  Unfortunately, the Indians want to kill their first white man.
  • Cops – (1922, 18 min.) Keaton plays a young man who accidentally upsets the police by throwing a bomb during a police parade and now he is wanted by them.
  • My Wife’s Relations – (1922, 17 min.) A large Irish woman falsely accuses Buster of breaking a window.  When they go see a Polish judge who doesn’t know English, he mistakes them as a couple wanting to get married.

DISC 3:

  • The Blacksmith – (1922, 21 min.) When Buster clowns around in a blacksmith’s shop, he and the blacksmith get in a fight resulting in the blacksmith going to jail.  Now Buster must take care of the clients.
  • The Frozen North  - (1922, 17 min.) Buster accidentally has mistaken a woman as his wife and that she is having an affair with another man.  Buster shoots them and finds out that the woman is not his wife.  What will he do?
  • Day Dreams – (1922, 23 min.) Buster leaves home in order to make some money, so he can get married to his hometown sweetheart.
  • The Electric House – (1922, 23 min., color-tinted) Buster graduates with an electrical engineering degree and is hired to wire a new home. (Note: Buster Keaton broke his leg while filming this film and the original version was shelved, this is the second version of the film.)
  • The Balloonatic – (1923, 22 min.) Buster plays a man who goes to an amusement park and meets a group of men preparing for a hot air balloon launch.  But the balloon accidentally launches with Buster inside it.
  • The Love Nest – (1923, 20 min., color-tinted) Buster leaves on a small boat to escape from his life and his lost love but ends up crashing into a whaling ship.

VIDEO:

“Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923″ is presented in HD.

The shorts are presented in picture box format (black box around image).  For silent film fans, these shorts look the best than they ever had before, especially compared to its DVD counterpart.  Not only are signs much more readable, but I also found certain details such as fabric to other details much more in clarity via Blu-ray.

For those who are selective of picture quality, some shorts do have mild flickering and of course, you are going to see dust and scratches.  But by no means will this hurt your viewing unless you are a bit anal about picture quality.

For “Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923″, while the original film elements were not pristine to begin with, the picture quality is among the clearest out there for silent shorts.  In fact, these shorts look very good on Blu-ray and I just want to add, much better than its DVD counterpart which wasn’t as detailed for certain environments and various scenes.

AUDIO:

“Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923″ features newer and older scores.

While some titles retain the original score (that was presented in the original Kino Video DVD release) and featuring arrangements by Robert Israel, there are some shorts that feature new scores from Ben Model.  According to Model, he scored  six Keaton shorts and one bonus short (five on theatre organ and two on piano).

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923″ comes with the following special features:

DISC 1:

  • Enhanced Version – Featuring a digitally enhanced version of “The High Sign”.
  • Visual Essays – Get to learn interesting facts for five of the shorts featured on disc one by R. Emmet Sweeney, David B. Pearson, Ken Gordon, Jack Dragga and Bruce Lawton.

DISC 2:

  • Enhanced Version – Featuring a digitally enhanced versions of “The Boat” and “Cops”.
  • Brief Alternate/Deleted Shots – Featuring alternated and deleted shots from “The Balloonatic”, “The Blacksmith”, “Cops”, “Day Dreams” and “The Goat”
  • Visual Essays – Get to learn interesting facts for five of the shorts featured on disc two by David Kalat, Patricia Eliot Tobias, Bret Wood, Ben Model and Steve Massa.
  • The Men Who Would Be Buster” – Featuring a collection of clipse from slapstick films influenced by Keaton’s Work which include “Only Me” (1929, with Lupino Lane), “Be Reasonable” (1921, excerpt with Billy Bevan), “Hello Baby!” (1925, excerpt by Charley Chase) and “White Wings” (1923, excerpt, with Stan Laurel).

DISC 3:

  • Enhanced Version – Featuring a digitally enhanced version of “The Balloonatic”.
  • Visual Essays – Get to learn interesting facts for four of the shorts featured on disc three.  Visual essays are by Bruce Lawton, Patricia Eliot Tobias, David B. Pearson and David Kalat.
  • Tour of Filming Locations – Joe Bengston (author of “Silent Echoes”) goes into detail of various areas where Buster Keaton’s shorts were filmed.  From the studio, Hollywood, Civic Center and overall round-up of areas around Los Angeles.
  • Character Studies – (5:33) A 1922 gag film starring Carter DeHaven, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and Jackie Coogan.
  • Seeing Stars (Excerpt) – (2:44) Featuring a cameo by Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and more.
  • About Kino – (1:10) Featuring a trailer promoting “Lost Keaton”.

EXTRAS:

“Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923″ comes with a slipcase + an eight-page booklet featuring an essay by Jeffrey Vance, author of “Buster Keaton Remembered”.


Before “Steamboat Bill, Jr.”, “The General” and many of Buster Keaton’s popular films, there was his famous silent 2-reel shorts.  Shorts that not only showcased his physical comedy but was a precursor of the greatness that Buster Keaton would bring to the big screen.

But I have been asked several times by new silent film fans of whether or not this Blu-ray was worth it.  Can they get into these shorts, especially if his feature films are quite entertaining.

And there is a certain misnomer it appears with those who have just started watching Keaton that his shorts are not as good as his films and I actually disagree with that.  In fact, there are many moments in these shorts where Keaton puts himself through a lot of physical situations that he actually hurt himself pretty badly.  But because he is a perfectionist and expected nothing but the best for himself when performing his style of comedy, these shorts are fun, entertaining and just wonderful to watch.

For example, in the 1920 short “One Week”, while Buster Keaton showcases his style of physical comedy, falling off houses and going through a variety of situations but yet maintaining that same look on his face, we see Keaton experimenting with leading ladies.  In this case, the beautiful Sybil Seely.  In this same short, we see a hint of sexuality as she is taking a bath and accidentally drops the soap, only to see a hand covering the camera as she goes to pick it up.  You don’t see those moments in Keaton films.

Actually, Seely would go on to appear in two more silent shorts with Keaton but because there was too much attention on his female counterpart and the fact that she was the same height as him, Keaton made sure that his next female actress for his silent shorts would not grab much attention.  And also, she would be much shorter than him.

We also see glimpse of various tricks, such as the side of a house falling and Keaton unhurt as the opened window falls on top of him.  While this trick was dangerous, Keaton would go on to make sure he goes bigger in the film “Steamboat Bill Jr.”.  In fact, you can look at these shorts of seeing Keaton’s greatness developing, his ability to make things look so easy but knowing that it is in fact quite difficult.  We are just in awe of what he is able to accomplish.

