Charles Chaplinís Limelight gets a loving Blu-ray edition from Criterion, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1bout 1.33:1. The new high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative.
The transfer and restoration was performed by Criterion in partnership with Cineteca di Bologna and what a knockout it is. One of the better presentations so far of the Chaplin releases from Criterion, it delivers a highly detailed, filmic rendering, perfectly capturing textures and fine object detail. Film grain is very fine but it is there and it does look pretty nice, no blocking issues standing out, and there are no other digital anomalies to ruin the image. It looks very natural, very clean. Contrast levels look decent with nice grays and rich blacks, and crushing isnít a concern.
The restoration work likewise is also exceptional. There are still a few minor blemishes, such as scratches (and some rear projection moments also look a little rough) but theyíre very few and barely noticeable, and there are times where the print quality degrades noticeably, but these are rare as well. Itís an otherwise superb looking image. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Like their other Chaplin titles Criterion has put together a nice roster of supplements, starting with Chaplinís Limelight, a visual essay narrated by David Robinson about the making of Limelight. At 21-minutes itís a rather thorough overview of the filmís production, which sounds to have been a decade or so in the making. It originally started out as a feature that would costar Paulette Goddard and was supposed to be based on dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (who Chaplin became rather fascinated of) but it was abandoned for The Great Dictator. Years later, with Chaplin now far older, the story morphed into what we finally get. He goes over the writing process, getting Buster Keaton involved, actual filming and the like, but he also offers a rather decent historical overview on the theatre district and time period the film takes place in while also going over Chaplinís family history in that location. Itís a nicely edited together piece, cutting together various photos, documents, film footage and so forth.
Criterion then also gets a couple of new interviews, the first of which is with actress Claire Bloom. Bloom talks a bit about her theater experience and the excitement over landing the role of Chaplinís leading lady in the film. She admits that working with Chaplin could be a bit difficult, and that she did put up with a lot since it was her first film, but she confides that she probably wouldnít have put up with it now. Yet sheís grateful that she was able to do it, especially since it most certainly opened up the doors for her, and the experience overall was a great one. Her interview only runs about 16-minutes.
Criterion also gets an interview with co-star Norman Lloyd. Though he covers how he came to work on the film his interview isnít as personal as Bloomís, instead talking about other elements pertaining to the film. He talks quite a bit about Charles Chaplinís son Sydney, who apparently didnít have much interest in being a star of any kind (both he and Bloom also point out that his father could be rather hard on him), and he also talks a bit about the development of the Keaton/Chaplin routine in the film. This interview runs about 15-minutes.
Carried over from the previous Warner DVD is the feature Chaplin Today: ďLimelightĒ, a 27-minute feature from 2002 and featuring interviews with Bloom, Sydney Chaplin, and Bernardo Bertolucci. We get more about the history of the production, though this subject matter doesnít expand much on what weíve already learned from the other features on the disc. But we do get more information about Chaplin being ďkicked outĒ of the States, and we get some great newsreel footage, including some of Chaplin meeting Jean Cocteau. Bloomís interview here offers a little more as well (thereís a funny bit where she explains why her parents accompanied her during filming) and getting Sydney Chaplin on screen to talk about his dad and his part in the film adds great value. Bertolucci, viewing the film on VHS it appears, talks about how the film made an impact on him and his work. Of the Chaplin Today features that have been appearing on these releases it may be the weakest but itís still worth viewing.
Criterion then includes two short films. First, from 1915, is A Night in the Show. The 25-minute short features Chaplin in two roles, that of Mr. Pest and Mr. Rowdy, both of different social classes, Mr. Pest representing the ďupper classĒ I guess and Mr. Rowdy representing the ďlower class.Ē The short takes place in a theater and the first half of the short focuses on the seating of these two characters, Rowdy up in the balcony causing a stir to those around (and under) him, and a drunken Mr. Pest down in the more prime seats, though he constantly shifts around to the annoyance of those around him. Mr. Rowdy is a bit more of a loud braggart I would say, but most of the comic gold in the short if found in Mr. Pest, who Chaplin plays an absolutely disrespectful boor with no concern or those around him, which leads to the most laughs. It may not be the best early example of Chaplinís comic abilities but itís still rather funny and a nice inclusion.
Criterion has also used a very strong master for the presentation. Delivered in 1080p/24hz, it looks rather good, crisp and clean and natural. The source still shows some stains, tram lines, scratches, and there is evidence of missing frames (and the frame rate can look off in places) but for a film now 100 years old it looks pretty damn good.
More to do with the film (and mentioned elsewhere in the supplements) is a short 6-minute segment from Chaplinís unfinished film The Professor, which is included here more to show off the development of the flea circus gag that appears in Limelight. In this a homeless performer shows up at a shelter with his flea circus, and the fleas then all escape and cause mayhem. Unfortunately it looks like a standard-definition upscale but itís a great inclusion showing Chaplinís development of his gags.
Criterion then includes a couple of trailers for the film, one in English and the other in Italian. And then in a big surprise Criterion actually includes a booklet, a 40-page one in fact. Criterion first reprints a very passionate 2002 essay on the film by Peter von Bagh, who of course examines the filmís various themes on show business and mortality, and Chaplinís influences. Criterion also includes a reprint of a 1952 article by Henry Gilis about his visit to the set. This is a great article, with Gilis recalling moments from post-production, like Chaplin recording sound effects, including yawns (a photo of this event is included), and more. He also gets quick interviews with the director. Gilis doesnít talk much about the film itself (he admits heís only seen pieces of it on Chaplinís Moviola) but it offers some great behind-the-scene insight.
Though it isnít as packed as a few of Criterionís other supplements, but itís still a satisfactory collection of material. 8/10