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By Brad Cook | November 23, 2013

You may not think a silent film needs the Blu-ray treatment, but Charlie Chaplin, like many of his contemporaries, shot his stories with the big screen in mind. If you’re used to watching poor prints of films like “City Lights” on TV or on VHS tape, this new Blu-ray of the film will be a revelation. Chaplin shot much of the film on the elaborate back lot at his private studio, and the higher resolution offers a chance to enjoy his meticulously created environments.

The higher resolution also lets us appreciate Chaplin’s marvelous acting, the little nuances in his facial expressions that help guide us through what is arguably the Little Tramp’s greatest adventure as he falls in love with a blind woman who mistakes him for a wealthy man. Despite the advent of sound films, “City Lights” is largely silent, save its music and sound effects, allowing Chaplin to not give a voice to his most famous character. As pointed out in the commentary by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance, the filmmaker was reluctant to have the Little Tramp speak because his movies made so much money overseas.

Vance is a well-known contributor to the bonus features on the Chaplin DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion, and here he delivers what is essentially a film class lecture on the film. If you enjoy that sort of thing, as I do, you’ll appreciate hearing his bits of trivia, his thoughts on the film’s narrative structure, and his historical context for the movie. (In a couple places he explains things that I always found puzzling, such as the dance that the Tramp interrupts — I had no idea it was a well-known dance of that era.)

The other bonus features include: archival behind-the-scenes footage with commentary from another regular Chaplin contributor, Hooman Mehran; an outtake from the film that Vance says survived because it was Chaplin’s favorite outtake from all his movies; “Chaplin Today: ‘City Lights,'” a 27-minute documentary that features thoughts from Aardman’s Peter Lord; “Chaplin Studios: Creative Freedom By Design,” in which visual effects expert Craig Barron dissects the set designs; “The Champion,” a 10-minute boxing scene excerpt from a 1915 short film directed by Chaplin; 1918 footage of various boxing stars’ visit to Chaplin Studios; and a series of trailers.

This is a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack that mirrors all the bonus features on both discs, which is a nice touch given the fact that the big studio combo releases tend to short-change the DVDs.

The usual booklet features an essay by film critic Gary Giddins and a Chaplin interview that was originally published in “Life” magazine in 1967.

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  1. Chuck Anziulewicz says:

    I borrowed City Lights from NetFlix recently after reading that it is considered by many to be Chaplin’s greatest film, and one with a remarkably touching ending.

    For the most part it was an enjoyable 90 minutes, a mix of melodrama and Chaplin’s more physical humor. But the very final MINUTE of the film, I suddenly found myself with tears virtually SHOOTING out of my eyes.

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