Jul 10, 2010

Modern Times

After spending another awesome week in the woods (sorry for the silence, again) enjoying my summer job and the sunshine, I was able not to feel guilty for wasting a beautiful day by staying indoors, watching movies. This one I watched on the terrace, though, and it was only slightly too hot and bright for such activity. (Watching movies outside. On your own backyard. There's some modern times for you...)

Modern Times (1936)

Directed by Charles Chaplin. Starring Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard.

Long story short: The Tramp gets fired from his mind-numbing job at factory after suffering a nervous breakdown, and together with a homeless woman he struggles to get along in the industrialized modern society, trying out different jobs and dreaming of a better tomorrow.

As you might remember, I loved City Lights, so I obviously expected a lot from this film, too. At the same time, I was careful not to expect too much, because I didn't want to be disappointed. And yes, as I quite soon noticed, I didn't like Modern Times as much as City Lights, but was able to enjoy it anyway.

The film, in a typical Chaplin way, touches some very dark and serious topics, like unemployment, death, orphanhood, poverty, loneliness, industrialism... And yet it's a very hopeful and encouraging film. In other words, we smile though our hearts are breaking. Speaking of which, the music score is brilliant, again. Chaplin's hard work on that area (too) really shows.

I quote this from Modern Times IMDb board: "Find me a comedic actor today who can act, write, direct, compose, produce, sing, make social commentary, and roller skate like a madman all in one movie." Amen to that. The word 'genious' is sadly overused these days, but it would be a crime not to use the word when descriping Charlie Chaplin.

Modern Times was Chaplin's last film about the Tramp - it's also the only Tramp film with speech. However, it's not a full talkie. The sound is used in a very clever way: the only spoken voices we hear come from machines, techinical devices. We don't hear the Tramp talk, thank god, but we do hear him sing in my favourite scene, where he's forced to perform a song without remembering the words, so he sings complete gibberish but we are able to follow the story, because he dances and acts it out at the same time. It hilarious and very impressive, once again proving that Charlie Chaplin is the master of pantomine. (He's going on 50 here and still moving like a youngster.) These words of nonsense are the first and last words we ever hear the Tramp utter - how cool is that? (The Tramp's very last words can be read from his lips: "Smile! C'mon!" And we do.)

I'm not sure why I didn't like Modern Times as much as City Lights. Maybe it was just my current mood. Maybe City Lights' definite sense of a love story made me fall for it more - Modern Times is about friendship, rather than romance. But even if this film didn't quite reach my expectations, it was still wonderful, profound, sweet and heartwarming. And I will continue my expedition in the Chaplin universe. I think The Great Dictator might be my next stop.

Finally, a fact I can't fit anywhere else: Paulette Goddard was married to Chaplin at the time. She also (quote from IMDb) "was the leading contender for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). Her inability to produce a marriage certificate to prove she and Charles Chaplin were married, and the appearance of Vivien Leigh on the scene, lost her the part". Bugger.

"What's the use of trying?"
"Buck up - never say die. We'll get along."

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