Monday, 24 August 2015
For my full review of this new DVD release, visit Starburst.
For those unfamiliar with it, Modern Times may not be exactly how you imagine a Chaplin film. For starters, it’s not entirely silent. Made later in his career, and preceding his first proper ‘talkie’ The Great Dictator, this film blends silent and sound filmmaking, mostly focusing on Chaplin’s physical pratfalling but with some incursions of sound, most notably when he’s forced to improvise a song and dance number and spouts a masterwork of gibberish known as the “nonsense song”.
Secondly, the story’s no light-hearted romp. After losing his factory job, Chaplin’s ‘Little Tramp’ character goes through a series of jobs, desperately trying to hold onto work so that he can he can keep himself and his orphaned girlfriend off the streets. This may sound like a bit of a downer, and indeed Chaplin doesn’t pull his punches in his critique of the oppressive industrial society and the struggles of the unemployed.
But don’t think the film’s at all as downbeat as this theme – you come to Chaplin for the physical comedy, and Modern Times provides that in bucketloads. Every job the Tramp tries out is hampered by a mixture of incompetence and bad luck, providing a regular stream of moments that will make even the most skeptical of old cinema laugh out loud. From letting a massive ship float off to sea to getting his mechanic boss stuck between the cogs of an enormous machine, this guy can’t seem to get anything right.
Modern Times will surpass your expectations; blending unsparing social critique with the buffoonery of one of the twentieth century’s greatest comedians, it’s genuinely worthy of the term ‘masterpiece’.
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