And because the viewer is able to watch all 19-shorts in this 3-disc Ultimate Collection Set, I don’t see how anyone can find “Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection” to be anything less than spectacular.

For one, it’s presented in HD and sure, the videophile who are used to the latest technology on Blu-ray may be to used to picture quality that is great or next to pristine picture quality, for silent film fans, these shorts look the best than they ever had before, especially compared to its DVD counterpart.  Not only are signs much more readable, but I also found certain details such as fabric to other details much more in clarity via Blu-ray.

But does that mean it’s pristine or great?  Of course not because a lot of silent films and shorts were improperly archived.  In fact, one has to remember that the flammable nitrate film, a lot of them were kept in warehouses because studios didn’t know what to do with them.  This is before home video and to the studio execs at the time, movies were disposable.  Once one was done, it made its money and it was time to move forward to the next best thing.

And so, possibly 90% or even higher of silent films and shorts are lost or were destroyed in fires or mishandling of the film elements.  A lot of films during the teens and twenties, you can only hope that there is no degradation of the film and that the warping or scratches aren’t too bad.

For “Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923″, while the original film elements were not exactly pristine and scratches and dust can be seen, the picture quality is among the clearest out there for surviving silent shorts.

In fact, these shorts look very good on Blu-ray and I just want to add, much better than its DVD counterpart which wasn’t as detailed for certain environments and various scenes.  Things in the background can be see much, much better in HD.

In fact, according to hardcore Keaton fans, they are quite happy that certain missing bits for a few shorts are now included in some of the shorts.  So, that’s another plus for this release!

But should one get rid of their “Art of Buster Keaton” DVD box set?  I wouldn’t.  For one, that is one heck of a box set and two, it’s also a set that has an alternate score for not only the feature-length films but also the shorts.  So, hardcore fans of Keaton may still want to hold on to the DVD box set.  Especially for the “Keaton Plus” disc!

The contrast of the film is much better and while I can easily say, each short varies in quality, for newer silent film fans, don’t worry so much about the PQ because its good.  Not modern pristine but compared to many shorts/films of its time, over 90-years-later, these shorts look very good!

As for the Blu-ray release, I also enjoyed the fact that we get visual essays for each of the films.  This is very informative to those getting into Buster Keaton and you can learn some interesting factoids of each short.  Also, some titles are given the standard and digitally enhanced versions and you can see for yourself, how different things would look if certain things were done a different way via digital enhancing.

Add in a collection of video clips, an eight-page booklet by Jeffrey Vance, author of “Buster Keaton Remembered”, film location featurettes, character studies and even excerpt from the 1922 film “Seeing Stars” with Keaton, Chaplin and a few others, it makes up for one heck of a solid Keaton release on Blu-ray.

Overall, “Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923″ is not a title to expect perfection in a modern-sense, but what I do expect from Kino International is doing fans of Buster Keaton a great service by bringing his oeuvre to HD but also making sure that newer fans can find these releases quite accessible and learn from it and hopefully, being inspired to watch more silent films.

So, for newbies who have asked me this question if this set is worth it?

Definitely!  If you are interested in Buster Keaton, “Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923″ is a must buy, must-own Blu-ray release!

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Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (as part of the “Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer: The Milestone Collection”) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

February 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

From the artistic Russian filmmaker Evgeni Bauer, who embraced dark and macabre stories that resemble the dark and terrifying stories of Edgar Allen Poe, the Milestone Collection brings together a release featuring three films showcasing Bauer’s artistic creativity as a director but also how he was able to create shocking films during from 1913-1917.  “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul” is a film that features suicide, rape and murder… not exactly topics that you seen in silent cinema but nevertheless an intriguing and shocking film for its time!

Images courtesy of © 202 British Film Institute, 2003 Milestone Film & Video. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (as part of the “Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer: The Milestone Collection”)

YEAR OF FILM: 1913

DURATION: 48:34

DVD INFORMATION: B&W & Color Tinted, Dolby Digital Stereo

COMPANY: Image Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: December 9, 2003

Directed by Yevgeni Bauer

Written by V. Demert

Produced by Aleksandr Khanzhonkov

Cinematography by Nikolai Kozlovsky

Production Design by Yevgeni Bauer

Starring:

Vera Chernova as Vera Dubovskaja

A. Ugrjumov as Prince Dolskij

V. Demert as Maksim Petrov

V. Brianski as Vitali Brianski

Russian film poet Evgeni Bauer combined the technical virtuosity of D.W. Griffith with the haunting terror of Edgar Allan Poe and the artist’s eye of Johannes Vermeer. He is — perhaps — the greatest film director you have never heard of. During his brief four-year career, Evgeni Bauer created macabre masterpieces. They are dramas darkly obsessed with doomed love and death, astonishing for their graceful camera movements, risqué themes, opulent sets and chiaroscuro lighting. Tragically, Bauer died in 1917, succumbing to pneumonia after breaking his leg.

For many decades, Bauer’s films were buried in the Soviet archives — declared too “cosmopolitan” and bizarre for the puritanical Soviet regime. But with the fall of the Iron Curtain, Bauer’s work has risen like a glorious phoenix out of the ashes of time.

Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (1913), Bauer’s first surviving film, tells the story of a society woman who kills her rapist and — in its aftermath — must make a new life for herself when her husband leaves her.

As America had filmmaker D.W. Griffith, Russia had Yevgeni Bauer (also known as Evgeni Bauer), a film director, theatre artist and screenwriter who created over 80 films between 1913 and 1917, which only 26 have survived.

A filmmaker known for his long sequence shots and displacement of camera virtuosos, Bauer was also known for taking on storylines that dealt with terror.  Stories that were dark and feature love and death, what made Bauer so successful is his theatre talent which made him focus on lighting, filming angles, the use of materials to create fog and his focus on composition, creative artistry that made him an early auteur of the silent film era.

Unfortunately, the Russian filmmaker hurt his leg on a movie set back in 1917 and despite his work ethic of trying to shoot the film while on a bath chair due to his injury, the filmmaker would have pneumonia and die.

To celebrate the career and films of Evgeni Bauer, Milestone Entertainment has released “Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer” which includes three of his films: “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul” (1913), “After Death” (1915) and “The Dying Swan” (1916).

In “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul”, the film revolves around a Vera Dubovskaja (played by Vera Chernova), a daughter of a Countess.  Unlike her mother, Vera is not so happy when it comes to the life of a rich girl, she gets bored easily and is not so enthusiastic in participating.  She wants more from life.

And eventually, her mother gets her involved in delivering food for the poor.  When they arrive to one home, they enter a room of where the poor are gambling and literally take advantage of the two women’s generosity.

