Charlie Chaplin is in glorious form in this legendary satire of the mechanized world. As a factory worker driven bonkers by the soulless momentum of work, Chaplin executes a series of slapstick routines around machines, in... more »cluding a memorable encounter with an automatic feeding apparatus. The pantomime is triumphant, but Chaplin also draws a lively relationship between the Tramp and a street gamine. She's played by Paulette Goddard, then Chaplin's wife and probably his best leading lady (here and in The Great Dictator). The film's theme gave the increasingly ambitious writer-director a chance to speak out about social issues, as well as indulging in the bittersweet quality of pathos that critics were already calling "Chaplinesque." In 1936, Chaplin was still holding out against spoken dialogue in films, but he did use a synchronized soundtrack of sound effects and his own music, a score that includes one of his most famous melodies, "Smile." And late in the film, Chaplin actually does speak--albeit in a garbled gibberish song, a rebuke to modern times in talking pictures. --Robert Horton« less
Andrew McCaffrey | Satellite of Love, Maryland | 07/31/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"MODERN TIMES opens with its credits being printed out over a close-up image of a clock ticking interminably forward. The film's first real shot is of mindless sheep being herded through gates, which fades into an image of factory employees exiting a subway stop on their way to work. Looking at this from a modern standpoint, one can only think that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
This is a film that I can watch over and over again. It's not just that it's an incredibly funny film. It's not just that its satire of modernization and industrialization still rings true today. It's that each aspect of the filmmaking pulls together to form something greater than each individual part. The story ranges from big topics concerning the Great Depression and dehumanization, while successfully balancing that with the small love story between the tramp and the gamin. In a theme that would be revisited even more powerfully in LIMELIGHT, the two characters need each other, depend on each other and simply have no reason to exist without the other. The comedy tickles while the tragedy touches. No other director in film history managed to find that equilibrium with such skill.
This is rightly hailed as the last great silent movie, albeit one made several years after sound has become the norm. I still get a kick out of the fact that the only intelligible voices come solely from machines. Chaplin is making a silent film using sound technology, meaning he has the option to take the best of the both worlds. His next film, THE GREAT DICTATOR, wouldn't quite get this mixture right, but it's a success here. The film can go for several minutes at a time with no meaningful talking or sound effects, and then suddenly jump into an unexpected gag involving voice. The mixture of sound and silent set pieces was inevitable at this point in film history, but I've never seen it pulled off as well as Chaplin does it here.
While disc one contains the film itself in beautifully restored condition, the second DVD is full of extras. Most important is the "Chaplin Today -- Modern Times" documentary. This is more or less structured around two French directors (Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne) discussing the film. Absolutely fascinating stuff. They analyze the film's jokes, its metaphors and its themes. They talk about everything from the number of frames per second shot to the number of gags that revolve around food. Also included in the documentary is some footage of Chaplin meeting Gandhi. I have nothing to add; I just had to mention it.
Chaplin's nonsense song, the tune he sings at the end of the film in faux Italian, is the subject of two extras. The first is an extended version, featuring a final verse that never made it to the final edit. The second is a Karaoke version of the song (I'm not making this up). And speaking of Chaplin's music, there's an excerpt from 1950s TV of Liberace himself (of all people) performing "Smile" -- the theme from MODERN TIMES. Great rendition of a great song.
There's also a short (ten minute) documentary from 1967 called "Por primera vez" ("For The First Time") in which peasants in a tiny village in Cuba are shown a movie for the first time. It's a fascinating look at what film means to people who have never actually watched one before. The reason for its inclusion on this DVD is that the film in question is, of course, MODERN TIMES. It may be an odd choice for their first film experience given that the story of a factory worker undergoing a nervous breakdown may not be something that relates well to people who rarely even see automobiles. But the villagers laugh at the right places and seem genuinely enthused. The documentary is well worth watching and will fascinate anyone with an interest in the societal ramifications of film.
