Plot: What’s it about?
A tramp (Charles Chaplin) ventures to a circus, where he hopes to take in the sights and sounds. The circus is a place he can enjoy himself, but not have to produce a lot of money, which he has little of. So he walks around, scavenges for some food, and just tries to relax, but his fun is soon to come to an end. His appearance and unusual behavior have landed him some unwanted attention, as police officers now tail his every movement. The police think the tramp is a pickpocket, so they give chase and chaos soon breaks loose. The tramp runs with all his might, but when it seems like he is doomed, he takes a turn into a circus performance. He runs right out into the main performance area, with the police in hot pursuit. The tramp manages to keep one step ahead, able to dodge and outrun the police at every turn. As the chase continues, the crowd begins to cheer the tramp and soon, he is the true star of the circus. Now a star of sorts, the tramp finds himself hired to be part of the circus, as the ringmaster loved his antics. As he soon discovers however, the tramp isn’t that funny on his own, which presents a problem. So in order to ensure a good performance, the tramp is made into the janitor, who is always in front the crowd when the show starts. But he is unaware of the situation and starts to fall in love with a beautiful acrobat. Can he win her heart over, or is he just a joke to her, like with the others?
Charles Chaplin made a number of incredible, timeless motion pictures, films like City Lights and The Gold Rush. These two remain high profile movies even now, but not all of Chaplin’s work has stayed in the spotlight. A film that often gets left out is The Circus, a film that isn’t mentioned often enough in discussions on Chaplin’s career. That is a shame, as The Circus is a well crafted, very enjoyable motion picture. In truth, it is hard to understand why the film hasn’t been more prominent, given the high profile of Chaplin’s work. As in most of his movies, Chaplin mixes melodrama with slapstick, with priceless results. Chaplin stars as The Little Tramp, perhaps one of the most beloved characters in all of cinema. He is able to do so much on screen, from t he simplest of physical gags to intricate scenes, such as the mirror sequence. So while The Circus is slapstick, this is not brainless stuff, quite the opposite. Chaplin conjured up some detailed, complex sequences, which have hilarious payoffs. But as humorous as The Circus can be, it is also dramatic at times and even then, it remains effective. I still wouldn’t list this as Chaplin’s best, a spot reserved for the immortal City Lights, but The Circus is an excellent motion picture. This two disc edition from Warner is a great treatment, so don’t hesitate to join The Circus.
Video: How does it look?
The Circus is presented in full frame, as intended. MK2 has restored the elements, which means this presentation is excellent. The print has been cleaned up a lot, so debris and grain are minimal at worst. I saw a nick here and there, but for a film of this age, the print looks quite impressive indeed. The restoration has also yielded a more refined visual presence, so the image has more depth and detail than most previous editions. No worries with contrast either, as black levels perform well and never disappoint. Not all the news is good however, as the usual PAL to NTSC conversion errors are present, as with the other Warner Chaplin releases. Not as bad as in some cases, but there and worth a mention.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio here is about the same as on the other Warner Chaplin releases, so I have ported over my comments. A new Dolby Digital 5.1 option is included here, which I think could be overkill in this case, but I know some of you are surround sound addicts. The material has signs of age, but the pops, hiss, and distortion prove to be infrequent. So no, there hasn’t been extensive restoration work done, but good source elements have been used. The mix has a more natural, pleasant texture than expected, given the limits of the material and such. But by the same token, don’t expect too much, as the material isn’t dynamic by nature. I still prefer the original mono soundtrack, which is also found here, but for those who need surround sound, this is a solid presentation. This release also includes a French language track, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, and Thai, just in case you’ll need those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The second disc in this release is all extras, starting off with Chaplin Today: The Circus, a half hour look at the production. This follows in the same path as the other Chaplin Today pieces, which means a lot of perspective, via new interviews. An inside view it isn’t, but it sheds some light on how The Circus influenced later filmmakers. A half hour of outtakes can also be found, which are fun to watch and add some depth to the supplements. A deleted scene is next, followed by three home movies, footage from the film’s premiere, comparisons between shots from the two cameras used, a reel of 3-D test footage, and excerpts from Jackie Coogan’s Circus Day. This release also includes an introduction by David Robinson, a collection of still photos & sketches, poster artwork, and two of the film’s theatrical trailers.