Wednesday, December 22, 2010

#219 Modern Times (1936)


Director: Charles Chaplin

Cast: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Godard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Chester Conklin, Hank Mann, Stanley Blystone, Al Ernest Garcia, Richard Alexander

Modern Times was simultaneously Charlie Chaplin's last silent film and first non-silent film. While most other directors were making audio-filled talkies, this masterpiece remains (for the majority) a silent picture. Only in rare moments are voices heard, though the film is bursting with sound effects, music, and even a glimmer of Chaplin's own voice in a musical number toward the end.

The film pokes fun at the burst of the industrial revolution: the assembly line, the depression, the fear of communism, and the gadgets that seemed to be replacing the humans that created them. Chaplin plays a factory worker at the Electro Steel Company. On the assembly line, he performs the simple, hurried task of tightening about a billion bolts, until some unfortunate, haphazard circumstances lead him to have a nervous breakdown. These opening skits were the best part of the entire film, and my dad and I were laughing out loud consistently throughout the first half hour.

After Chaplin's character's hospitalization, the film takes more a chaotic turn. In and out of jail, running about, general hysteria-- only to be followed by a love interest in the form of a homeless orphan girl. We watch as Chaplin and the girl try to establish a home for themselves to share, taking on various jobs and working through the hard times.

Whether you take Chaplin's meditations on industry seriously or not, this film really stood out to me for so many reasons. Unlike some others on the list that seem to fade in and out of my memory during this project, the physical comedy and coordinated talent of Chaplin is undeniably remarkable. Whether or not the story is concrete or the other characters are interesting-- it all seems to matter-not in the presence of such an intense and fantastic comedic performer and director.

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