The two then venture to the home of Maksim Petrov (played by V. Demert, who also wrote the film), a literal pig sty but where the Countess would pinch her nose due to the stench, Vera shows her kindness by helping the injured man by bandaging her arm.  Needless to say, the poor man has taken a liking to Vera.

When they return home, Vera realizes that she loves helping the poor and wants to dedicate her life to them.  Meanwhile, the poor man, Maksim wants to see Vera once again, so he writes her a letter that he needs her help immediately.

He manages to sneak into her room to leave a letter and when she discovers it, she quickly goes to visit Maksim.  But she realizes that it was a trap.  Maksim rapes Vera and treats her like she’s nothing.  When he passes out to go to sleep, she grabs a knife and kills him.

Vera makes it back home but realizes her life will never be the same.

Months have past and eventually, Vera gets better and manages to attract the interest of Prince Dolskij (played by A. Ugrjumov).  The two grow closer to each other but before they can get any closer, Vera wants to reveal her secret to him.  How will Prince Dolskij react when he finds out that she had been raped and that she is also a murderer?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Twilight of a Woman’s Soul”is presented in 1:33:1, black and white and color-tinted.  While there are some areas where you can see spotting, scratches and negative damage and  jittering, but considering the age of this film, it’s still very watchable and for a silent film that is nearly a hundred years old, in watchable and pretty much good condition.  The fact is that when it comes to Evgeni Bauer, there are not many surviving films of this filmmaker, so considering that,as a silent film fan, I’m grateful to have watched this film and see that Milestone has given fans a very good version of the film.  It’s not a perfectly clean version but for the fact that it is fully intact and there is no major nitrate warping or degradation, the print is definitely watchable.

As for audio, “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul” is presented in Dolby Digital stereo with original music by Laura Rossi, piano by Jill Crossland, violin by Sophie Langdon and cello by Miraim Lowbury.  The music is very good and works great with the film.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer: The Milestone Collection” comes with:

  • Film Essay on Evgeni Bauer – (36:45) A film essay on Evgeni Bauer by Yuri Tsivian who analyzes the three films and gives us an idea of why Bauer’s film technique was very creative and artistic for its time.
  • Stills gallery – Featuring a few still photos of Evegeni Bauer and the talent that he worked with.  Note: The still photos are automatic play and not controlled by remote button presses.
  • DVD-Rom – Mad Love Press Kit - Featuring photos of Evegeni Bauer, the talent that worked with Bauer and still photos.  Information requires Adobe Reader.

While I have seen my share of horror or German expressionist silent films, what intrigued me about Evgeni Bauer is the connection people make with Edgar Allen Poe and the Russian filmmaker.

Bauer’s films, primarily the three featured on this DVD release is not your typical, happy ever after storyline.  While the characters do have a time of happiness, there is always something that is bound to happen to the protagonist or a main character and it’s typically, the ending is opposite of the happy films that one may have been accustomed to in American silent cinema.

Not the case for the three films on “Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer”.  As a matter of fact, in “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul”, rarely do you find films where the protagonist is raped and murders her rapist.

But it does happen in this film.

If there is anything that may have a hint of banality, it’s the way Vera’s husband, the prince, reacts to her secret.  But what happens at the end is definitely not an ending people would expect.  Call it a shock ending, but this is something not typical in a silent film.  Literally, this one film alone touches upon suicide, rape and murder and while Hollywood has had its share of pre-code films, this film was created in 1913 and it would have been interesting to know how Russian moviegoers reacted to the film.

Unfortunately, while Evgeni Bauer is respected among filmmakers who had a chance to watch his silent films, he is literally an unknown to many generations since his passing in 1917.  Only a little over a dozen films have been found and so, there is not much out there to know about the man, other than how artistic and creative he was in using his theatre experience in film and it definitely shows in “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul”.

Overall, the film is quite intriguing and not too sure if American audiences watched this film during the teens or ’20s but I will say that many of us who are silent film fans, are pretty lucky that the Milestone Collection did bring this out for US release and giving us a chance to watch Bauer’s films.

A wonderful inclusion to “Made Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer” DVD release!

(Note: The review is for the film, “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul” and not a review of the entire DVD).


The Cat and the Canary: The Photoplay Restoration (as part of the “American Silent Horror Collection”) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

November 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A wonderful blend of German Expressionism and comedy, “The Cat and the Canary” is a wonderful silent horror classic courtesy of filmmaker Paul Leni and a wonderful performance by Laura La Plante.  A wonderful inclusion for the “American Silent Horror Collection” DVD box set.

Images courtesy of © 2004 Photoplay Productions, LTD.  2007 Kino Intl. Corp. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Cat and the Canary: The Photoplay Restoration (as part of the “American Silent Horror Collection”)

YEAR OF FILM: 1927

DURATION: 80 minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Color tinted, Music by Neil Brand, performed by the members of The City of Prague Philharmonic, conducted by Timothy Brock

RATED: Not Rated

COMPANY: KINO International

Released Dated: October 9, 2007

Based on the play “The Cat and the Canary” by John Willard

Directed by Paul Leni

Titles by Walter Anthony

Adaptation and Screenplay by Alfred A. Cohn

Adaptation by Robert F. Hill

Music by Hugo Riesenfeld

Cinematography by Gilbert Warrenton

Edited by Martin G. Cohn

Art Direction by Charles D. Hall

Starring:

Laura La Plante as Annabelle West

Creighton Hale as Paul Jones

Forrest Stanley as Charles “Charlie” Wilder

Tully Marshall as Roger Crosby

Gertrude Astor as Cecily Young

Flora Finch as Aunt Susan Sillsby

Arthur Edmund Carewe as Harry Blythe

Martha Mattox as Mammy Pleasant

George Siegmann as The Guard

Lucien Littlefield as Dr. Ira Lazar

A decaying mansion and a stormy night are the archetypal setting for mystery and chaos when a pack of greedy relatives gather for the reading of a twenty-year-old will. But before the West fortune can be handed down, the family must endure a night in the cavernous manor, unnerved by the news that an escaped lunatic is at large.

So clever and stylish that it would appear to be the wellspring of all �old dark house� mysteries, THE CAT AND THE CANARY was in 1927 already a theatrical chestnut among similar popular melodramas. Even so, THE CAT is a milestone of the American horror film, thanks to the ingenuity of its director, Paul Leni. One of the first film artists imported from Germany by Hollywood, Leni invigorated this stage-bound genre with expressionist flair, transforming conventional material into a visual feast.