The picture restoration on the main feature is also fabulous. The image has never looked crisper. While this is nominally a silent movie, the original release did feature a synchronized soundtrack of sound effects and Chaplin's musical score (which means, unlike other "silent" DVD releases, we connoisseurs don't have to argue about whether this particular sound track is wonderful and totally keeping in the spirit of what would have been played at the time, or a complete outrage that should result in everyone responsible being shot). The sound quality is excellent, bringing one of my favorite film soundtracks to life superbly.
If I was going to recommend one Chaplin movie to someone, I think I'd have to choose this one. It has two major things going for it. It's a great film, but it's also extremely representative of his body of work. It has comedy, it has pathos, it features the tramp, it has a message. And it's also one of the most influential movies that Chaplin ever made. Everyone, from film to television (remember Lucille Ball working at the candy factory?), has either made reference to MODERN TIMES, or just plain stolen some of its gags. The image of Charlie being dragged into the heart of the gears and cogs of a giant unfathomable machine is familiar to even those people who haven't seen the movie. If you like this film, then you should already own this release. And if you haven't seen it before, then this is absolutely worth a gander. You'll be surprised at just how modern and fresh this classic movie is. "
My favourite of this first series of Chaplin reissues.
D. Mok | Los Angeles, CA | 07/30/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It helps that Modern Times is one of Chaplin's best films, period, running a close second behind City Lights (I hope that's next on the re-release list). And happily, unlike The Gold Rush, which was ruined by awful sound choices, the Modern Times DVD offers a clean transfer of the film with all the beloved original elements intact as far as I could see and hear, plus a host of extras.The film itself is the most briskly paced of Chaplin's feature-length films. And his writing is sharp, unhindered by the sermonizing which permeates his last works. The dilemma facing our Little Tramp this time is something all of us can relate to: For the first time, we see him thinking ahead, wanting to have a future, to form a family, and working towards that end. Chaplin's physical-comedy skills are at their peak: Witness the extended takes of the rollerskate scene, and the factory assembly line. Even if the 18fps (sometimes 16fps) film speed made everything look faster than it really was, it's still impressive physical co-ordination requiring flawless execution, since Chaplin rarely edits using coverage.In Modern Times we see one of the first truly well-rounded Chaplin heroines. The radiant Paulette Goddard was Chaplin's best leading lady, her high spirits and lively presence being a much better foil for Chaplin than the starry-eyed icons of perfection that were Georgia Hale, Edna Purviance, or Virginia Cherrill. She just has more star quality and brings a quirkier, more animated personality to Chaplin's films, balancing them nicely.And the gags -- some of the best in the Chaplin canon. The eating machine always has me rolling on the floor; the nonsense song is terrific (the DVD offers a "karaoke" version which, though a novelty, does tell us finally what the lyrics actually are); and all the machine gags are fast-moving gems.The bonus materials include a long outtake and several documentaries. "Chaplin Today" features guests Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, the French filmmakers behind the film Rosetta, and though their film-historian banter is not entirely to my taste, they do bring up some insights that I hadn't observed about Modern Times.In all, a great release, and a great DVD to have for movie nights. It's a wonderful presentation of a comedy classic."
Scott T. Rivers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 05/27/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Modern Times" (1936) endures as Charlie Chaplin's best feature-length film. A serio-comic look at the machine age and the Great Depression, it recaptures the effortless spirit of Chaplin's Mutual shorts while toning down the pathos of his previous efforts. In fact, the film's episodic structure is a delightful throwback to his early two-reelers. The inspired chemistry between Chaplin's Little Tramp and Paulette Goddard's Gamine forms the heart and soul of this cinema classic - beautifully evoked in the memorable closing shot. Chaplin's ingenious utilization of music and sound effects is topped by the Tramp's famous "gibberish" song. No matter how many times you have seen it, "Modern Times" remains an unforgettable film experience."
