Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 3

Keystone 1914

  • The Little Tramp makes his first foray into film and refines the art of motion picture comedy
  • Far more than mere early sketches, Chaplin’s earliest films offer much broad and rewarding humour
  • There are many additional choices for collectors beyond the latest restorations 

If you’ve landed directly on this page I strongly recommend you start from the Part 1 introduction.

Making a Living (1914, Charlie Chaplin Keystone) UK poster

Making a Living (1914) UK poster


Early Keystone restorations

Prior to the complete series’ restoration, only a handful of Keystones were extant in good or even reasonable condition. These few have appeared in various US collections produced by the likes of David Shepard. All have quality transfers and custom scores by top musicians. Naturally, these versions and scores are not available elsewhere, so are essential for the Keystone Kompletist:

American Slapstick Volume 2 (1915–1937) (All Day 3-DVD box set 2008) is also of interest, as it contains some 1910s Chaplin cartoons and, as with the Sennett Collection below, several films starring his brother Syd Chaplin. Also present are various films featuring Little Tramp knock-off characters, from the likes of Billy West and Harold Lloyd.

Cinema with Charlie Chaplin Keystone films display, 1914

Cinema with Chaplin Keystone films display, 1914

2010 Keystone  restorations

The most recent restorations were given great customised piano and orchestral scores and issued in a 4-DVD box set, complete with a substantial, informative booklet. Extras consist of Charlie’s White Elephant (1916, 6min), one of many cartoons made at that time reflecting the Little Tramp’s huge popularity; Inside the Keystone Project restoration featurette (2010, 10min); Silent Traces: The Keystone Locations featurette (2010, 12min) and a photo gallery (4min). The latter featurette is an excellent piece by film historian John Bengtson, who specialises in finding and documenting silent era filming locations. He’s written several wonderful books on the subject, including one on Chaplin, and has one of the very best silent film blogs around.

Chaplin at Keystone (BFI) UK DVD box set

Chaplin at Keystone (BFI) UK DVD box set

All box sets have identical content and the same locally-translated booklet. However, note that the European and Australian DVDs are actually ahead of the US’s in image quality. This is because the actual restorations were carried out in Europe and PAL (Euro/Oz TV/DVD standard) masters were created from these. To cut costs when transferring PAL-originated material, Flicker Alley don’t create fresh NTSC (US standard) masters; instead they manufacture their discs directly from the unconverted PAL ones. This results in a blurring or ‘ghosting’ of the image, especially noticeable whenever there is any rapid movement onscreen. This policy is most unfortunate; they’re one of the best home video labels around and do inestimable good for the world of silent and classic film. But the fact remains that their PAL-sourced releases are compromised from the start.

The set has so far been released by these companies:

Keystones in HD

Although Chaplin’s restored Keystones haven’t been issued in their entirety in HD, three of them are available as part of two Flicker Alley BD sets. The Thief Catcher, long thought lost, and Recreation are included in the superlative 3-BD-only set, The Mack Sennett Collection Vol. One (2014). It also features three shorts starring Chaplin’s brother Syd, who before giving up his career to manage Charlie full-time, was a film star in his own right. The third HD Keystone, Mabel’s Strange Predicament, is part of the groundbreaking Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology 3-BD/3-DVD dual format box set (2017).

Dough and Dynamite (1914, Charlie Chaplin Keystone) US poster

Dough and Dynamite (1914) US poster. Chaplin’s Keystones were distributed by Mutual in the US.

If you’ve any questions or suggestions, post in the comments below.

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.

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