When it comes to silent films, it’s one thing to tell people you love silent comedies or silent dramas but the mere mention of silent horror films may make some chuckle.  Afterall, many people are not familiar with silent films and their images of silents are of the comedy kings Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, the innocent Mary Pickford or the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks.  But the truth is, there are a good number of horror films created back in the silent era not just in the United States but from other countries as well.

Fortunately, KINO International has given people a chance to sample classic American silent horror films through their DVD box set release titled “American Silent Horror Collection” featuring “The Man Who Laughs” (1928), “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (1920), “The Cat and the Canary” (1927), “The Penalty” (1920) and the documentary “Kingdom of Shadows”.

One of the films I was definitely looking forward to seeing is the Paul Leni silent comedy horror classic “The Cat and the Canary” which was an adaptation of the  popular stage play by John Willard (and would go on to have three more film adaptations in 1930, 1930 and 1979).  “The Cat and the Canary” would feature German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni in the first of four films he would create for Universal Studio films in the late 1920’s until his death from blood poisoning caused by an ulcerated tooth in 1929.

“The Cat and the Canary” would still include Leni’s German Expressionist style by incorporating psychological horror with the use of scary and dark set design, camera angles and lighting but for this film, it would utilize comedy in a way that would tone down the darkness of the film by adding a dose of humor which the American audience would enjoy.  Sure enough, the film was a box office success and received positive critical reviews back in 1927

“The Cat and Canary” begins with an introduction about an old millionaire named Cyrus West who lived in a spooky mansion overlooking the Hudson River.  He is close to death but because his family members are greedy and descended upon him like cats around a canary, Cyrus West has made a request that his last will and testament must be locked up in a safe and will not be read until the 20th anniversary of his death.  When the lawyer, Roger Crosby (played by Tully Marshall)  comes to check on the will, he finds a live moth inside the safe.   He asks the West mansion caretaker Mammy Pleasant (played by Martha Mattox) who opened the safe and she tells him that it was the ghost of Cyrus West. Of course, Crosby doesn’t buy that and knows someone had opened the safe and read the letter.  Who is responsible?

So, hours before the 20th anniversary, several family members arrive.  First the nephews Harry Blythe (played by Arthur Edmund Carewe) and a cousin he doesn’t get along with Charles “Charlie” Wilder (played by Forrest Stanley).  The comes the clumsy and talkative Paul Jones (played by Creighton Hale) followed by Susan Sillsby (played by Flora Finch) and her daughter Cecily Yong (played by Gertrude Astor) and then finally, the latest West’s niece Annabelle West (played by Laura La Plante).

When the clock strikes to midnight, the will is opened and the fortune of Cyrus West would be given to his niece Annabelle.  But there is a stipulation.  In order to inherit the fortune, she must be judged as “sane” by Dr. Ira Lazar (played by Lucien Littlefield).  If she is insane, the fortune will be passed onto the second name on the will.

Meanwhile, the mansion guard (played by George Siegmann) tells them than an escaped convict known as “The Cat” has escaped and he is on the grounds of the mansion and he is maniac who thinks he is a cat and tears his victims like they were canaries.  Worried that someone may be up to their tricks in getting the fortune left by Cyrus, Crosby wants an immediate talk with Annabelle.

While the lawyer Crosby and Annabelle sit to discuss the will, he tells her that because someone had tampered with the will, that person named as the second person may try to do prevent her from getting the fortune.  And while she sits and listens to the lawyer, we see a big monster like hand come out a revolving shelf and captures Crosby and yanks him in behind-the-wall.

When Annabelle hears the faint scream, she turns around but he is already gone and she begins to scream.  She tells everyone that Crosby is gone but yet, everyone starts to think “maybe she will go insane” or “maybe she is crazy”.

Meanwhile, as Annabelle stays in her room, she quickly opens the letter left to her by Cyrus West.  The letter tells her that stuffed behind the fireplace, there is a button which will reveal where he had stashed jewelry.  She eventually finds it and puts it on herself.  When she goes to sleep, we see the monster hand coming out of the wall and steals the diamonds from her neck which makes Anabelle scream and waking up her other family members.

As everyone rushes in, she tells them what happened but when they look on the wall, there it’s solid.  At first they think that she is going insane like Cyrus West but when Annabelle triggers a button on the wall, we see the dead body of the lawyer Crosby fall out.  Someone has killed him and now everyone is afraid.

Now everyone fears that the maniac known as Cat are now coming after them.  Stuck in a mansion they think is haunted, everyone begins to fear for what might become of them during the night.  Will any of them be alive by the morning?

VIDEO:

“The Cat and the Canary: The Photoplay Restoration” features another wonderful restoration courtesy of filmmakers Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury.  The picture quality is presented in 1:33:1 and is color tinted.  The 83-year-old film does have its share of scratches and dust but really, compared to many other silent films, this is standard and the actual picture quality of this film on DVD is very good.  It will be very interesting if this release is considered for Blu-ray by KINO International in the near future.

AUDIO & INTERTITLES:

“The Cat and the Canary” features music by a score by Neil Brand and the members of The City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Timothy Brock.  The music was very well-done for this film!  Intertitles were easy to read as well.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Cat and the Canary” comes with stills of the cast.  You can use your remote to cycle through the various stills included on the DVD.

“The Cat and the Canary” was one film that I really have wanted to see for a long time.  My only familiarity of “The Cat and the Canary” was for the 1939 adaptation starring Bob Hope and Paulette Godard film (which by the way, was re-released in 2010 as part of the “Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories Collection” DVD box set).   But I definitely was curious because of clips I saw of certain shots of the mansion, how angles made it to look quite eerie, especially how the lighting would be lit on one end and very dark on the other, to give a feeling of “don’t go that way…or else something bad may happen”.

I suppose this film can be considered one of the first “haunted house” films.  From being filled with cobwebs and the various trickdoor placements, there was probably nothing like it back in the early years of Hollywood and thus, this film may have been the first to showcase the house being used in such a way.

But part of my enjoyment of the film was watching the different cast members.   Laura La Plante was absolutely delightful as the character Annabelle West and Creighton Hale’s Paul Jones definitely brought a Harry Langdon-esque type of feel to the character.  Gertrude Astor brought the socialite stubborness to her character of Cecily Young but I have to say that Arthur Edmund Carewe and Forrest Stanley were not utilized as much as I would have like to build upon their feelings of the death of Crosby to whatever was going on in the house.  The film tends to focus more on Annabelle, Paul, Cecily and her Aunt Susan Sillsby.

