City Lights appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Most of the time the picture looked amazingly good for its age, but some niggling concerns knocked down my grade below “A” territory.
Some issues related to softness appeared at times. Wide shots occasionally came across as a little indistinct and mildly blurry, and even some close-ups demonstrated similar concerns. While the majority of the movie appeared accurate and reasonably concise, softness created a few distractions. I saw no issues due to jagged edges or moiré effects, but some mild edge enhancement showed up periodically throughout the movie.
Black levels looked nicely deep and dense for the most part. Periodically they were slightly grey, but they mostly seemed solid. Contrast levels were positive. Low-light situations were accurately displayed and seemed appropriately well defined.
Despite the very advanced age of Lights, the print came largely free from flaws. Probably the biggest intrusion stemmed from some white flashes that popped up sporadically. Some flickering also appeared at times. Other than the occasional spot, thin line or speck, however, the film looked virtually free from any other form of physical defect. Although the image still featured a few concerns, I thought it deserved an “B+“, as one normally wouldn’t find such an old movie in such great shape.
While the City Lights DVD provided a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, don’t expect much from it. The concept of a 5.1 track for what was originally a silent movie seems odd to me, and this one came across as 5.1 in name only. The whole thing sounded very monaural to me. If any examples of stereo music or anything else occurred, I didn’t notice it; I got the impression all the audio remained oriented in the center.
Not that I found much sound on which to comment. No speech occurred, unless we consider some buzzing noises that equated for dialogue early in the film. Only a few effects – like a gunshot – popped up as well, for music filled the overwhelming majority of this mix. The score sounded fine but never more than that. Music was clean and clear and showed adequate range, but I didn’t find the results to come across with much richness or dimensionality. A little background noise appeared at times, but this stayed minor. The audio didn’t offer much, but given the age of the material, it sounded quite good.
As a two-DVD package, City Lights packs some supplements on its second platter. We open with an Introduction from Chaplin biographer David Robinson. In this five-minute and 20-second piece, he gives us some general notes about the film and its production. It’s a quick and moderately engaging program.
Entitled Chaplin Today: City Lights, the next piece runs 26 minutes and 45 seconds. It shows bits from the movie, some archival and historical materials, and also provides narration and remarks from animation artist and director Peter Lord. We hear about Chaplin’s reaction to the introduction of sound films, his use of repeated rehearsals and takes, and some deconstruction of Chaplin’s comedic techniques.
We get a general feeling for parts of the production, but much of the piece gives us interpretation from Lord. Too much of “Today” falls in that category, unfortunately, as we find lots of Lord’s rambling about how great Chaplin was. The occasional bits about the making of the movie – such as the animosity between Chaplin and his leading lady – seem much more compelling, but because they appear infrequently, this is a pretty spotty program and not one that does much for me.
Next we get an outtake. Briefly referenced in Robinson’s introduction, this seven-minute clip shows the Tramp as he tries to get a bit of wood out of a sidewalk. It’s an interesting comedic bit but it seems too long to fit into the final film.
When we examine “Documents”, we find eight subdomains. Shooting offers seven minutes and 55 seconds of behind the scenes footage. The absence of sound limits this material’s usefulness, but it’s still very cool to see. Georgia Hale Screen Test lasts six and a half minutes and shows the bits Chaplin shot with the actress he thought might replace Cherrill.
For The Dream Prince, we get a discarded fantasy idea. It envisions the tramp as an elegant and suave man, as the flower girl imagines him, and it lasts 68 seconds. Rehearsal fills 80 seconds as we watch Chaplin practice the scene in which he almost falls in the sidewalk elevator hole.
Chaplin and Boxing Stars runs four minutes, 20 seconds, as it shows Charlie while he play-acts with pugilists who visited his studio. Winston Churchill’s Visit takes 115 seconds to depict Chaplin as he clowns around at the studio with the great British leader.
The only sound component in this area, Chaplin Speaks! presents a German newsreel. It lasts three and a half minutes as we see police carry Chaplin through a throng of fans in Austria. It concludes with a few seconds of speech from Chaplin, who says very little. Trip to Bali fills nine minutes, 55 seconds and goes the travelogue route as we watch Chaplin’s footage of his vacation.
After this we find a nine and a half minute excerpt from Chaplin’s 1916 short The Champion. It appears here because it connects to the boxing match in Lights, and it’s a fun addition, though it’d be even nicer to get the whole thing.
In the trailers area, we get reissue ads. These come in English, French, and German. This eight-minute and 23-second package of trailers offers some good stuff.
Inside the Photo Gallery, we get six subsections of material. It splits into “Statue and Elephant” (42 stills), “Flowers” (50 shots), “Cane In the Grating” (nine), “Miscellaneous” (26), “The Singing Chaplin” (six), and “Italia 1954” (11). These lack the depth of the photos found on some of the other Chaplin DVDs, but they provide a decent collection. Film Posters provides more stills, as we see 26 ads from different eras and nations.
Lastly, DVD Two provides a package called The Chaplin Collection. This features short clips from the following flicks: The Kid, A Woman of Paris, The Gold Rush, The Circus, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux, Limelight, A King in New York, and The Chaplin Revue.
One nice touch: most of the DVD’s supplements include subtitles in English and a mix of other languages. Other than on DVDs from Paramount and DreamWorks, text accompaniment for extras occurs exceedingly infrequently, so the additional subtitles are much welcomed here.
In City Lights we find the second of Charlie Chaplin’s three most acclaimed comedies. It lacks the consistent laughs of The Gold Rush and the social commentary of Modern Times but it still works nicely as a bittersweet love story. The movie looks and sounds better than ever, and the DVD’s extras add some erratic but useful information about the flick and its creator. All Chaplin fans will want to get this new version of City Lights, as it clearly seems like the best edition on the market.