Modern Times (1936)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Starring: Charlie Chaplin (City Lights; The Circus) Paulette Goddard (The Great Dictator; Reap The Wild Wind)
Directed By: Charlie Chaplin (The Gold Rush; The Kid)
Overview: An Average Joe does the best he can to keep up and get by in these modern times, and help a young homeless girl too.
Acting: Say what you will about boring tacky old movies from the olden days, this is amazing. The big tough industrialist, the cops, the strong hard workers, the angry hard workers, the gimmick salesmen, these all provide the perfect backdrop to the Chaplin and his new sidekick, Paulette Goddard. She was good enough in this to earn her spot in Chaplin's next production, his first famous talkie, The Great Dictator. She's just adorable. But my God, the age difference! Was this normal?! Lucky dude, man, lucky dude. Oh and it's Chaplin, he's a legend.
Cinematography: Imagine the timelessness of that opening shot. There's a streak of common wisdom in fading in to a herd of sheep as they trundle across the screen. Fade then to passengers getting out of the subway on the way to work, and you have the cynical symbolism everyone will get. From there we have the exciting visual displays in the factory. Besides the automatic feeding-machine scene, which is just perfectly Keaton-esque in its mechanical intricacy, we have entire rooms filled with machines, levers, cogs and things. Really down-to-earth original.
Script: By 1936, talkies were no longer the 'maybe' of the future, but the standard. The first talkies ever made only used sound occasionally during a film. In the famous first 'real' talkie, The Jazz Singer, only the singing bits were synchronized to sound, but the rest was silent. This is the technique that Chaplin uses. There are intertitles and moments where there's soundless talking, but when voices ARE heard, it's through intercoms, radio or pre-recordings. In the end, a couple of songs are synched too, but overall the 'return to the better days of flickers' is a nice nostalgic look at a medium of filmmaking that faded due to technological advancement. It's kinda too bad sometimes.
Plot: This story is all over the place. Like the best of the Silent Era slapsticks this goes from an average guy at his average day at work to guinea-pig comedy to messing everything up and then getting chased by cops until an honest mix-up lands him in jail. Like the typical comedy of errors this film tributes, you know that everything here is original while still being firmly planted in the confines of it's genre, but not like shackles, more like a warm blanket.
Mood: Fun, Fun, Fun! It's a pleasure to have the nostalgia of the Silent Era creeping back during the hey-day of the talkies. Chaplin does something daring in making a film that can be named the last major American film to use the Silent Era style, like intertitles for example, in the day when everyone was looking forward. Let me tell you, the era of the "Thank God, now we can have musicals!" Not a huge fan. This backs up a good ten years and lets us bask in what was simpler, even if none of us were alive then, we still appreciate it the same way.
You know it's not really about productivity when the big boss is watching you tinkle.
Overall Rating: 84% (Still Current, Still Awesome!)
Aftertaste: I know it's the last Silent Film ever made and hence there's no real excuse for NOT having a crisp print, but I've seen classic talkies from later than this that were just not well maintained. In a recent discussion with Culture Snob, I commented on the vast range of quality of silent films I've watched an how it has a real effect on the overall appreciation of a film. You know what I've noticed after all this time. With but a few rare exceptions, the films that are crisp, cleaned up and remastered, are usually the ones worth seeing. Be they old Silents or Criterion Collections, you've usually got a safe bet with films that have been primped up. Box sets of Keaton, Chaplin And Harold Lloyd? The best examples out there.