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Bunker, Hill and Chaplin box sets among new DVD releases 

ALL IN THE FAMILY: THE COMPLETE SEVENTH SEASON (1976-1977). The first six seasons of TV's all-time greatest sitcom were released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment between March 2002 and February 2007, and then ... nothing. Now, finally, comes the long-awaited release of Season Seven, presented not by Sony but by Shout! Factory. (The outfit has announced Season Eight for Jan. 11, 2011, leaving just the ninth and final season waiting in the wings.) After a half-dozen seasons of perfection, the show admittedly slipped a bit in this seventh go-around (it also slipped in the Nielsen ratings, dropping from its record-setting five years at #1 to #12). The presence of Joey, Mike (Rob Reiner) and Gloria's (Sally Struthers) baby, softened up both the series and Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) himself, while the addition of Teresa (Liz Torres), Archie and Edith's (Jean Stapleton) live-in Hispanic maid, was mostly a mistake. But all four stars remain in fine form, and there are some exemplary story lines on view, including the much-discussed Christmas episode, "The Draft Dodger."

As with the Sony AITF sets, there are no extras.

Season: ***1/2

Extras: *

BENNY HILL — THE THAMES YEARS 1969-1989: THE COMPLETE MEGASET (1969-1989). The second series to go by the name The Benny Hill Show — the first aired sporadically on BBC from 1955 through 1968 — enjoyed a hugely successful run via Thames Television over the course of 20 years. Although it debuted in 1969 in its U.K. homeland, it didn't reach U.S. shores until 1979, and then only in edited versions. Luckily for me, I spent a few years of my overseas childhood catching the original cuts of this bawdy series when it aired in Portugal from the mid-to-late 1970s, thereby permanently warping my comic sensibilities beyond repair. Packed with gags as likely to produce groans as giggles, The Benny Hill Show was frequently raunchy, usually ridiculous and decidedly non-PC. Yet always there was Benny himself, a crack comedian with an affinity for vaudeville routines, precision slapstick and bawdy double entendres (fans included Michael Jackson and no less than Charlie Chaplin himself). A talented showman always eager to please his audience, Hill created such recurring characters as Fred Scuttle and served up a dizzying array of skits and songs. This 18-disc set includes all 58 episodes of the show — or, as the box copy breaks it down, "585 classic sketches."

DVD extras include the Biography episode "Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy"; the 1991 documentary Benny Hill: The World's Favourite Clown (featuring interviews with Michael Caine, Walter Cronkite, Mickey Rooney and Burt Reynolds); and six "Benny Hill Cheeky Challenge Trivia Quizzes."

Collection: ***1/2

Extras: ***

CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE (1914). Flicker Alley's superb box set ultimately may not be the best DVD release of the year (though it certainly ranks in the upper echelons), but it's safe to state that, from a historical standpoint, it will remain the most important. Charles Chaplin began his remarkable film career signed to a one-year contract with the Keystone Film Company, appearing in 36 films throughout 1914. This four-disc collection includes 34 pictures in their entirety and one as an excerpted bonus feature, with only one title (Her Friend the Bandit) seemingly lost for good. It's a remarkable accomplishment on the part of the international film companies (in Britain, Italy and France) who pooled their resources to present these restored offerings, and it allows viewers to see that Chaplin and his beloved creation, the Tramp, have been together almost from the start. After appearing as a duplicitous dandy in his film debut, Making a Living, Chaplin then adopted the famous Tramp outfit for Mabel's Strange Predicament, although, based on release dates, the public first saw — and fell in love with — this odd character in Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. Chaplin honed his routine in the series of shorts (and one feature, Tillie's Punctured Romance) presented in this grandly entertaining collection, an essential companion to Warner Bros.' invaluable feature-film Chaplin box sets from 2003-2004.

DVD extras include a 40-page booklet offering synopses and other information on all the films Chaplin made at Keystone; a 10-minute featurette on the production of this set; a 12-minute piece examining various shooting locations for Keystone films; and the 1916 cartoon Charlie's White Elephant.

Collection: ****

Extras: ***

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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