City Lights appears in an aspect ratio of 1.19:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not as impressive as some other restorations of films from the same era, Lights still looked good.
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 could appear. I saw no issues due to jagged edges or moiré effects, and neither edge enhancement nor digital noise reduction seemed to cause distractions.
Black levels looked nicely deep and dense, while 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 remained clean. Again, I’ve seen better transfers for 1920s films, but this was still a more than satisfactory reproduction.
In terms of audio, the Blu-ray went with the film’s original PCM monaural mix. 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, so music filled the overwhelming majority of this track.
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. The audio didn’t offer much, but given the age of the material, it sounded good.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the ”Chaplin Collection” DVD from 2004? Audio came with a change; the 2004 DVD included the original mono and a 5.1 remix, whereas the Blu-ray went just with the former. That was fine with me; I’m not a huge fan of multichannel remixes anyway, especially when they’re as pointless as the 2004 5.1 version was. The Blu-ray’s mono was cleaner and smoother than the DVD’s material.
As for visuals, I thought the Blu-ray was tighter and more film-like, though it wasn’t the radical leap I might’ve expected. Both showed similar patterns of strengths and weaknesses, so I’d chalk up differences to standard format-based improvements. That said, the Blu-ray was the stronger of the two and a clear winner.
The Criterion Blu-ray mixes new extras with some from the 2004 DVD. In the “new” category, we find an audio commentary from film historian Jeffrey Vance. In his running, screen-specific chat, he discusses cast and crew, story/character areas, various production details, and thoughts about the movie’s reception/legacy.
On the negative side, Vance occasionally tends to simply narrate the film and describe what we see. That trend doesn’t pop up often enough to harm the track, though, as Vance usually gives us a nice mix of insights. We learn a fair amount about the movie in this mostly satisfying chat.
Also found on the 2004 DVD, Chaplin Today: City Lights runs 26 minutes and 48 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.
A new featurette called Chaplin Studios: Creative Freedom By Design fills 16 minutes, 14 seconds and offers notes from visual effects expert Craig Barron. We see archival elements and learn about the methods/locations he used to create his films. We get some nice notes and insights into Chaplin’s work.
Four segments appear under From the Set of City Lights. We see “The Tramp Meets the Flower Girl” (8:35), “Stick Stuck in the Grate” (7:25), “Window-Shopping Rehearsal” (1:24) and “The Duke” (1:14). For “Girl”, we view Chaplin as director and hear commentary from historian Hooman Mehran. Of course, it’d be more useful with sound from the set, but Mehran fleshes out the visuals well, and it’s nice to get a look behind the scenes.
Essentially a deleted scene, “Stick” 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. “Rehearsal” gives us exactly what it implies, as Chaplin works out a particular gag, while “Duke” envisions the tramp as an elegant and suave man, as the flower girl imagines him. Both offer useful material.
Under “Chaplin the Boxer”, we locate two elements. First come a nine-minute, 22-second Excerpt from The Champion. Given the presence of some boxing in City Lights, this clip from the 1915 Champion acts as an antecedent, and a fun one, though it’s too bad the disc doesn’t simply include the entire short. After all, Champion runs a mere 31 seconds, so it easily would have fit on the Blu-ray.
Boxing Stars Visit the Studio runs four minutes, 40 seconds, as it shows Charlie while he play-acts with pugilists who visited his studio. It’s insubstantial but fun.
In the trailers area, we get reissue ads. These come in English, French, and German. This eight-minute and 47-second package of trailers offers some good stuff.
A second disc provides a DVD copy of City Lights. This includes all the same extras as the Blu-ray.
Finally, the set delivers a 40-page booklet. It features an essay from critic Gary Giddins as well as a 1967 interview with Chaplin. Both components work well, but the interview proves to be the more interesting of the two.
Extras scorecard: the Criterion disc adds the commentary, the “Creative Freedom” featurette and the booklet. It loses an intro from Chaplin biographer David Robinson, a screen test for Georgia Hale, a clip with Chaplin and Winston Churchill, a newsreel with Chaplin in Austria, footage of Chaplin on vacation in Bali and some photo galleries.
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 Blu-ray offers good picture and audio along with a fairly interesting set of supplements. Criterion manages to produce a satisfying edition of a classic comedy.
To rate this film, visit the Charlie Chaplin Collection review of CITY LIGHTS