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Part satire, part slapstick comedy, part melodrama; the great pioneer
of film, Charles Chaplin, has created his own monument with this film.
At the same time, 'Modern Times' was Chaplin's last goodbye to the era
of silent film - which, remarkably, had already ended almost a decade
After nearly 80 years, this screen marvel still makes me laugh, cry - and think about the ongoing automatization of practically every trivial little thing in our lives. Modern times, indeed.
To me, this film is as entertaining and funny today as I imagine it was then, and it's certainly as relevant as it was then.
The tramp still rules. My vote: 9 out of 10.
Favorite films: http://www.IMDb.com/list/mkjOKvqlSBs/
Lesser-known Masterpieces: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070242495/
Favorite Low-Budget and B-Movies: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls054808375/
Favorite TV-Shows reviewed: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls075552387/
Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) is the final film to feature the
actor/director/writer's most easily recognizable incarnation: The Tramp.
Here is a character that is so ingrained in the collective conscious of
modern film audiences that many recognize him despite the fact that they
have not seen a single Chaplin film. Indeed, several iconographic studies
have labeled The Tramp (with his worn hat, distinctive mustache, dusty
cane, and trademark waddle) as the single most identifiable fictional
Still, the film that perhaps most influenced the creation and thematic realization of Modern Times was not even a silent one. The Jazz Singer, which debuted in 1927, five years before Modern Times began production, is perhaps the most important watershed film in the industry's century-old history. In the film, comic great Al Jolson stands up in front of the audience and...sings. And as Millard Mitchell said in Singin' in the Rain, the public was suddenly in a frenzy for "Talking pictures! Talking pictures!" Sadly, with the advent of synchronized sound and dialogue, the world of silent filmmaking began to slip into obscurity with audiences and studios now viewing it as obsolete and undesirable. Nevertheless, Chaplin continued his passion for the subtle craft by creating City Lights (1931), which many critics and academics consider one of the greatest films ever made, but by the time Modern Times was released, Chaplin was one of the last directors left clinging to a dying art.
Modern Times is not an entirely silent film, (there are dialogue snippets and sound effects), but if you look closely, every character with dialogue (excluding Chaplin himself) is being mocked. Even when The Tramp opens his mouth (the only time he ever did so in a film), the words are nonsensical, defying the burgeoning convention that dialogue is mandatory for substance, entertainment, and quality.
Despite the film's status as one of the greatest comedies of all-time, it is hard to ignore the political component. In his movies, Chaplin often exhibited a great mistrust for authority and progress, as often embodied through the social elite, the police, and wealthy entrepreneurs. The irony of the film's title, then, is two-fold. It connects with Chaplin's own bitter feelings regarding his moribund art form, but also refers to the plight of the working classes during the Great Depression (long working hours with little job security and meager salary, while the upper classes remain wealthy and bide their idle time) The world was changing fast, and Chaplin foresaw that many of these changes were far from beneficial.
As we watch The Tramp struggle through the modern, mechanized world, we laugh at his antics and the absurdity of their results, but we can also feel pain and pity. He is clearly a man who does not belong. Indeed, The Tramp can almost be thought of as a misfit who has passed through a membrane from some alternate reality and unwittingly fallen into our familiar world (notice that he does not have a name or identification of any kind, and as far as we know, he has no friends, family, funds, or history).
He takes on assembly lines, feeding machines, department stores, policemen and various other mass-oriented aspects of the industrialized world (all which demand and exhibit sameness and conformity), but The Tramp (and his symbolic extension, the individual) never seem to fit.
This is, consequently, why Modern Times is also one of the most poignant love stories ever put on film. The only character who is on the same level as The Tramp is a young, homeless woman who is referred to as "The Gamin" and is played by Chaplin's then-wife, Paulette Goddard. These two are brought together by the fact they have almost nothing except the will to live and continue forward, despite adversity. Both are nameless, neither has a home, and they each have no money or material possessions.
