Modern Times (1936)
October 19, 2022 7:03 AM - Subscribe

The Little Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) finds work a state-of-the-art factory where the inescapable machinery completely overwhelms him, and where various mishaps keep getting him sent to prison. In between his various jail stints, he meets and befriends an orphan girl (Paulette Goddard). Both together and apart, they try to contend with the difficulties of modern life, with the Tramp working as a waiter and eventually a performer.

Chaplin began preparing the film in 1934 as his first "talkie", and went as far as writing a dialogue script and experimenting with some sound scenes. However, he soon abandoned these attempts and reverted to a silent format with synchronized sound effects and sparse dialogue. The dialogue experiments confirmed his long-standing conviction that the universal appeal of his "Little Tramp" character would be lost if the character ever spoke on screen. Most of the film was shot at "silent speed", 18 frames per second, which when projected at "sound speed", 24 frames per second, made the slapstick action appear even more frenetic.

Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin.

98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on HBO Max, Criterion, and Kanopy. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It’s just an amazing movie!
posted by Emmy Noether at 8:01 AM on October 19, 2022

I often show this film in my intro to lit class to teach students about close-reading -- the first 15 minutes especially are really perfect for talking about interactions of symbol, character, setting, plot, theme... They are always blown away by the cocaine scene in the prison, when the Tramp eats like a bowlful of "nose powder" (or do they call it "nose candy"?). The idea that something so OLD would present such taboo subjects -- and for comedy no less! -- is eye-opening for them. Most are also really surprised at how much they like the movie, once they are willing to give it a chance and look past the black & white and other "old-fashioned" aspects of it, so it also serves as a good way to encourage them to be expansive in their tastes and give new things (or old things that are new to them) a chance.

As I said in the post on City Lights, that first close-up shot of Paulette Goddard's face is like lightning -- she is just so beautiful and her eyes radiate life and joy. It's one of my favorite moments in film. And the Tramp's relationship with her is also really interesting. They are something like a "couple," but the Tramp is relatively asexual -- also rather effeminate by traditional standards and when compared to his co-workers -- so their relationship reads more as a platonic friendship. Again, a very nice, unexpected touch.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:32 AM on October 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

You know how good this movie is - I did a couple of months long project of close analysis of it for a class. Watched it countless times, scrubbed back and forth over various bits of it again and gain.

Still love it.

And double plus on Paulette Goddard - in this role she was just a perfect blend of "angel" and "earthy". (also, what an amazing life she led - she didn't "have" it" - she grabbed it and made things march in her direction)
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:01 AM on October 19, 2022

The bit that got me was when The Little Tramp was stuck into that "automated eating machine" thing, and everything eventually goes haywire except for the one robot arm that very carefully and neatly dabs his mouth every 20 seconds or so, perfectly each time. For some reason that just got funnier and funnier.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:55 AM on October 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Winston Burdett and C. A. Lejeune lived long and interesting lives, and I suspect they didn't think much about having panned this movie. But I do wonder whether they ever saw it again and rethought their reviews.
posted by Etrigan at 6:32 AM on October 21, 2022

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