Saturday, July 31, 2010

MODERN TIMES (Charles Chaplin, 1936, USA)

The Tramp suffers a nervous breakdown at breakneck speed, his humanity enslaved by grinding machines and overbearing overseers. Charles Chaplin’s iconic persona is a celebration of the dignity of the human spirit over the mechanical machinations of modernity.

Chaplin discovers humor in the daily grind, as the Tramp is comically inept in his job tightening bolts on an assembly line, failing to keep up with the job. The Expressionist set design is awesome to behold as he literally becomes trapped in the gigantic cogs and gears, devoured by the machine. The film was made during the Great Depression and becomes a homage to the working man, as the unemployed Tramp straggles from one comical mishap to the next. His life is invigorated by the appearance of the beautiful orphan girl, and it’s easy to see why Chaplin was infatuated with Paulette Goddard: her expressive eyes and mischievous smile capture your heart.

Chaplin makes some concession to the format of “talking pictures” though MODERN TIMES remains wonderfully anachronistic (even for 1936). Voice is only conveyed electronically through diagetic means such as a radio or television monitor, until he finally gives voice to the intrepid Little Fellow: a wonderfully poetic nonsensical song and dance routine becomes his final (and only) spoken words. Chaplin wanted his alter-ego to remain transcendent and this film was to be the final appearance of the Little Fellow, knowing that he was living in modern times of new artistic expressions; he retires his avatar on that long road towards the future, walking hand in hand with his true love into the sunset.
 
Final Grade: (A+)

3 comments:

Shubhajit said...

This is one of an amazing movie. Really, if you think of it, on a given day, either of Gold Rush, City Lights & Modern Times might take the top spot in Chaplin's filmography, though of course my favourite among the 3 is Gold Rush, though just about. The irony in my love for Modern Times is that I'm a Mechanical Engineer ;)

Alex DeLarge said...

My reviews of THE GREAT DICTATOR and the film CHAPLIN are coming soon, so hope you like those as well. I read Charles Chaplin, Jr's autobiography which focused mainly upon his relationship with his father, and it gave me new insight into DICTATOR, and how important that film was to Chaplin. Watching it in a different light made me appreciate it even more.
CITY LIGHTS gets a slight edge as my favorite, but it can change on any given day:)

Roscoe said...

Well, I've never liked MODERN TIMES at all, except for the opening sequence in the factory. Chaplin just lays on the Social Significance with a trowel, and it just gets suffocating.