It is here that Chaplin makes his most poignant and saddening statement about modern living. The Tramp and The Gamin are the only characters who exhibit individuality and idealism, yet they are also the ones lowest on the social and economic food chain. The conclusion of the film, which most likely reflects upon Chaplin's own emotions, is tinged with sadness, but also a lingering hopefulness that resonates as loudly and clearly today as it did more than sixty years ago.
Then there is, of course, the comedy, which is the stuff of legendary status. Some of the most memorable comic images in film history are found in Modern Times. These include The Tramp's bout with an assembly line (and his resulting twitches), his unfortunate encounter with "nose-powder", the moment when he quite literally becomes a cog in the wheels of industry, and his epic struggle to bring roast duck to an angry customer.
In my opinion, however, the two standout moments are the scene in a department store involving a blindfold and some rollerskates (the most exquisite moment of comedy in the film) and the sequence where The Tramp is submitted to the mad whim of an out-of-control feeding machine (the most uproarious moment in the film).
These are just a handful of moments that make Modern Times the enduring masterpiece that it is. On a personal level, the aspect of the film that resonates strongest with me is its appeal to the idealistic misfit in all of us. In our hearts, many of us long for the simplicity and exuberance with which The Tramp and The Gamin live life (with attention to the bare essentials and an absence of need for materialism and modern trappings).
As Chaplin so skillfully shows, however, our modern times make this lifestyle a faded dream, lost among the sheep-like herds of men and women scurrying through a modern metropolis that only Fritz Lang could make seem darker and more devoid of true humanity. Still, the final image of Modern Times refuses to let the film end on an exclusively tragic note and demonstrates that the individual is still alive and may yet find his way in an ever-changing world.
"Modern Times" is in my top 5 films, and #2 in my list of favorite
Charles Chaplin is arguably the most talented human being, nevermind film
maker, that ever lived. I first saw this treasure about 8 years ago, and I
watched it again recently to make sure that it really WAS funny, and that I
had not given it too much praise because it was simply a Chaplin film.
"Modern Times" passed my test with flying colors. I laughed hysterically
from start to finish. Each and every scene is innovative, well thought out,
and executed with the genius that only Chaplin possessed. Among my favorite
scenes are the "automatic worker-feeding machine"; the jail scene in the
cafeteria when The Tramp accidentally sprinkles cocaine on his food,
thinking it is salt; and the roller skating scene in the department store.
No special effects or computer animation, just pure, simple,
The storyline in "Modern Times" is purposefully naive, a trick Chaplin used time and again to bring a profound humanitarian quality to his films. Watching this film is comparable to watching a Warner Bros. cartoon, which coming from me is a sincere compliment. The level of physical comedy in "Modern Times" is on par with the masterful short films of Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and others.
Finally, as was the case with most of his later films, "Modern Times" is a serious social commentary. Its message is as relevant today as it was more than sixty years ago when it was released. In fact, it is arguably even more relevant today, and unless the world changes drastically in the future it will continue to be. "Modern Times" is essentially the story of a simple but extremely kind man caught in the traps of industrialized society. The opening scene, which compares a crowd of workers boarding the subway to a flock of sheep, is Chaplin's warning against standardization, mechanization, and other facets of life which rob men and women of their individuality. Chaplin always tried to speak for the downtrodden, because despite his enormous success and wealth, he never forgot where he came from. In the end, "Modern Times" is a reminder that no matter how bad things are, you can still smile. Charles Chaplin has made more people smile than almost any other, and his legacy of love and laughter lives on in his films. Its up to us to keep his legacy alive.
It is a testament to Chaplin's filmmaking skills that he is able to impose
such significant meaning on what really boils down to little more than a
series of comedy skits strung together on an apparently flimsy clothesline
of a plot. Indeed, the cinematic value of Modern Times is unquestionable,
but it is ironically noteworthy that such a simple and even blocky plot is
made into such a memorable film experience and delivers such a strong,
time-transcending message about poverty stricken populations.
