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Criterion Release: Limelight

May 26, 2015

By John Corrado

Limelight Blu-rayLast week, Charles Chaplin’s Limelight was released on Blu-ray, as part of the Criterion Collection.  Through one of his most personal and emotional screenplays, the 1952 classic shows the bond that forms between Calvero (Charles Chaplin), a fading clown who is struggling to remain relevant, and Thereza (Claire Bloom), a depressed young ballet dancer whom he rescues from suicide.

Largely boycotted in the United States upon its initial release because of the bad press surrounding Charlie Chaplin’s vocally left wing political views, Limelight has quite the storied history behind it.  The film was only theatrically released in Los Angeles twenty years later in 1972, going on to win a much deserved Oscar for Best Score.

The film itself remains an important and beautifully crafted work, that ranks as one of the former silent star’s finest films of the sound era.  There is a poetic quality to the narrative in the ways that Calvero and Thereza come together, with one falling down just as the other starts to get back on their feet, with destiny bringing them together to find meaning in their lives through each other.  There is also great symmetry to the fact that the film includes an extended cameo from Buster Keaton, the only time these two legendary performers appeared onscreen together.

Although there are some nicely staged musical and comedic sequences, this is a poignant human drama first and foremost, the work of a filmmaker coming to terms with his own mortality as a celebrity.  Both an inspiring reminder of the importance of living, and a moving reconciliation of the waning nature of fame, Limelight features some of Charles Chaplin’s most beautifully written passages, including moments of profoundly affective wisdom that still feel just as relevant.

The Blu-ray includes an outtake from the film, two extended featurettes on the production, and interviews with Claire Bloom and Norman Lloyd.  There’s also an archival recording of Charlie Chaplin reading from his novella Footlights, which inspired the film, and his two shorts A Night in the Snow (1915) and The Professor (1919).  Also included is a forty page booklet featuring an essay by critic Peter Von Bagh.

Limelight is 137 minutes and unrated.

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