Hoping to hitch a ride on the hobo coattails of Chaplin, FoxVideo is repromoting its 12-title Centennial Collection of original Chaplin features on cassette. But before you buy any current Chaplin videocassette, be aware that new, improved editions of his movies will be released piecemeal on tape from FoxVideo over the next year or two, after first debuting on laserdisc. Judging from the exquisite care taken with the first two laser titles, the consummate weeper City Lights and the more episodic, less funny, but nonetheless inspired machine-age satire Modern Times, it would be worthwhile to sit tight until the new versions make their way to cassette — unless you own a laserdisc player now.
The eventual tape editions won’t have the breathtaking clarity and detail shown in these discs. But they will still be an improvement over the cassettes now for sale. That’s because FoxVideo/Image had access to new print material that was the closest to the original negatives and has used video technology to give the movies a frame-by-frame cleaning. The resulting images are so pristine you can practically see Chaplin’s pores through the pancake makeup, and every scene of the Little Tramp battling rude cops, nightclub crowds, insidious machinery, or his own too-kind nature is rendered in rich gray tones instead of the bleached-out blacks and whites of earlier prints.
Both movies are presented here in a ”windowbox” format, in which the image is surrounded by a black border that no edges in the densely packed frames get cropped. And as a bonus, the discs’ CAV still-frame capability allows not only hyperclear slow motion but the inclusion of a frame-file appendix. And thanks to dual soundtracks on the City Lights disc, you can hear either the original 1931 recording of Chaplin’s score or a new, digital version. Like everything else about these discs, the audio is so startlingly vivid, it makes the material seem as if it were crafted yesterday.
City Lights: A+
Modern Times: A-