USUALLY, THE DELUXE DVD packages of restored classics come from the Criterion Collection, but here Warner Bros. has teamed with the Chaplin estate (and a European partner) to produce an almost Criterion-level set of titles. Ten are planned in the series; first up (July 1) are The Gold Rush, The Great Dictator, Modern Times, and Limelight. A 1952 backstage melodrama, Limelight is by far the worst of the four, so naturally I chose it to watch again.
Print quality? Crisp black and white, although the grays get erratic during dissolves (and there are many), something that could've been and should've been digitally tweaked. Sound? Sterling. Then there's the acting, writing, and direction, which are pretty uneven. Chaplin was famously the total auteur, obsessively controlling every aspect of production. He directs Claire Bloom to overemote rather embarrassingly in some scenes, particularly those in which her suicidal young dancer succumbs to moments of doubt and hysteria. Even more fulsome are her "I love you" cooings to his over-the-hill vaudeville clownthis from cinema's greatest and most successful clown, who still needs to hear those three words, still needs the applause. Yet the film retains its rather unique ability to make you cry even while smiling at its naked, maudlin pathos.
The extras aren't that many or that great. Chaplin biographer David Robinson provides an introduction, so why not get a feature commentary out of him or Claire Bloomlooking great in an otherwise undistinguished half-hour documentaryor son Sydney Chaplin (who has a supporting role in the film)? Frankly, I suspect the bonus material would've fit on one DVD with the movie, but two looks better, and the packaging is nice. Watch Limelight first, and the other three titles will seem all the more brilliant.
CONSIDERABLY LESS brilliant is the 1977 echt-screwball comedy Fun With Dick and Jane, starring Jane Fonda and George Segal, both of whom wisely refrained from doing a commentary. Incredibly, director Barry Sonnenfeld is planning a remake, which sounds about as promising as Men in Black III. Also out July 1, The Experiment is a good German thriller. July 8 brings crap like Travolta's Basic, Loose Cannons, and Phone Booth, so the pick of the week is Crispin Glover in Bartleby, a favorite from SIFF '01. BRIAN MILLER