It is no secret that Charlie Chaplin was more or less dragged into the sound era against his will. In the early part of the 20th century, he had built a tremendous career as a silent film actor, and had created a character, the Tramp, that was purely a silent film character who could not be transported into the sound era. Charlie had built his career and his popularity with the Tramp, and the coming of sound to the cinema meant the end of that character (as illustrated by Robert Downey Jr.'s Charlie Chaplin in the 1992 film Chaplin, `The Tram CAN'T talk. The minute he talks, he's dead.'). Chaplin delivers to the world a cynical satire about modern technology as well as his own ode to the silent film with Modern Times.
Charlie plays the part of a man who works a dehumanizing position in a factory in which he is little more than a component of a machine, and he is controlled like a pawn by the menacing boss, who we see mostly as a looming face on a tremendous television screen. Clearly, the most memorable scenes in the film involve something to do with the factory, such as Charlie's brief trip into the innards of the machine, as well as his warm-hearted efforts to feed lunch to a man who has inadvertently become lodged in a machine, with only his head free. However, there is a very noteworthy but fairly subtle subplot that quietly reveals Chaplin's fondness for the silent film.
The first and most obvious thing is that for the most part, this is a silent film. There are intertitles, there is precious little dialogue, and the film's main character doesn't utter a sound until near the end of the film. But there are also a lot of other things that more subtly hint that silent films are better than sound films. For one thing, the only intelligible words spoken in the film are done so through some sort of barrier. There is the factory boss speaking demandingly through the television screen, and the feeding machine company speaking through the radio as they try to sell the feeding machine to the factory boss. This becomes the most obvious by the fact that anyone speaking on screen - such as the factory boss as he tells the men that the feeding machine is not practical - only does so in intertitles. We know that dialogue can be put in the film, but Chaplin chooses only to do this in a detached and mechanized way.
There is also a very strong example of Chaplin's endless sympathy for poor people at several points in this film. The most significant example of this is his interactions with the Gamin, played by Paulette Goddard, as well as his nearly constant contempt toward the police. After the scene where he gorges himself at a small diner (note that the window said `Cafeteria: Tables For Ladies'), he casually calls an officer into the diner and tells him to pay the tab, unable to pay it himself. As he is handcuffed to the officer, he gets a cigar from a nearby vendor and hands some large candy bars to a couple of small children nearby, who look to be the type of children who are never sure where their next meal is going to come from.
Charlie plays a hard working, lower class man in Modern Times, and no matter how badly he just wants to get some good work and earn a living so that he can buy a house for himself and Paulette, things constantly seem to go wrong for him. It seems that this bad luck is used to suggest that poor people are not poor as a result of their own shortcomings, but because they just can't seem to work their way up to a better life, no matter how hard they try. This social commentary is intertwined with such skillful intricacy with the story about Chaplin's love of silent film that there is really no switching back and forth between the two. Modern Times strikes me as especially memorable because it is a very simple story that is punctuated by a series of comedy skits, yet it also delivers several different messages that are important to society as well as to the filmmaker himself. In this way, the movie almost seems to deliver these strong messages without the audience even being aware that they are being presented with these issues. It is a great way to mix entertainment with important societal topics, and Charlie's decision to finally have the Tramp utter vocalized speech is done so in an endlessly watch-able song and dance scene, adding to the immeasurable number of film skits for which Charlie Chaplin will be remembered and loved.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is difficult to review Chaplin's movies objectively because many of
us have seen them, or at least have heard about them, since we were
young. They have become part of our emotional and/or cultural
Chaplin is arguably the only complete director: in most of his pictures, he also produces, acts, writes the script, composes the music, does his own stunts and edits. His talent and reputation generated numerous commercial successes, even when he continued directing silent movies after their time. "Talkies" were the only films produced after 1927, the few silent attempts afterwards were failures; yet Chaplin was an exception: "City Lights" in 1931 and "Modern Times" in 1936 were sensations worldwide (the latter includes a few sounds but they are marginal). This is remarkable since nine years is an eternity in cinema timeframe. Only in 1940 did Chaplin direct a talkie.
*** WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Is the movie a comedy? Partly: tragi-comedy is Chaplin's trademark. In my opinion, there are three levels of humour.
