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Modern Times

June 23, 2017

Modern Times (1936)
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Actors: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman

modern-times-325x152.jpg (325×152)

Synopsis: A factory worker (Charlie Chaplin) struggles to stay in work and out of trouble in the challenging modern world.

Review: What an absolute treat to reacquaint myself with the genius of Charlie Chaplin. Modern Times is a work of staggering conceptual and thematic ingenuity. It’s also a fiendishly clever fable on the perils of modernity and technology – something that is prescient today, but also an age-old spiritual debate that hearkens back to the early days of industrialism when seers like William Blake were warning mankind to beware the “mind-forged manacles” imposed on the human soul by the race into modernity.

What elevates Modern Times even further – above even its cleverness – is its sense of spectacle. It’s as entertaining as it is socially and politically resonant. The metaphor of the trappings of modernity swamping mankind play out in some lovely skits. One is where Chaplin’s factory worker – operating on an insanely quick assembly line – gets sucked into the machine and passes through its clocks and wheels in one of cinema’s most iconic images. Equally clever is the notion that this is a silent film, bar the ominous, omnipresent boss of the factory who bellows his orders to staff (this is no doubt a sly moral on behalf of Chaplin regarding the heathenism of sound in cinema).

The film evidently has contextual relevance as a work documenting The Great Depression. Made right in the middle of the 1930s, it clearly empathises with the plight of the “little man”. This plays out in the persona of Chaplin’s “tramp” – stuck in the motif of continually being carted off in a police van (subtly imprinting the notion that the working man is always prey to the whims of the establishment).

The romantic element to Modern Times is gorgeous too. Chaplin’s precarious blind roller-skate in the department store is dazzlingly choreographed, and the pathos of Chaplin’s tramp and “the gamin” girl imagining living in a fancy house but having to settle in a ramshackle shed by the river is powerful stuff. (June 2017)

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