Charlie Chaplin at his sublime peak
Stephen H. Wood | South San Francisco, CA | 09/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
The more I watch it, the more I feel that Charlie Chaplin's sublime silent MODERN TIMES (1936) is his finest film. THE GOLD RUSH (1925) is too desolate for my tastes, and CITY LIGHTS (1931) does not have the exquisite Paulette Goddard (then Chaplin's wife) as leading lady. MODERN TIMES is more episodic than other Chaplin features--six or seven one reel comedies strung together for 83 minutes. There are two incomparable segments set in a dehumanizing factory (in this silent film, the boss speaks over surveillance photography)--Chaplin gets caught inside the gears of a machine, while much later his boss, Chester Conklin from the Keystone Kops, has the same thing happen during lunch hour. It is hysterical to see Chaplin feed lunch to the upside down head of Conklin inside the machine. It is also pricelessly funny when Charlie is guinea pig for a new mechanized lunch demonstration that fails miserably.
Meanwhile, out along the waterfront (location work was done at San Pedro harbor), an indomitable Paulette Goddard watches as her father is killed by a mob, feeds bananas to children, and is helped by Chaplin out of a robbery of food when she is starving. The scenes with Goddard are heartbreakingly lovely, while Charlie is having a great time in prison--no work to do and free food! "Can't I please stay longer?" he asks the warden on a title card as he is being paroled. He will get his wish when he inadvertently becomes the leader of a labor rally waving a red Communist flag.
Eventually, Chaplin and Goddard set up housekeeping together in a waterfront shack. She tags along when he gets a job as an all night watchman in a department store. Paulette tries on a fur coat and goes to sleep on a bed up on the fourth or fifth floor. Charlie will wake her before the store opens. But first she watches aghast as he roller skates blindfolded, oblivious to a giant hole in the store four or five stories deep! Then while Paulette sleeps, Charlie tries to be a good security guard on the first floor. There is a story robbery, but one of the criminals recognizes an old pal from prison so they leave Charlie alone. He gets drunk on a barrel of booze, then eventually falls asleep in the lingerie department under a pile of clothes. Unemployment again in the morning.
Finally, Charlie tries his hand, with major coaching from Goddard, as a combination waiter and singer in a fancy restaurant. This is the very first time the Little Tramp talks in movies, singing a gibberish song. But Charlie quits the job when Paulette is arrested for vagrancy. Eluding the police, the two of them head off into a sunrise and bright new future in one of the loveliest endings in all of modern movie history for me. Chaplin's swansong to The Little Tramp forever. Movie comedies just don't get much better than this Depression era gem.
I have MODERN TIMES as part of the two-disk Chaplin Collection authorized by the Chaplin Estate. It looks and sounds like a million bucks, but curiously seems to have been trimmed by a few minutes from the 87 minute original. (All of the Chaplins seem slightly trimmed--for heaven's sake, why?) Disk two bonuses that will take you a good two hours to see--thus a full evening for everything--include a 30 minute chat with two Belgium filmmakers analyzing the movie as they watch it, deleted scenes, the nightclub gibberish song done as Karaoke to try and understand what on earth Chaplin is singing, the classic theme song "Smile" sung by Liberace, a Cuban village seeing their very first movie (MODERN TIMES) with great excitement, U.S. Labor shorts (which I could not get sound on), and a huge 250 stills production gallery.
MODERN TIMES is, quite simply, one of the great comedies of all time and, arguably, Chaplin's most sublime masterpiece. It is sold individually, as a double bill with CITY LIGHTS, as part of one of two Chaplin archives boxed sets, and probably rentable from Netflicks. With so many wonderful Harold Lloyd silent comedies now available in restored 35mm archive prints, along with the same for Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin is getting ignored again. Do watch MODERN TIMES to see the great Charlie at his greatest. Or near greatest.
These are Modern Times
Bivas Bhattacharjee | Calcutta,India | 02/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Charles Chaplin's amazing subtle approach to the modern society is so vibrarant through this film. The eternal song "Smile" so tragic but so optimistic, there is still road ahead, you have to just put up a smile in the face of worries, and move on. After approximately 60 years this film is still quite applicable to our present day society. Man turning into machine and we swimming amongst the sprockets of the mechanical age, is a sight worth seeing. Truly a masterpiece, in every right."