17 August 2012

Film: Modern Times (1936)

Thoughts: While I didn't find Modern Times as moving as City Lights, its impeccable set design, spot on acting, eerie prescience and all-round masterfulness cement it as yet another classic Chaplin film, and a prime example of what is missing from comedies today: heart.

Chaplin plays the one-of-a-kind tramp; with his iconic cane and duck-walk. He wanders through a depression-era American city, bouncing from job to job, trying to get back into the prison he was so comfortable in. The film opens on his first job at a soul-destroying factory where he spends hour upon hour turning bolts on god knows what, in an assembly line. Soon enough, like any human being pushed to their breaking point, he suffers a nervous breakdown, and after a stint in rehab, finds himself quickly dragged to prison on account of a misconception. But of course, our Tramp just can't seem to do anything right, which includes staying IN prison, on account of rescuing the guards from some would-be escapees. It is back on the streets that he meets the local Gamin (no idea what that means, but it's apparently an astonishingly beautiful homeless girl) and he now discovers a reason to re-enter the life-consuming world of employment.

There's much more to include, but it pays more to just experience the film. Chaplin was a great writer, actor and director, and here he proves once again just what kind of skills he possessed. Not only is his physicality on-point, over and over, but the story itself seems like a precursor to our fast-paced penny-pinching world of today. He must contend with a robot designed to feed employees on the job (and what boss WOULDN'T want to eliminate those pesky food breaks!), several awe-inspiring walls of machinery that just seem so non-functional (I bet some upper-management type deemed them necessary...), a cafe that demands waiters sing, dance and wait tables, but most importantly, he must contend with the idiocy and greed of humanity. Pretty much everything that goes wrong for our protagonist can be tracked directly to a boss or supervisor that just isn't providing enough training, instruction or plain out leadership. You also see him dealing with their attempts at saving money by cutting down on workers rights, and increasing their responsibilities. If that ain't pretty reflective of now, I don't know what is. Chaplin handles all this with the style and detail that is very much his own, and the result is a film that I believe will open up further on repeat viewings.

The movie is part silent, with voices, music and sound coming through at specific intervals- mostly from radios, videos, speakers or singers. I personally love the way this was handled, almost like everything but what is "important" is drowned out by the machine. All of the bit players do the work well, complimenting our hero, and even matching him at times. Paulette Goddard plays the Gamin, and by god is she stunning. She's no slouch in other departments either, but it truly is Chaplin stealing the show, time and again.

The film ends with an iconic shot, and is preceded by a very entertaining one-man act from Chaplin himself, singing in Italian (I believe? Correct me if I'm wrong.) a rather saucy song about a rich man and his would-be conquest. This is perhaps Chaplin at his finest, and despite a few moments in the middle where I grew a tad bored, I can easily say I would watch this film again in the future.


Below I attach the dancing/singing scene at the end, for your pleasure. What a great scene.

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