The old year ends and, repackaged for holiday gifting, some things seem absolutely new. The fruit of an eight-year, international restoration effort, Flicker Alley’s four-disc box set Chaplin at Keystone is a major work of cultural rehabilitation. Charlie Chaplin’s first movies—the 33 one- or two-reel comedies and the single feature he made for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios in 1914—are uncanny in their immediacy. The only thing more brilliant than the print quality is the magnitude of the young Chaplin’s scurrilous charisma. The box comes with a helpful booklet and several short documentaries, but the greatest bonus is the frequent appearance of Mabel Normand, Keystone’s reigning star as well as a performer whose physical grace and appealing good nature made her a wonderful foil for the Little Tramp.
Another sort of rehabilitation may be found in the sturdy Elia Kazan Collection, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Kazan admirer Martin Scorsese made the selection—15 of Kazan’s first 16 features—and produced an hour-long documentary, A Letter to Elia, in which he speaks of Kazan’s significance for him, particularly as the director of the prole-celebrating On the Waterfront. Kazan, who brought the Method to Hollywood, was the 1950’s key director of actors, introducing a truly bizarre James Dean (East of Eden) and still raw Warren Beatty (Splendor in the Grass), while getting career performances from Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront), Carroll Baker (Baby Doll), and Andy Griffith (A Face in the Crowd). Kazan’s early social-problem films (including the Oscar-winning Gentlemen’s Agreement and ponderous Viva Zapata!) do feel dated, but a number of his shorter, less overweening productions remain fresh and vital. For all the director’s New York street smarts, most were shot on location down South. The underappreciated gems in this set include the crypto anti-communist noir Panic in the Streets, the lyrical Wild River (a non-starter in 1960 that has steadily moved to the forefront of the Kazan oeuvre), and the truly outrageous Baby Doll, condemned from the pulpit by New York’s Cardinal Francis Spellman.
For Guy Maddin, acting is inherently outrageous, and the old is always new. Hilariously retro in his film language, the Bard of Winnipeg is at once the most eccentric of mainstream filmmakers and the most accessible of avant-gardists. Zeitgeist’s Quintessential Guy Maddin repackages five of his nine features, some never before on DVD: Archangel was Maddin’s breakthrough film and Twilight of the Ice Nymphs his grand folly. Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary very nearly reinvents one of the oldest stories in movies; Careful and Cowards Bend the Knee are unlike anything ever made. The set also includes six short films, among them The Heart of the World, a movie that packs more ideas into five super-charged minutes than many filmmakers have in a lifetime.
Two more stocking stuffers: Kino Lorber’s latest reissue of Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece of mishigas, Metropolis: The Complete Edition, incorporates an additional 25 minutes recently discovered in Argentina and is likely the last word on this oft-reconstructed monument; made 33 years ago and an instant cult film when it began showing here earlier this year, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s psychedelic horror comedy House (newly available from Criterion) has everything but Pee-Wee Herman.