But still, the characters were still well-incorporated to the film, the story’s pacing was well-done and in the end, I actually enjoyed the film a lot, for a comedy horror film for the late ’20s.  I’m not sure how audiences felt back then in 1927 if they considered “The Cat and the Canary” as more scary or more humorous but for me, watching it in 2010, one thing I can see is why the audiences enjoyed it and why it was a box office success.  It was a well-done film incorporating American comedy along with German Expressionism and the melding of the two worked out amazingly well.

I do wish there were more special features, it would have been nice to watch a special feature on the director Paul Leni or event he actress Laura la Plante (who was a huge star for Universal Studios back then).  But you still get stills from the film and as for the DVD itself, the restoration by Brownlow and Stanbury for Photoplay was as awesome as their other previous Photoplay restorations.  And the music by Niel Brand, performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic and conducted by Timothy Brock was also well-done.

Overall, “The Cat and the Canary” is a fantastic comedy/horror silent classic of yesteryear and a wonderful inclusion in the “American Silent Horror Collection” DVD box set.

NOTE: The rating below is for “The Cat and Canary” DVD and not the complete DVD box set.

Modern Times – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #543 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Prepare yourself for this HD treatment of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece “Modern Times” because it is the definitive version of the film to own! I have enjoyed “Modern Times” in various video releases in the past but this Blu-ray release looks magnificent, sounds great and you get a number of informative and enjoyable special features to make this release a must-own, must-buy Blu-ray! Highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1936 Roy Export S.A.S./2010 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Modern Times

YEAR OF FILM: 1936

DURATION: 87 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), Black and White, Monaural

COMPANY: Janus Films/MK2/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: November 16, 2010

Written and Directed by Charles Chaplin

Produced by Charles Chaplin

Music by Charles Chaplin

Cinematography by Ira H. Morgan, Roland Totheroh

Set Decoration by Charles D. Hall, J. Russell Spencer

Starring:

Charles Chaplin – A Factory Worker

Paulette Goddard as A Gamin

Henry Bergman as Cafe Proprietor

Tiny Sandford as Big Bill

Chester Conklin as Mechanic

Hank Mann as Burglar

Stanley Blystone as Gamin’s Father

Al Ernest Garcia as President of the Electro Steel Company

Richard Alexander as Prison Cellmate

Cecil Reynolds as Minister

Mira McKinney as Minister’s Wife

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.

Charlie Chaplin, the English comic actor and film director who is known as one of the silent kings of comedy. One of the most well-known, influential and creative personalities of the silent film era and is considered one of the greatest male screen legends of all time (voted #10 by the American Film Institute). Known by his peers as a true genius of entertainment.

In 1936, it had been five years since the successful release of Chaplin’s 1931 film “City Lights” and many have wondered how Charlie Chaplin would transcend from his career in silent cinema to the era of the talkies. After all, It is well-documented of how many major silent film talents were unable to succeed or survive during a time when most audiences clamored for movies with sound, movies with spoken dialogue and for Chaplin’s “Tramp” character, the Tramp has never talked and so, there was an expectancy for Chaplin to go with the times.

So, audiences have waited five long years since “City Lights” to find out if Chaplin’s new film would usher a new age of Chaplin talkies.  Questions were asked if Chaplin would embrace the talkies and most of all, will the audience finally hear his character, the Tramp, finally talk?  Would Chaplin finally say goodbye to silent films in 1936?

Sure enough, Chaplin’s “Modern Times” would answer those questions that have persisted and the answer would be “yes” and “no”.

“Modern Times” can be seen as somewhat of a hybrid film which would be a silent but also a talkie. While the film would have sound and visual effects alongside a musical score, there would be dialogue spoken from those using new technology and possibly one of the most surprising sequences, a musical scene, which would feature the only spoken dialogue to be used by the Trap. Granted, it’s not in English and purely gibberish but the Tramp does finally speak in this Chaplin masterpiece.

Inspired by his trips around the world meeting Ghandi, Winston Churchill and many well-known contemporaries of that time, Chaplin would be influenced and inspired by them but also to create a film that would highlight the suffering of people in America during the Great Depression and the plight of factory workers as well as people working during a time of modern industrialization (or more so, the dehumanizing effects of technology) and the social disorders of the early 1930’s. Although the film has a message that people at that time could relate to, the film is practically a satire of , “Modern Times” stays true to the Tramp character featuring plenty of gags and hi-jinks.

And in 1936, “Modern Times” would be hailed as a masterpiece by Charlie Chaplin who had various roles in the film as the director, a writer, a composer, editor, etc. “Modern Times” was so highly anticipated by his fans and Chaplin knew that this film had to be carefully crafted and knew the risks involved. He knew that many people have grown out of favor of silent films. People wanted sounds, music and spoken dialogue, something that his character, the Tramp is not known for and something he was not willing to do. But he would make a compromise.

But the fact is that the film is considered one of the greatest comedy films of all time and considered as one of the greatest films of all time (voted #78 in the American Film Institute’s 100 Movies in 2007) and the expensive film budgeted at around an estimated $1.5 million made over $8.5 million in box office revenue which was significant considering the number of theaters around the country at that time.

“Modern Times” is about a factory worker (played by Charlie Chaplin) who works his job on the assembly line doing the same thing over and over. He’s not very good at his work but he does try.

One day, the boss of the factory has chosen him to take part in a “modern” feeding machine which ultimately fails and with the factory workers expected to work at a much faster speed (via increasing the speed on the conveyor belt), it literally drives the factory worker into a nervous breakdown and causing havoc at the factory and in process, getting him fired.

Meanwhile, a woman known as “a Gamin” helps her siblings while her unemployed father looks for a job. Unfortunately, to feed her family, she has no choice but to steal food. One day, while walking near the factories, a riot breaks out and a gun is shot. Her father was the one shot and now a Gamin and her siblings are orphans. While the two siblings are put into an orphanage, Gamin must fend for herself.

As for the factory worker, now unemployed and starving, while looking for a job, he finds a flag and when he goes to pick it up and holds it up, coincidentally he walks in the front of a major strike for a communist demonstration and is immediately booked into jail because the police thinks he is responsible for the strike.

In jail, he notices that he gets free meals and a place to stay and in many ways, despite the danger, for him, it’s a lot better than being unemployed and starving. While in prison, he accidentally uses someone’s smuggled cocaine (which he accidentally has mistaken for salt) and when a prison break takes place and the thugs put the officers in a jail cell. The factory worker is threatened by the jail breakers but manages to beat the jail breakers and manages to free the officers. Because of his good deed, he is released from jail.

But for the factory worker, he liked being in jail because he was not starving and now, he feels that the only way to survive is by committing a crime that will land him back in jail. So, he goes into a cafeteria and orders a lot of food without paying and he is arrested again.

