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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.
Making A Living
(1914)
 

Charles Chaplin’s film debut is a mish-mash of nonsensical comedy, with Charlie appearing as a would-be gentleman who is actually on the bum trying to win the hand of a well-to-do gal (Virginia Kirtley), edging out an unwelcome courting newspaper reporter (Henry Lehrman). Charlie answers a call for a reporter position and finds himself face-to-face with his indignant rival.

When Henry is on the scene of a dramatic automobile accident his story is scooped by the scrupleless Charlie, who steals Henry’s camera and runs to the newspaper offices, single-handedly assisting the typesetting, printing and distribution of the extra edition.

From the Reed Heustis scenario to Henry Lehrman’s chaotic and disjointed direction, the film is more historic curiosity than a comic masterpiece. The film’s logic, something necessary even in a Keystone comedy, is nonexistent. The plot takes us from chance encounter, to courting, to newspaper offices, to auto accident, to chase, to woman’s bedroom, back to the newspaper offices, and finally to a street brawl. The film is ultimately a disappointment, due in part to the brisk Keystone production pace and in part to Lehrman’s lack of creative talent.

Chaplin’s character is anarchic from the beginning of his film career, with a malicious and irreverent streak — he even stabs a policeman in the manic and unworldly chaos of this subpar film (the policeman gets up again in the next shot) — but Charlie is unrecognizable to modern audiences in his top hat, light suitcoat and drooping Snub Pollard moustache. His conversion would quickly be complete in his next film, Kid’s Auto Race (1914), when the familiar bowler hat, too small dark suitcoat and baggy pants made their first appearance. — Carl Bennett

2010 Flicker Alley DVD edition

Chaplin at Keystone (1914), black & white, 590 minutes total, not rated
including Making a Living (1914), black & white, 13 minutes, not rated.

Flicker Alley, FA0018, UPC 6-17311-67579-9, ISBN 1-893967-57-3.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, four single-sided, dual-layered DVD discs, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, four slimline DVD keepcases in cardboard slipcase, $79.95.
DVD release date: 26 October 2010.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 7 / additional content: 8 / overall: 7.

This quality edition has been mastered from a high-definition digital conflation of a 35mm nitrate positive held by the Museum of Modern Art and a 35mm duplicate negative held by the British Film Institute, with additional digital restoration by Lobster Films, Paris. The results are far from perfect but they are such an improvement over all previous home video editions that it is, at times, a revelation to watch. The improvement in image detail, the balance of graytones from shot to shot, the open framing, and the natural-speed video transfer now make this film a pleasure to watch. There are a number shots that appear to have missing footage, either to print breaks over the years or to careless editing of the original film.

The framing of the picture differs from previous home video editions with more of the surviving image seen at the bottom of the frame but with the top of the frame cropped off, missing about five percent of the surviving picture. In some shots more of the left side of the image is seen when compared to previous editions. Our preference would be to windowbox the surviving framelines, even if they vary from print element to print element, so that the entire surviving picture may be viewed.

The film is accompanied by an entertaining music score performed on piano by Frederick Hodges.

We highly recommend this edition of Making a Living as the best available on home video.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2004 Brentwood Home Video DVD edition

Charlie Chaplin: 57 Classics (1914-1921), black & white, 5948 minutes total, not rated,
including Making a Living (1914), black & white, 9 minutes, not rated.

Brentwood Home Video, 45340-9, UPC 7-87364-53409-8.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, five dual-sided, single-layered DVD discs, and one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, five-disc DVD keepcase, $19.98.
DVD release date: 27 April 2004.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 6 / additional content: 5 / overall: 5.

This budget edition has been transferred at sound-film speed from a 16mm reduction print that appears to originate from the 35mm print held by the Museum of Modern Art. The result is action that runs unnaturally fast. There are also minor videotape master glitches, with sections of vertical picture details that are bent to the left at the top of the picture. There are some fluctuations in exposure in the source print, with brief sections of dark footage flickering past. More apparent are long sections that are flat and dark with twilight gray highlights.

The film is accompanied by piano music performed by a anonymous musician.

A supplemental disc contains the documentary The Chaplin Puzzle, written by Joe Adamson and featuring narration by Burgess Meredith.

One of three multidisc Chaplin collections that feature most of the Keystone Chaplin films, this is no better or worse than the others. Not worth buying since the release of better DVD editions of the Chaplin Keystone, Essanay and Mutual films.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2005 Delta Entertainment DVD edition

The Essential Charlie Chaplin Collection (1914-1916), black & white, 700 minutes total, not rated,
including Making a Living (1914), black & white, 9 minutes, not rated.

Delta Entertainment, 89 246, UPC 0-18111-92269-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, eight single-sided, single-layered DVD discs, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, eight plastic trays in bookwrap, unknown suggested retail price.
DVD release date: 7 June 2005.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 5 / additional content: 5 / overall: 5.

This budget edition is identical to the analog videotape master, transferred at sound-film speed from a 16mm reduction print, as the Brentwood edition above. As with that edition, the action runs too fast. There are also minor videotape master glitches, with sections of vertical picture details that are bent to the left at the top of the picture. There are some fluctuations in exposure in the source print, with brief sections of dark footage flickering past. More apparent are long sections that are flat and dark with twilight gray highlights.

The film is accompanied by vintage jazz recordings. Predictable.

Again, the main attraction of this set is the fairly complete collection of the Keystone films (nine of the 35 films are not in the collection — one, Her Friend the Bandit [1914], is presumed lost). But, we wouldn’t buy this set for this edition of Making a Living.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase the Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2005 St. Clair Vision DVD edition

Charlie Chaplin: 51 Features (1914-1921), black & white, 870 minutes total, not rated,
including Making a Living (1914), black & white, 9 minutes, not rated.

St. Clair Vision, 45340-9, UPC 7-87364-53409-8.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, three single-sided, dual-layered DVD discs, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, three-disc DVD keepcase, $19.98.
DVD release date: 27 July 2005.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 6 / additional content: 5 / overall: 5.

Does someone make a living from creating bad video transfers to market to cheap video producers? It sure seems so, as this video master is the same as the Brentwood and the Delta editions noted above. The difference is that the film fares even worse from a combination of poorly balanced image contrast and overcompression of the picture information onto the DVD itself. Sections of the film have highlights that are so blasted out that there are bright white blooms of featureless nothing.

The film is accompanied by piano music performed by a anonymous musician — same as the Brentwood edition.

Don’t consider buying this collection for Making a Living. Buy the Flicker Alley edition noted above instead.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other silent era CHARLES CHAPLIN films available on home video.

Other KEYSTONE comedy films available on home video.

Other SHORT COMEDY FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
Charles Chaplin filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
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