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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Modern Times (1936)



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With Modern Times, made in 1936, nine years after the technology to make sound films became available, Chaplin was still doing what he could with a medium that seemed antiquated even then. We're lucky he was so stubborn. Modern Times is the last film Chaplin made that would star his Little Tramp character. While people in the film do talk, the Tramp remains silent. He has no use for speech anyway; he is much more expressive without it than any of the speaking characters, who are all, curiously enough, wrapped up in the mindless advancement of technology. Was Chaplin making a statement about blindly following technological fads such as, for example, sound filmmaking? I think he was, and the fact that Modern Times is a brilliant work of art that holds up better today than most of its peers makes a powerful statement. The film is, ironically, perhaps more relevant today than it was in 1936. Although modern technology rarely consists of the gigantic labyrinthine machines seen in the film, the technology race, a race run quickly but without much long range vision, is going stronger now than ever. Where does that leave us, the regular guys, in our normal human pursuit of happiness?

Of course any old movie can make sweeping social awareness statements like this, but how many can do it while, at the same time, creating utter hilarity? The scene where Chaplin gets caught in a machine -- and, worse, gets someone else caught in it -- is riotous, as is the scene where a new machine is tested out that would enable employees to eat lunch while still working.