Meanwhile, a Gamin sees a truck unloading bread to a bakery and steals a loaf of bread but a witness alerts the police. While, a Gamin is running away to escape, she runs into the factory worker and both take a fall. As police officers go to arrest the girl, the factory worker takes the blame for stealing the bread (in hopes it will send him back to jail) and a Gamin looks at the factory worker and it is love at first sight.

But due to circumstances, both end up being arrested but somehow managing to escape from the police.

Now together, both the factory worker and a Gamin have no idea what they will do with their lives. With no food, no home… all the two can do is dream of a better life together. Where he is a working man and she is a wife who prepares food for him. Both love that dream and from that day on, the factory worker promises gamin that he will do what it takes to get a job and try to make that dream a reality, while a Gamin will do what she can to make that dream a reality as well.

Will the once-a-factory worker be able to get a job and provide for him and a Gamin?  Will a Gamin manage to evade from the police and find a job herself?

VIDEO:

This is the best looking “Modern Times” to date. I was floored because David Shepard and company did a wonderful job with the older Image DVD release of the film but “Modern Times” looks great in HD. Presented in 1080p (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and in black and white, the blacks are nice and deep. The contrast is just right and there is a good amount of grain. Previous releases usually were devoid of grain and dust and scratches can be seen. While for this release from Criterion, they did a wonderful job of eliminating the dust and scratches that were seen on the original DVD release.

There is noticeable detail in the images from the close ups of Paulette Goddard, you can see the shimmer in her eyes and she absolutely shines in this film and in HD, she looks terrific. We can literally see the grime on her face, the tatters on her dress. During the technology experiment when Chaplin is eating corn, we can actually see those kernels of corn quite clearly, and those cogs and gears, we can also see the detail and clarity of them even better than before. We can see the wool on Chaplin’s clothing, this release really showcases detail. No offense to previous DVD releases which look very good but those were older releases and you can tell that technology has improved so much since those DVD releases that both Criterion Collection and Cineteca di Bologna really came through for this release. Impressive!

While there are some very short sequences of flicker, for the most part, this Blu-ray release shows us how impressive a silent film can look in HD and for “Modern Times”, the picture quality is fantastic. I was very impressed, especially when I began comparing the BD and DVD. Blacks were more noticeable, picture was sharper and more pronounced. Once again, this is the definitive version of “Modern Times” to own when it comes to picture quality.

According to Criterion, the new high-definition digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN digital scanner from a 35 mm fine-grain master positive that was wetgated from the original 35 mm camera negative. Color correction of the 2K data was done using Assimilate’s Scratch software. Pixel Farm’s PFClean systemw as used to deflicker and stabilize the image, and to remove thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps and jitter. Additional marks and splices were removed using MTI’s DRS system.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Modern Times” is presented in uncompressed monaural. It’s important to note that the film is a silent and talkie. The final silent film to be created by Chaplin and his first talkie. While the majority of the film is silent, there are special effects that can be heard throughout the film, as well as an impressive music score composed by Chaplin. As for the “talkies” portion, dialogue is only featured when a form of technology is used. For example, a video screen of the president of the steel company talking to the employee or a radio program and when Chaplin sings in gibberish for his “nonsense” song. But for the primary characters, intertitles are used at times.

One thing that fans of the film will notice is how clean the track is. No hissing or pops and for the most part, the monaural soundtrack is quite crisp, clear and very clean.

According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35mm soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, his and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated audio workstation.

Subtitles are presented in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Modern Times – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #543″ on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary by Charlie Chaplin biographer David Robinson – A wonderful, informative and excellent commentary by David Robinson.
  • Modern Times: A Closer Look” by Chaplin historian Jeffrey Vance – (18:53) This featurette goes into the production photography and how Chaplin was very strict on what photos were taken and were released to the public.
  • A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte – (20:02) A featurette on the film’s visual and sound effects, with experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt.
  • Silent Traces: Modern Times – A Visual Essay by John Bengston – (15:08 ) A very cool featurette by John Bengston that shows the locations of where “Modern Times” was shot in LA back in 1935 and how those locations have changed today.
  • David Raksin and the Score – (15:48 ) This featurette is from the 1992 interview with Raksin about arranging the music for “Modern Times”. Also, included is a selection from the film’s original orchestral track (8:38 ).
  • Two Bits - Featuring a deleted scene “Crossing the Street” (1:48 ) which Chaplin deleted in 1936 before its release the premiere and “The Tramp’s Song Unedited” (4:16) which features the entire nonsense song sequence with a sequence cut by Chaplin for the 1954 re-release.
  • Three Trailers – (7:33) Theatrical trailers for “Modern Times” for U.S. France and Germany.
  • All at Sea – (17:35) In 1933, a home movie by Alistair Cooke featuring Chaplin and actress Paulette Goddard was found in 2004. Alistair Cooke is known for his radio programs and Masterpiece Theater but he was also one of the few in media that Chaplin let into his inner circle at that time. While the three were going to Catalina Island for some R&R (alongside with Andy Anderson ala Keystone Cops fame), the group shot a silent film on Cooke’s 8mm camera. Watch Chaplin show off his Greta Garbo and Janet Gaynor imitation. Also, features an optional new score by Donald Sosin.
  • Interview with Alistair Cooke’s daughter, Susan Cooke Kittredge – (13:02). In this 2010 interview, Susan talks about her father and how when she was a child, her father would tell the children of how he shot a film of Chaplin but the kids always thought he was joking. After Cooke’s death in 2004, after cleaning the home, they found a canister of the 8mm reel titled “All At Sea” and discusses the relationship of Alistair Cooke and Chaplin and the things she remembered told by him to her.
  • The Rink – (24:14) A Chaplin two-reeler. The eighth short film of the 12 that Charlie Chaplin made for Mutual Films, “The Rink” is presented in HD.
  • For the First Time – (9:10) In 1967, filmmaker Octavio Cortazar and filmed a short Cuban documentary about a traveling moving picture company that shows films in remote areas where people have never watched a film in their lives. In this documentary, we see people who live in the mountains of Cuba watching their first film ever… Chaplin’s “Modern Times”.
  • Chaplin Today: “Modern Times” – (27:24) Director Philippe Truffault created a documentary in 2003 starring filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (directors of “L’enfant”, “Rosetta”, “La Promesse”) who are big Chaplin fans and love the film “Modern Times”. The two talk about why they love the film, their favorite scenes and how Chaplin inspired them a little for their 1999 film “Rosetta”. Presented in French and English with English subtitles.

