Film historians often lament that the home video industry has done little to take advantage of the curatorial possibilities that the medium offers. Though they do make classic films widely available to new audiences, video companies rarely use video as a tool with which serious and armchair students of film history could put old works in perspective or view rarely seen works long out of general circulation. Next week, however, a vital little piece of film history will make its way to home video audiences in a presentation targeted at viewers who want to get more out of the material than the laughs it offers.
Although it might seem that the major studios would want to cultivate a sense of their role in film history, the supplier of next week's home course in film history is outside the studio system: Media Home Entertainment, one of the largest video outfits not associated with a major studio. But that's appropriate, because the focus of Media's package predates the studio system as we know it: Charlie Chaplin, whose work in silent film shorts from 1914 to 1917 is being presented in a new series of $19.98 tapes.
Each tape, accompanied by the almost unheard-of addition of liner notes that amplify the screen material, offers at least four shorts from Chaplin's days at three different bygone studios. His 1914 output at Keystone Studios is offered on one one-hour volume, including his first appearance as the Little Tramp. His work for Essanay Studios the following year offers enough for two volumes, while Media has culled three volumes of shorts from his 1916-17 association with Mutual Studios, a stint that preceded his decision to join fellow filmmakers in the creation of their own studio, United Artists.
The films, many of which have been available on tape in other configurations, are presented here in restored versions struck from what Media claims is "the finest original 35-millimeter preprint material known to exist" and are accompanied by orchestral soundtracks dating back to 1934. Devotees can also get six cassettes for the price of five by signing up for the deluxe boxed set, priced at $99.98. The Media collection continues a mini-video renaissance for Chaplin, who was recently represented on HBO Video's trio of tapes from Thames Television's "Unknown Chaplin" documentary series; those tapes, which include some of the Mutual Studios material as well as clips from features and rarely seen home movies, are narrated by James Mason and are priced at $39.98 for all three.
Femmes Fatales' Forgotten Films Promos of new releases starring Cybill Shepherd, Lauren Hutton and Jodie Foster are enough to get many viewers into the video stores. This month, Paramount Home Video, through its distribution client Prism Entertainment, has all three in its "Great Ladies, Great Films" promotion of rental-market tapes; a closer look at the three movies in question, however, suggests that the promotion's title is overstating at least half its case.
None of the three movies was released theatrically in the United States, and two of them were produced by foreign television outfits. They do answer some questions, including: What happens when Gregory Harrison executive-produces his own movie (Shepherd's "Seduced"); whatever happened to '60s sexpot Capucine (she's in Hutton's "Scandalous"); and what is French New Wave director Claude Chabrol up to these days (Foster's "The Blood of Others"). Mostly, however, we find out what Cybill, Lauren and Jodie were up to between better job offers; one wonders how they'll feel about our finding out.
Score One for Capitalism Viewers dazzled by the velocity of the events between the fall of the Berlin Wall and last week's reunification of Germany may want to do some catching up with one of this month's upcoming releases. Warner Home Video's "The Fall of the Berlin Wall" offers a 49-minute, German-made documentary about the wall's construction, its history and the events that led up to the celebration of its destruction last fall. The documentary, produced by Studio Hamburg and WDR, is hosted by Hanns-Joachim Friedrichs, whom Warner calls "Germany's best-loved television news presenter." Warner is also billing the tape as a "commemorative keepsake"; rather than price it at keepsake prices, however, Warner is offering the tape for $59.95 -- pretty steep for 49 minutes of even the best year-old news, and at least $30 more than one would expect most other major studios to ask. Maybe those communists are onto something when they complain about capitalist greed.