1. Pure amusement, sometimes as in slapstick: the tramp eats all he can to be sent to jail and even buys more when he is with the policeman; he is drugged in jail; the tramp and the gamin imagine their life in an idyllic house; the tramp roller-skates close to an edge in the department store (fabulous stunt); he makes a lousy waiter but a great actor at the end. Again, I am not certain how much of the fun is derived from childhood memories and/or the fact we feel younger as we watch the film. To enjoy it fully, we must lay aside some of our adult critical sense, notably towards old-fashioned cinema.
2. No humour, just drama: the gamin's father dies; her sisters are taken away; the tramp crashes his way through the crowd to get a job (an efficient illustration of ruthless competition).
3. Amusement with a dramatic twist: these are the most frequent scenes, and probably the best. We grin even as we laugh. The movie opens on sheep moving grouped (of which a black one: an allusion to the tramp?), that fade out to workers coming out of the subway. This must have been a shock for the audience during the Great Depression. Another example is one of Chaplin's most famous scenes ever: the tramp tries the eating machine. It is at the same time hilarious (Chaplin really gives all of himself here) and pathetic: a metaphor on ill-conceived progress, oppression of man by machine and conditions of workers obliged to comply with strange requests.
Other scenes include: the entire first part in the factory, including when the tramp is stuck in the machine (inside shot, that became iconic), which also happens to a colleague later on (outside shot); the tramp launches by mistake an unfinished ship into the sea, with footage of an actual ship that was probably sunk because of the Depression; the tramp and the gamin make most of their shabby hut.
The movie efficiently alternates these three levels of humour, as well as its rhythm. It famously starts as a whirlwind with dynamic tempo and music. And it ends like a roller-coaster: funny musical (the tramp sings), emotional (he is hired), dramatic (the police arrest the gamin), thriller (they run away as climatic music plays), melancholic (they are on the road, free but uncertain). The last image is rightfully double-edged: the tramp and the gamin walk away, but mountains ahead block their road. She looks like an elegant lady, he looks a bit like a clown with his funny walk and big shoes. We don't know where they are going, nor do they.
Hence Chaplin's ambition was far more than to just divert. Themes depicted eighty years ago are still modern:
- Crisis, redundancies, strikes, inequalities, social unrest
- Working conditions in factories, even though exaggerated by humour and symbols: productivity, control, burn-out
- Technology that dehumanises: chain-working, the eating machine, video surveillance (a science-fiction element at the time). Remarkably, the only sounds of the film are coming from devices, not humans: screen, phonograph, radio
- Success with talent, work and some luck
- The law. The topic is prominent (the police are omnipresent) and ambiguous. Can one steal food to survive? Chaplin seems to excuse this behaviour. The tramp is on both sides of the law: he steals food but helps the police arrest villains in jail. And the police's role is complex; notably, they shoot an unarmed man, followed by the ironic card: "The law takes charge of the orphans"
- Violence and drugs in prison
The universal dimension of the movie shows by the fact the main characters have no name: the tramp, the gamin. Chaplin will be blamed for its social topics during the McCarthy era, among other grievances, and he will be forced to exile. Considering it now, this seems ridiculous since the message of the film is not communist: the tramp and the gamin want everything but change society; they search for a job, a home and respect. Note also Lincoln's portrait in the tramp's cell: he is a patriot.
The movie does not take sides. Workers can be friendly or violent. Policemen can be friendly (e.g. in jail) or violent (one purposelessly pushes the tramp outside the factory). Prison inmates can be honest (the tramp) or villains. Women can be attractive (the gamin) or not (all others, actually). This double-sidedness also divides individuals. Big Bill was bullying the tramp in the factory, but later sympathises with him. The gamin steals and then becomes settled. The tramp will do anything to protect the ones he loves (the gamin, children), but can abuse almost anybody else to achieve it: a recurrent feature in Chaplin's pictures.
The underlying message seems to be: people are not good or bad, it mainly depends on their conditions. Yet another modern theme.
