Thursday, 9 February 2012

Modern Times

1936’s Modern Times finds Charlie Chaplin’s iconic Tramp character at work in a modern, mechanized factory. He struggles to keep up with the ever quickening pace of the production line where he screws nuts onto bolts and suffers a mental breakdown. After being released from hospital, The Tramp finds himself as the accidental leader of a Communist rally and is thrown in jail. Once released he finds life in the Depression ruined 30s difficult but meets an orphan girl with whom he develops a friendship. The film then follows their ups and downs as they try to scrape by and stay out of jail.

Modern Times is one of Chaplin’s best remembered films and features some wonderful set pieces. Just some of the iconic scenes include; when he gets caught up in the cogs of the factory machines, when he mistakes cocaine for salt, when he roller skates blindfolded and when he is used to test a new feeding machine. All of these scenes are laugh out loud funny. While the film features some of Chaplin’s funniest moments, the laughs are spread more thinly than in some of his earlier films. This is much more of a comedy/drama than out and out comedy.

Chaplin’s politics are obvious to see throughout. The opening scene shows sheep being lead out and then cuts to men streaming into a factory. Once inside, the workers are worked to exhaustion and we see the harsh conditions of the unemployed. Chaplin is later falsely accused of leading a Communist march and gets thrown in jail, an eerie premonition of what later happened to him. It is obvious that Chaplin blames modern industrialization for the conditions of the Great Depression and understandable why it came under scrutiny at the time.

Chaplin is joined on screen by the beautiful Paulette Goddard, who was also his wife at the time. Despite playing a homeless orphan she still manages to dazzle and is also superb in the more touching scenes. Chaplin as always is sublime. There are little touches in every scene that cement him as cinema’s greatest entertainer.

The beautiful Paulette Goddard

The film is still considered ‘silent’, despite it containing ‘talkie’ moments. Most of these moments come from inanimate objects or from one or two characters but I wish it had been one way or the other. It’s a bit of a cop out to be a mixture of silent and spoken but by 1936 silent films were considered very old fashioned so its understandable why the decision to introduce some dialogue was made.

Unfortunately, Modern Times was one of Chaplin’s final films and the last to feature his Tramp character. For that reason its ending carries even greater significance and is wonderful. The film contains some of Chaplin’s best moments and is a wonderful reminder of his genius and the class of his film making.

Farewell to The Tramp...


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