Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Worth Watching: Modern Times (1936)

Title: Modern Times
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Language: English
Rating: Not Rated

After suffering a nervous breakdown, a factory worker (Charlie Chaplin) deals with mishaps, misunderstandings, jail time, and general absurdity as he tries to put his life back together. Along the way he meets an orphaned street urchin (Paulette Goddard), and the two start to look out for each other.

Modern Times poster

Ten reasons the film is worth watching
1) Chaplin's character, with his rubbery body and resilient spirit, is pretty inspiring. Hit with nonsense, indifference, and brutality he keeps bouncing back.

2) Paulette Goddard's fierce eyes, and the energy and expressiveness she brings to her character. A sharp and memorable performance.

Street urchin

3) There's an innocence to the relationship between Chaplin's laid-off factory worker and Goddard's street urchin. He's an adult, she's a girl who appears to be in her late teens, and what comes across when they're together is a loving loyal friendship. In a couple of scenes they're like children playing house together. But their yearning for a home and for a life with dignity is not just a childish fancy - it's a real hunger, serious and deep. I like how the film blends innocence and humor with frustration and darkness.

4) The nervous breakdown in the factory is another example of how good Chaplin is at mixing funniness with pain. Chaplin's factory worker, holding a wrench in each hand, turns into an out-of-control machine (and at one point becomes a part of the machinery, getting sucked into its belly).

5) No matter how dehumanizing the crowds, the factory work, the poverty and prison life get, the two main characters see each other as people; the way they care for each other and stick together is an antidote to every impersonal institution and interaction out there. A lot of the beauty in the film comes from this (and I love these words: Buck up - never say die. We'll get along!)

Dreaming of dinner

6) Laughter is also an antidote. I first saw this movie when I was a kid, and watching it again more recently I had some foggy memories of the funnier scenes (like the one with the malfunctioning feeding machine) - I was happy to rediscover all of it and laugh again. Great use of physical humor.

7) The film is mostly silent (using title cards), but there is some audible speech and singing - what's interesting is the choice Chaplin made for what to keep silent and what to make audible. Also the music Chaplin wrote for this movie is full of whimsy and drama; it goes wonderfully with the action.

8) Ever dream of what it would be like to stay overnight at a department store or mall? The film has some fun with that. Chaplin is fantastic on roller-skates.

9) Ever wonder how someone high on cocaine could stop a prison breakout?

10) Ever worry about what you'd do if you forgot the words to a song and your audience was getting restless?

*All images link back to their sources (Flixster (community) and Virtual-History.com).