EXTRAS:

Included is a 36-page booklet with photos of Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard and essays: “Exit the Tramp” by Saul Austerlitz (author of “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy”), “Chaplin Sees the World” by Lisa Stein (who is writing a biography about Charlie’s half brother, Sydney Chaplin which is forthcoming).

As we start to see quite a few silent films being released on Blu-ray, many silent fans have wanted to see an HD release of Charlie Chaplin’s popular films and with the announcement by Janus Films of screenings of Charlie Chaplin films remastered, needless to say, for months now, many of us have been quite giddy about the first Chaplin to be released on Blu-ray. And now it’s here and what a wonderful debut of “Modern Times” from The Criterion Collection.

I was absolutely floored by how beautiful this film looked on Blu-ray and how it compares to the previous DVD version. This is a clean print, visually the images just pop out, detail is much more evident and literally, this is the best I have seen of Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Gogdard yet and I’m hoping for more Chaplin on Blu-ray in the near future.

As for the film, “Modern Times” begins with the following words: “Modern Times.’ A story of industry, of individual enterprise – humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness.”

The fact was that in the early ’30s, many people were suffering because of unemployment. Families were in poverty and many people were starving and those individuals with good hearts were being forced to commit crimes to survive or keep their families healthy. Chaplin makes a point of that in this film and also, most importantly how technology has affected factories. How automated technology was taking over jobs once held by human workers but at the same time, those workers at these factories worked as if they were like automated machines themselves and Chaplin does a remarkable job with creating various scenes to show the struggle between man and the machine.

As the film would focus on the dehumanizing effects of technology, we also see the social disorder of the early ’30s. It was a time of the Great Depression, people were starving, people were unemployed, people were afraid of the growing communist demonstrations, people getting drunk, people getting high on cocaine and people doing all they can to survive. All of this is featured in Chaplin’s “Modern Times”.

And although this film was released in theaters over 75-years ago, despite the social disorders and challenges that people had faced, people needed laughter in their lives and I have no doubt that Chaplin’s comedy was instrumental in doing just that. As his comedy had done during World War I, he would continue to entertain the masses during the Great Depression and like his character the Tramp telling his partner a Gamin during those tough times… “Smile”.

In February 1936, New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent wrote, “So it goes, and mighty pleasantly, too, with Charlie keeping faith with his old public by bringing back the tricks he used so well when the cinema was very young, and by extending his following among the moderns by employing devices new to the clown dynasty. If you need more encouragement than this, be informed then that Miss Goddard is a winsome waif and a fitting recipient of the great Chariot’s championship, and that there are in the cast several players who have adorned the Chaplin films since first the little fellow kicked up his heels and scampered into our hearts. This morning there is good news: Chaplin is back again.”

I absolutely agree with Nugent’s assessment of the film. Chaplin gives an absolutely awesome performance and also Paulette Goddard. I found her performance to be innocent, bubbly, outgoing and there was such amazing chemistry between Chaplin and Goddard (it helps that the two were a real-life couple), that the caring between the two characters shows on screen. And everyone, including the supporting characters play an interesting role, no matter how long or short the part, Chaplin uses these characters in his film with such efficacy.

Watching “Modern Times”, I just really enjoyed the thought of Chaplin bringing his character of the Tramp and finding that partnership with another character, their relationship and together, facing the unknown. This showed a maturity of Chaplin and of course, his love for Paulette Godard at the time. If anything, this film is quite a masterpiece for Charlie Chaplin the filmmaker, the writer, the composer, the editor and it was sort of an unknown territory as many of his other contemporaries from the silent era, were not able to transcend into the talkies era. The fact is that people were done with silent films but yet, nine years after the advent of the talkie era, Chaplin was not done with it yet.

So, “Modern Times” was the melding of the silent and talkies and in many ways a fitting goodbye to the silent era starring Charlie Chaplin. While the humans do not talk, technology does. We also get to hear the musical genius of Charles Chaplin and of course the theme of “Smile” which many people are familiar with, playing throughout the film and most importantly hearing Charlie Chaplin deliver one of the most famous scenes in a film with his gibberish song dubbed by fans as “The Nonsense Song” to the tune of “Titana”.

But possibly the most significant part about this film is how his trip overseas and meeting with Winston Churchill, Ghandi and many other key figures had exposed and inspired him to other perspectives about the world and the suffering of people in the early ’30s during that depression era.  The experience that Chaplin had of seeing the world in his own eyes and seeing the suffering back home, you can tell that there was an urgency to create this film and knowing that as many people are struggling and facing incredible challenges, that he can do what he does best and that is to make the audience laugh and smile.

I do have to note that there was also controversy that had developed with the release of this film back in 1936 as their was similarities between “Modern Times” and the 1931 French Film “À nous la liberté” by René Clair (this film is also available on DVD from The Criterion Collection), most notable in the assembly line sequence and the German film company sued Chaplin (in which the two did settle out of court).  Filmmaker Rene Clair was an admirer of Chaplin and was embarrassed that the film company sued Chaplin.

But there is also some controversy that revolves around “Modern Times” and it’s still a heated debate among the hardcore Chaplin fans and it is that this version featured on this new Blu-ray and DVD release is the film that has been in circulation after 1954.   In 1954, for the re-release of “Modern Times”, Charlie Chaplin cut parts of his famous “nonsense song” segment to the dismay of his hardcore fans. (note: The cut was only less than a minute long)

In 2000, to ease those fans who have wanted the original version of the film on video, David Shepard (known for his work in bringing silent films and restoring them for distribution) and Image Entertainment was able to get permission from the Chaplin Estate to use the uncut version of “Modern Times” for the 2000 DVD release (which has been long out of print). Many fans consider the uncut version as the true version of the film and the cut that Charlie Chaplin made in 1954 as unnecessary and wrong.

There is no clear reason why it was edited but some have suggested that Chaplin felt audiences in the 50’s who were not so into classic films may get bored and so he tweaked not just this film but other films and since then, these revised films have become the versions that the Chaplin Estate is distributing and the last cut that Charlie Chaplin had wanted.

Unfortunately, the hardcore fans have been vocal that for “Modern Times”, Chaplin was wrong for altering that sequence.  And unfortunately, some of these fans will not support any revised version of the film that Chaplin had made for appeasing audiences of the 50’s.  That the original cut was perfect as is and he shouldn’t have edited it.

With that being said, having seen the DVD release and having seen this Blu-ray release, the first thing that comes to my mind is that this HD release of “Modern Times” is the definitive version of the film to watch. The clarity and detail is so impressive. Personally, I really can’t see myself going back to watch the DVD release of this film. This is the best I have seen of Chaplin on video and the digital restoration of this film is fantastic.

