CANNES, France Charles Chaplin's classic spoof about 20th century technology and progress has gotten a 21st century overhaul.
More than six decades since "Modern Times" debuted, a beautiful high-tech restoration of the masterpiece is one of the highlights of the Cannes Film Festival.
Journalists already had a preview of the film, which will be shown at the festival's close. The high-definition digital restoration is stunning: There are no scratches, no dust specks, and the black-and-white tones are perfectly balanced.
Technicians painstakingly touched up all 126,000 frames one by one, said Marin Karmitz, founder of France's MK2, which carried out the work.
"It's like restoring the frescoes . . . in the Sistine Chapel," Karmitz said Thursday. "We're giving the work its original identity back."
MK2 is restoring 10 of Chaplin's feature films. The new versions will be released on DVD and shown in some theaters, and they should give Chaplin's movies a wider public.
For the younger audience, the Chaplin icon the Little Tramp, with his mustache, bowler and oversized shoes tends to overshadow the movies, said Richard Schickel, who directed a Chaplin documentary showing at Cannes.
"Young people don't really know him, they just know who he is because that image is so powerful," Schickel said.
Schickel's movie, "Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin" uses film clips and home video footage.
It also weaves in commentary by prominent fans including mime Marcel Marceau, who cites Chaplin as his lifelong inspiration, and Robert Downey Jr., star of the 1992 film "Chaplin."
"Modern Times" will screen after the awards ceremony Sunday. The mostly silent 1936 film is a satirical attack on mass production and the treatment of workers.
In one unforgettable sequence, the Little Tramp tests a new feeding machine an attempt to boost productivity so factory workers don't have to stop for lunch. But the machine goes haywire, and Chaplin winds up with a face full of food.
Eventually, Chaplin's character goes to jail, gets released, accidentally finds himself leading a communist rally and falls in love with a street waif, played by his then partner Paulette Goddard.
For the restoration, staff at the film library in the Italian city Bologna searched the world for high-quality prints of the film, then spliced together the best footage.
MK2 digitized the images, scanning every frame and touching them up individually. Finally the images were transferred back onto traditional 35 mm film.
The French company which just had a successful re-release of Francois Truffaut's films holds the rights for the Chaplin films for 12 years. Karmitz won the Chaplin family's confidence by promising to bring the movies back to the big screen, not just release them on DVD.
The company will distribute the film in theaters and on DVD in France, while Warner Home Video will distribute the DVDs to the rest of the world.
For years, some films directed by Chaplin have been in especially bad shape, Karmitz said. One example is "A Woman of Paris" a critically acclaimed spoof on the French bourgeoisie that flopped with the public, probably because Chaplin himself didn't star in it.
The existing known prints were marred by a stripe running across the screen. For the new version, the team searched the world's film libraries until finding one without the flaw.
"Modern Times" will be re-released on DVD worldwide in July.