Monday, January 16, 2012

THE GOLD RUSH Review- He Said

On Friday night, I managed to get down to the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff in Dallas. As Foursquare would tell me, I had not been there since May 11th. What a shame since the fact that I was going to go see a very unique movie is the reason that I wish that I could make down there more often. Regardless, my mission was to experience Charlie Chaplin on the big screen for the first time. As you guys will see in my review of MODERN TIMES for the AFI Top 100 column we have running, Chaplin is a recently rediscovered filmmaker whose work has a lot of meaning to me.

Janus Film is touring the restored 35mm print of Chaplin's 1925 film, THE GOLD RUSH. As the opening title cards would explain, this particular print is actually taken from the 1942 "Special Edition" version of the movie, where title and dialogue cards would be inserted into the movie along with an all-new soundtrack. Here's what the flyer that they handed out at the Theater said:

"Working in 2K from Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's original 1993 restoration of THE GOLD RUSH, Criterion's technical department further improved the image, removing thousands of instances of dirt, scratches, and debris. Following over 500 hours of restoration work, the film was outputted back to 35mm and married to a new 5.1 Dolby Digital recording of Chaplin's score, reconstructed and conducted by Timothy Brock." 

As for the film itself, even though it's not as well defined as MODERN TIMES or THE GREAT DICTATOR with their satirical humor, you get to see a lot of the physical humor that made Chaplin so famous. There was a gag with some wind and a couple of doors that had me laughing so much. After the movie, I got to thinking that I always say that I cannot stand cheap physical humor because I equate to shitty movies like GROWN-UPS or DADDY DAY CARE, where people are just falling down for some non-sensical reason and somehow that is supposed to count as humor. And yet in 1925, there is a perfectly fine example of what physical humor can be and what it has failed to be for a long time.

The story deals with the Lonesome Prospector making his way around the Alaskan frontier and his adventures while trying to make it rich. It is very much straightforward with mild hints of commentary on the ridiculous lengths that some people will go to to strike it rich. Or maybe is it saying how truly abhorrent people can become when there is the prospect of great wealth. I'd like to think that maybe that's what Chaplin was trying to show. So the the humor is pretty top notch, but it unfortunately stays mostly within the first part of the movie because once the Lonesome Prospector gets into the town, things sort of lose focus.

The problem, as has always been with me and Chaplin movies, was the love interest in the movie.  His love interest in this film, Georgia, is a type of cruel that makes Regina George of MEAN GIRLS feel bad. I never quite understood why the prospector is so head over heels for her. And I understand that back then some of the motivations of characters, especially of those where love interests are concerned, weren't always the most fleshed out. Call it the "Instant Romeo and Juliet" style that many movies adhered to back then. The shoddy love interest aside, the movie's plot and momentum just seem to screech to a halt to where it feels the movie could have either expanded on the first or last third and cut out parts of the middle. Once I thought about what actually happens in this particular section (which I don't want to give away), I get annoyed that we spent so much time with such a lame character such as Georgia, and how ultimately pointless it is in the end.

This is definitely one of the most uneven of the Chaplin movies I have seen, and maybe I need to rewatch it again, when (fingers crossed) Criterion releases this on Blu-ray sometime in 2012, to regain some perspective.

Now as for the transfer, let me say that it is an amazing restoration job. I have seen what the folks over at Criterion can do with older films. One look at the MODERN TIMES Blu-ray and the special features shows you exactly how much grains and dirt has been taken out of the print all while keeping the integrity of it intact. Since this is a relatively older film, and then the fact this was taken from another restoration, there seems to have been some irreparable issues.  During a dancing scene about half-way through and last throughout the rest of the movie, there is a lot of skipping around in the character's movements like it was very clumsily edited. On the flip side, the new 5.1 score that was attached to the print sounds amazing. I cannot wait to get a chance to listen to it again. As stated before, this was added by Chaplin back in 1942 once the technology became available. This was probably my favorite part of the restoration as hearing this score and seeing how well it was composed for the movie made me like it even more.

It's interesting to think about all of the things that Chaplin did as a filmmaker and how he could approach material and use technology to improve either a gag or a whole movie while not making the technology the sole focus. Case in point is the restoration that he did in 1942. (This is exactly what George Lucas did with the original Star Wars trilogy and what he continues to do). I haven't seen the original 1925 version with no title cards, but I can't imagine that it's as bad as and awkward as the Special Editions. Even some of the "special effects" that were used during THE GOLD RUSH serve the story well and add to the comedy of it. The fact that such simple techniques and story were being told that would still resonate almost 100 years after the fact is a testament to the fact that people like Criterion and Janus are important in appreciating and uncovering cinematic gems.

But enough gushing, the movie is fun; the restoration looks pristine, so go see it at the Texas Theatre while you still can.

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