This movie is a must see for anyone who loves comedies. Charlie Chaplin is at his all-time best as the Tramp, and he has wonderful chemistry with Paulette Goddard's Gamin. Together, they provide an hour and a half of non-stop laughs. My favorite parts are when he is fed by a "modern" machine that goes awry, and then when Charlie goes crazy in the factory. The situations and expressions are hilarious! Please see this movie soon...you definitely will not regret it.
Hilarious, touching, anarchic, revolutionary, realist, surreal, of its time,
timeless - Modern Times is a multifaceted work of genius. When it's over and
you recall the number of sight gags and magic sequences Chaplin has packed
into 85 minutes, it is incredible - the conveyer belt and nut turning;
Chaplin caught in the cogwheels; the feeding machine; the Red Flag march;
the "nose powder"; the roller skating ballet; the waiter with tray caught up
in the dance (my favourite); the gibberish song - and many more. Then there
is his mixing of silent and sound techniques, making the best of both
worlds, not falling between stools as some directors might have
Of course, there is also a political and social dimension; many of the scenes refer to the impact of technical advances, of bureaucracy, and of the then current depression, on the ordinary "little man". And it is the little man, the individual caught up in society's complex machinery, whom Chaplin championed. He may have sympathised with left-wing political parties and unions in so far as they supported ordinary working people, but Chaplin's essential beliefs are enshrined in the final "words" and shot, with him telling Paulette Godard, that she should keep smiling, they will get along, as they walk, a couple of individuals, into an uncertain future. Beyond politics, the individual has to rely on his or her own resources and spirit to survive.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Favorite Chaplin film. Packed with social commentary that is still relevant today. Chaplin does a superb job of representing the average worker of the time and the mental impact that the daily motions of what we consider normal in society. Such as the opening of the movie in which a scene of a morning rush of people going to work fades into a herd of sheep. Chaplin hilarious slapstick comedy is also present in this film while still keeping serious undertones. The best example of this is the eating machine. This particular scene was a perfect representation of the problems in our society (a machine meant to further regiment the day of a worker only to break in the process) while also causing a laugh out loud reaction. My favorite part of this film is definitely the ending in which Chaplin sings a song and dances. What makes this scene so great is not only the fact that it was the first time Chaplin/The Tramp ever spoke but that it was also a stance against "talkies". Although Chaplin sings the lyrics are complete gibberish but the audience understands regardless. All in all I believe Modern Times is Chaplin's greatest film, this was the first Chaplin film I had ever seen and since then have watched all of them and found a great respect for Chaplin and silent movies overall.
The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) is just a cog in the modern machinery. He
is unable to keep with the production line tightening bolts. The owner
picks him out for testing the automatic feeding machine. By late
afternoon, he gets lost in the machinery. He can't stop tightening
causing great damage and they send him to a mental hospital. He gets
out but he doesn't have a job anymore. A red flag falls off the back of
a truck. He picks it and a massive march starts behind him without he
knowing it. The police grabs him thinking that he's the leader. In
prison, he helps thwart an escape attempt and is released. A Gamin
(Paulette Goddard) is stealing food for the children. Her unemployed
father is shot dead leaving her little sisters sent off to the
orphanage. She steals a loaf of bread and runs into the Tramp. He tries
to take the blame but she's caught anyways. He prefers life inside and
deliberately gets caught stealing. They get thrown into the same wagon
and escape getting thrown out together.
This has the iconic factory scene with the Tramp in the machinery happening early on. The story is slightly random as the pair has one misadventure after another as they struggle to have the American dream. The Tramp is making a statement of sorts as he gets swept up from one thing to the next. He's the cog that never really fits in the machinery. This is a sound movie with sound being used for specific and interesting ways. The Tramp is actually singing but it's a lot of non-sense. This definitely has a social commentary but it's still funny message movie.
Chaplin's "Modern Times" has influenced the 20th century as much as any other film could have. His portrayal of man vs. machine, individual vs. group, love vs. industry...is the framework of classic modern American "anti-progressive" thinking. Gilliam's "Brazil" is the late century equivalent. But Chaplin hit it right first, insuring generations would have the chance to relate to the challenges of their own modern times.
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