As for that cut scene, I am speaking for myself and I feel that those lost 30 seconds was not that big of a deal. I personally didn’t miss it at all.  For me, it was a non-issue but I do know that for others who are passionate about the film, a film without those 30+ seconds makes an incomplete film.  I disagree. But when it comes to silent films, debates will always come into play from film speed, to music selection and in this case, whether 30+ seconds was integral to the film. It is important to note that the full “Nonsense Song” (including the cut scene) is included on the special features.

With that being said, for fans who still own and cherish the 2000 DVD release, that’s great.  But if you are one of those fans who are on the fence,  if you have a Blu-ray player and an HDTV, personally, I can tell you that once you watch this film on Blu-ray, I have no doubt that some of you will be impressed by the video quality of the film and the overall release. If you are a new fan, you are going to be pleased of how much Blu-ray can really enhance one’s viewing pleasure for silent films.  In this case, I felt there was a significant difference between this Blu-ray release and the picture quality compared to the earlier DVD releases.  I personally can’t go back to watching “Modern Times” on DVD as this version is just the definitive version to watch.

Once again the Criterion Collection has done silent film fans a great service by releasing the “Three Silent Classics By Josef Von Sternberg” and now with the release of Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” in 2010.  Chaplin fans, prepare yourself for this HD treatment of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece “Modern Times” because it is the definitive version of the film to own! This Blu-ray release looks magnificent, sounds great and you get a number of informative and enjoyable special features to make this release a must-own, must-buy Blu-ray!

“Modern Times” is highly recommended!

Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies by Robert K. Klepper (a J!-ENT Book Review)

September 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Critical guide books on the silent film era is quite rare but fortunately, we have one gem courtesy of the late silent film historian Robert K. Klepper.  “Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies” may not have all the silent films (that are available on DVD) but it is still a comprehensive guide worth having in your collection.  If you are passionate about silent films, this book is a must-own!

 

TITLE: Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies

 

BY: Robert K. Klepper

PUBLISHER: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers

PAGE COUNT: 592

RELEASED: 1999

 

This is a detailed critical guide to 646 silent motion picture projects, from Eadweard Muybridge’s initial motion photography experiments in 1877 to the 1996 silent film “The Taxi Dancer”.

Complete casts and credits are provided, along with detailed descriptions and insightful commentaries regard each film’s unique place in motion picture history.  Nearly 200 photographs are also included, along with a foreword by silent-era child star Frank “Junior” Coghlan.

Silent film historian Robert K. Klepper is also the author of McFarland’s “Silent Films on Video: A Filmography of over 700 Silent Features available on Videocassette, with a Directory of Sources (1996; Silent Film Monthly called it “invaluable” and “The Silents Majority” described it as “comprehensive”.

As a fan of films,  I purchase a lot of guides.  And if you are a cinema fan, there are way too many films out there and it really helps to have guide books lying around to get an idea of what the film is about, and I tend to compare these films on these guides in helping me decide to make a purchase.

But when it comes to silent films, many guides tend to focus on only the more popular titles.

Enter Robert K. Klepper, a young writer and contributor to the publication “Classic Images” and a silent film historian who was very passionate about silent films (he supported the cause of preservation and even funded the transfer of several silent films to video tape) and in 1996, he wrote  a comprehensive guide book titled “Silent Films on Video: A Filmography of over 700 Silent Features available on Videocassette, with a Directory of Sources”.

And in 1999, Klepper returned with another wonderful, critical guide book on silent films titled “Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies”.  And for most guide or film critic books, may it be from Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael or Leonard Maltin, one would expect a yearly book in which one would continue to add to the book on a yearly basis.  Unfortunately, Robert K. Klepper passed away a year after his second book was released and there really hasn’t been a guide book on silent films since then and that is unfortunate.

With that being said, “Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies” is what one would experience from a book that dealt with film criticism, one may support his feelings towards that film and others may not.   For those used to film critic books from Pauline Kael, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Andrew Sarris, etc., this is not an essay book and some films such D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” or “Birth of a Nation” may have more dedicate to a certain film than others.  For example, I’ve read that he has detested Chaplin’s “little tramp” characters, so you aren’t going to find many of Chaplin’s tramp films in this book but he does favor films such as “The Kid” and “Modern Times”.

Klepper is also not afraid to show his disdain for a film that others may have loved.  For example, Murnau’s 1926 film “Nosferatu”, Klepper writes, “While this film has received consistent praise over the years, this reviewer fails to see why”.  Klepper continues with “the narrative style is rather poor, and the film drags in many spots.  In some parts, the store is barely coherent.”.

There are a good number of films in which I agreed with his critical review.  For example, Theda Bara’s 1914 film “A Fool There Was”, Klepper is quick to stand up to this film by writing “Since this was Theda Bara’s first film, produced at a time when the movies were still in their relatively primitive stages, it is not fair to judge Bara’s performance.  At points in this film, she overacts to the point of being ridiculous.” and with that comment, I definitely agree with him.

Another was his review for G.W. Pabst’s 1928 film “Pandora’s Box” in which he praised the filmmaker and actress Louise Brooks but you also get some bits of information of actors who were living at the time that didn’t respond to fan mail to Klepper thanking people and the companies for preserving the film.

The book is broken down by year and each film is presented in alphabetical order in that year and are numbered.  Klepper has provided us his rating for the film as well as cast and production credits as well.  Also, some films have images included.

As Klepper watched many silent films and was very astute on titles that made it to video tape, unfortunately, for those of us who no longer watch VHS copies scour the Internet for any detailed information we can get on silent films on DVD (and now on Blu-ray).  So, certain titles on DVD such as Doris Kenyon’s “The Ocean Waif” or Harry Langdon’s “The Long Pants” on DVD from KINO or Olive Thomas’ “The Flapper” on DVD from Milestone have no mention in this book.  But the fact is there are silent films that are being found, restored and because this book was written and published in 1999, you’re not going to all silent films in this book but yet there are still 646 titles from 1877-1996 that are included.

Overall, this book is a must-own book for those who are silent film fans.  Not only as a reference or film guide book but there’s no book like it out there right now.  Sure, there are silent film review sites but sometimes the reviews are sparse and once in awhile, you are able to access older New York Times reviews online or old copies of Photoplay Magazine, but this book is still timeless.    Some may find the book quite expensive but definitely do your research as you may find it cheaper online.

It’s unfortunate that Mr. Klepper is no longer with us because I truly believe he would have found the evolution of silent films on video to be an amazing time as more are being prints are being found and restored and have no doubt that this book would have grown considerably.  But his work and passion for silent films will continue to be a valuable resource for many others who are discovering silent films.

Highly recommended!

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