Saturday, October 30, 2010

Modern Times

Modern Times is kind of an unusual case, because it isn't exactly a silent movie. It's more just quiet - there is dialogue, but it's very sparse and specific. People are generally only heard talking on the radio, or through a recording. Chaplin's voice is actually heard, but it's singing nonsense after he forgets the lyrics to a song in a funny scene near the end. So it's clear that the movie is the way it is out of a creative decision and not limited technology - it came out in 1936 after all. I enjoyed it more than The Gold Rush, but not as much as City Lights. There's just less of a real story to it, as it feels like a series of loosely connected scenes rather than a fully fleshed out film. Chaplin plays a version of the Tramp again, except this time he's a lowly factory worker rather than just a bum. He meets a beautiful girl who reciprocates his interest, but she's out on the street after her father's death and in trouble for stealing.

So they struggle to find a way to live together, Chaplin in and out of jail and trying out various odd jobs that don't go so well. There are some pretty funny set pieces, like an automated feeding machine at the factory and one of his trademark he-doesn't-realize-how-close-to-danger-he-is bits involving roller skates and a multi-level department store. There's even some subject matter that I really wouldn't have expected for the time; a bit where he unwittingly ingests some cocaine at lunch in jail. So it's a pretty funny movie, but it's also thin otherwise. I'm not the biggest fan of the sentiment and pathos that Chaplin heaps on sometimes, but it sort of helps fill out a story when he does it, and the fact that it's mostly lacking here makes it seem a bit empty. Just like it's out of character for a Chaplin film or something. It's not that every movie he makes needs to have the same tone, I just felt like it left a hole that he didn't fill with anything. Still a good movie of the era, though.

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