Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Modern Times (1936)

A factory worker tweaks out at his menial job, is mistaken for a communist, winds up in jail, then out of work, and finally falls in love with a “Gamin”, which is some sort of small woodland creature. Roll credits.

Modern Times is definitely the last ever silent film, absolutely, sorda, kinda, not really. Released nine years after the birth of sound cinema, it has a synchronized soundtrack with sound effects, music, and even some spoken words. The principle story, however, unfolds in pantomime with title cards. Just like The Jazz Singer (1927). Go figure.

It’s hard to exaggerate the influence of Modern Times. It was at once forward thinking while also giving cinema goers one last look at the silent era. And doing it in a way that entertained audiences of the day. Chaplin’s comedic bits would be referenced and imitated for decades. The Lucy Chocolate Conveyor Belt bit, itself referenced countless times, owes direct inspiration. And Chaplin appears to have taken inspiration from Metropolis (1927), a much more serious film.

But my modern eyes struggled with a few issues. If we sympathize with him when he cracks up from the monotony and frantic pace of factory work, how do we feel when he desperately tries to find work in the same factory? Also, played for laughs, he essentially screws up at everything he tries to do. But he somehow manages to win the heart of a young “Gamin”, which is some sort of small woodland creature.

Modern Times lacks a clear point of view. Is the Tramp to be associated with the communist marchers? Does he side with the cruel factory or the strikers who closed it? In the end the Tramp takes no position. He is a leaf in the wind with no direction of his own. All he wants is to be happy, and be with a hot young “Gamin”, which is some sort of small woodland creature. For my purposes, I wasn't amused by the comedic bits and wished there was more of a message other than "Modern life is hard". We knew that. Paulette Goddard was hot.  AMRU 3.

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