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    Modern Times

    Still modern after all these years

    Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece "Modern Times," newly restored after almost 70 years, reminds us that times may have changed but industrial man hasn't.


    Filmed during the Depression of the 1930s, this timeless adieu to the world-famous Little Tramp features a synthesis of everything we've come to love as Chaplinesque, including a silent hero seven years after the advent of sound.

    Written and directed by: Charles Chaplin.
    Cast: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Chester Conklin, Hank Mann, Stanley Blystone, Al Ernest Garcia, Richard Alexander, Cecil Reynolds, Mira McKinney, Murdock MacQuarrie, Wilfred Lucas, Edward LeSaint, Fred Malatesta, Sammy Stein, Juana Sutton, Ted Oliver.
    Film Forum 209 West Houston St. (between 6th and 7th Ave.) (212) 727-8100

    This beautiful new black-and-white digital 35mm restoration of Charlie Chaplin's 1936 comic masterpiece, also reveals elements of the many socio-political ideas that would later, wrongly, brand him a communist. (For more of Chaplin's politics, check out his other classic, "The Great Dictator," wherein he attacked both Hitler and Mussolini as the fascist Axis was bombing London.)

    Much has been written about Chaplin's own Dickensian childhood, out of whose harsh realities the Little Tramp was born. At the start of "Modern Times," he's a factory worker, constantly at the mercy of the bosses. In the celebrated "automatic-feeding machine" sequence, the factory head uses Chaplin to test a machine that will eliminate lunch hour for the workers by feeding them on the job in mere minutes. Of course, the machine goes haywire, practically killing Chaplin, and in true slapstick tradition, we howl with laughter.

    Modern Times  
    Other "Metropolis"-like factory scenes are also played as slapstick tragedy. In the first of many examples of his graceful balletic abilities, Chaplin rides cartoon-like through the factory machinery until finally, his work-related repetitive tics (today we call them RSS injuries) get him tossed into the loony bin. While he's there, the factory closes and he's jobless until it reopens, only to be closed again for a strike within a few minutes.

    But not before a classic sequence with Chaplin and Chester Conklin as mechanic and helper. Still, to quote King Lear, "The worst is not so long as we can say, this is the worst." The Little Tramp accidentally picks up a dropped flag and unwittingly becomes the leader of a group of Bolshevik strikers, which naturally lands him in jail, where he's fed, warm and happy. He even foils a jailbreak. Enter the beauteous Paulette Goddard (then Mrs. C.C.) as a spunky orphan whose worst crime is to steal a loaf of bread because she's hungry. Naturally, she and the gentle Little Tramp fall in love.

      Modern Times
    The film is rich in moments both remembered and forgotten: Chaplin gracefully roller skating blindfolded on the perilous edge of a broken department store balcony; a blissful married-life dream sequence and the many cleverly interspersed "spoken" segments, including — in a surprise twist — the only time the voice of the tramp was ever heard on screen.

    The score as always, was also written by the multitalented writer/director/actor/producer/composer — you'll recognize his signature song, "Smile." But listen closely to Chaplin's brilliant factory themes and then compare them to the wartime munitions and airplane factory sections of Philip Glass's score for "The Fog of War." Whether as homage or by accident, you'll hear echoes of Chaplin's "Modern Times." In fact, what's truly astonishing (not to mention scary), is just how pertinent this 67-year-old film still seems in light of our own current economic "stasis" and attendant unemployment.

    In a 1931 interview, Chaplin himself summed up his own utopian political ideals thusly: "Unemployment is the vital question. ... Machinery should benefit mankind. It should not spell tragedy and throw it out of work." Plus a change, plus c'est la mme chose!

    DECEMBER 28, 2003

    Reader comments on Modern Times:

  • An object lesson on the joys of shared laughter   from Don MacPherson, Jan 4, 2004
  • This movie was great!   from Christie Olson, Aug 30, 2004
  • [no subject]   from , Oct 4, 2004
  • [no subject]   from lard_lady, Nov 25, 2004
  • about modern times   from zlem, Jul 10, 2006
  • Relatativity of the movie   from Mari, Oct 4, 2006

  • Post a comment on "Modern Times"