If you’re conscious of Charlie Chaplin, you likely don’t need me to tell you about "City Lights." It’s widely considered the Little Tramp’s masterpiece, and Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the 4K digital restoration is a treasure in itself. The compositions of this masterpiece, one of the last great silent films, are rendered cleaner here than they’ve ever looked outside of 35mm film prints.
Yet the film’s extras will also be a primary attraction: this is one of the most meticulously curated home video releases in some time. Perhaps most valuable is a commentary by Chaplin scholar Jeffrey Vance, who packs every moment of the film’s sub-90-minute runtime with information about Chaplin’s reactions to then-revolutionary sound films, the production of "City Lights" itself, how Chaplin’s personal life may have influenced the pratfalls of the picture, and much more.
There are also a number of short documentaries about the master comedian’s process: "Chaplin Today" is a half-hour take on the legacy of "City Lights," all the way down to its influence on modern cinema. "Creative Freedom by Design" is a 20-minute documentary about Chaplin’s working methods, and his relatively early employment of special effect. There’s also a large number of archival clips filmed behind the scenes of this picture’s production, along with ten minutes of footage from a Chaplin short entitled "The Boxer."
This release of "City Lights" illustrates one of the many reasons cinephiles adore the Criterion Collection: they don’t simply unearth lost classics and restore forgotten cinematic artworks, they can provide us with definitive tomes for some of the form’s masterworks.
Blu-ray/DVD Dual Release