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.
on January 25, 2011
Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times is one of my favourite films and arguably one of the best films ever made. The movie remains incredibly funny while also managing to be a significant artistic achievement in cinema design and social commentary. For Chaplin fans, it marks the last appearance of his "little tramp" character and, not coincidentally, his last film without full synchronized sound. The film does include music, sound effects, and the occasional voice, including a segment at the end where we get to hear the tramp sing a short nonsense song. However, as a film released 10 years into the sound movie era, the film is also something of an enigma. It presents perhaps the most famous silent film character in a film that purports to be silent, yet it features futuristic factory machinery (reminiscent of Metropolis) and large close-circuit flat screen video displays that would have looked almost like science fiction back in the 1930's.
This new Blu-ray release from Criterion continues their standard of releasing historically important films with significant audio/video remastering and a variety of enticing special features. However, in this case, Criterion is competing with an already excellent release of this film on DVD from Warner/mk2 in 2003. The new Criterion release mentions that the "new" transfer was created in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna, who were also credited with the previous Warner/mk2 release. I am not sure if this release actually includes a new transfer or just an upgrade of the existing one to 2K-resolution for Blu-ray. I performed a side-by-side comparison of both versions, and the Criterion Blu-ray version contained noticeably better detail and superior contrast. However, it also contained a great deal more digital grain that I found a little distracting at first. This can easily be seen in the opening frames where the clock face that seemed so steady on the old DVD version now has a multitude of dancing pixels that give it a strange shimmering quality. As the film progressed, I became accustomed to the new graininess of the image and began to appreciate the increased detail. For the first time, I could see some of the horizontal wires used to secretly operate the "feeding machine" in the second chapter. Chaplin's face also looked a little older throughout. The old Warner/mk2 DVD version looked softer and textures, including faces, had a much smoother feel to them. I did notice some extra grit and fibres showing near the edges of the frame in the Criterion version that were absent from the Warner/mk2 DVD, so this does suggest that the transfer or at least processing of the transfer is different. Overall, I preferred the more detailed Criterion version but still think that a better compromise between the two could be reached with some more processing and cleanup of artefacts done to the Criterion version.
Sound quality for both versions was similar with a slight nod going to the lossless Criterion mono version. The old DVD also includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack absent from the Criterion version. This is not really worth the effort for a film with 1936 sound technology.
As far as special features go, the Criterion version really shines. It adds a new and informative commentary by Chaplin biographer, David Robinson. The old DVD included only a six-minute introduction by Robinson. Other features from the old DVD are also carried through to the Criterion Blu-ray. These include the 26-minute "Chaplin Today - Modern Times" featurette, two deleted scenes of very minor importance, some theatrical trailers, and a 10-minute Cuban documentary about peasants seeing Modern Times as their first movie experience. The old DVD includes some additional materials that are not included on the new Blu-ray such as photo/poster galleries, plus some vintage featurettes from the US government and Ford motor company related to assembly line labour, and a performance of "Smile" by Liberace. None of these is a major loss.
New to the Criterion version are two excellent "visual essays" which are essentially a series of stills (many from the galleries on the old DVD) with substantial and informative commentaries by two Chaplin historians related to the making of the film and the locations used. There is also a very interesting new featurette about the visual and sound effects used in the film. It includes some fascinating explanations of effect shots presented in the film, although their very detailed explanation of a glass matte shot used in the roller skating scene does not seem to take into account that the camera moves during the sequence.
Also included is a very interesting interview with music arranger, David Raskin, taken from an old Laserdisc version of the film. I was glad to be able to see this again. Finally, an old Chaplin short, "The Rink", and a home movie with Alistair Cooke, "All at Sea", are included. These are available elsewhere but are presented here in superior quality (the former) or with an additional interview (the latter) not available elsewhere.
Criterion also includes a nice 36-page black and white printed booklet with chapter stops, cast and credits, plus two informative historical essays.
Overall, I think this is a nice package. The film presentation is more detailed than it has ever been in any previous release, although some additional digital manipulation of the picture and cleanup of artefacts would be welcomed by my eyes. The bonus features are extensive and interesting, although I would like to have seen more of the image galleries (including stills, script elements, publicity and financial material) that have been included, albeit at much lower resolution, on previous DVD and Laserdisc versions. My only gripe with the bonus materials is that both on disk and in print they refer to poor or at least "diminished" box office performance of the film because it did not have full sound. All vintage box office information I have seen related to the film indicate that it was one of the top five grossing films of the year. Then or now, it is a fun ride.
on September 8, 2006
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.
Modern Times is among the Best 100 American movies of all time (#81), and it is among the Best 1000 Movies on DVD by Peter Travers. I rate this movie 5 stars or 9 over 10. This movie is timeless, a masterpiece, a pleasure to watch and watch over and over again. It was the last silent movie Chaplin did and the last to feature the Little Tramp (beautiful ending with the two lovers walking arm and arm into a sunset.) The theme of the movie is how technology alienates the human being. Accidentally converted into a working class hero, Chaplin spends some time in jail, where he'd like to stay forever. There we watch one of the funniest scenes of the movie, the lunch with some "white powder". I couldn't stop laughing! In the times of the Great Depression, Chaplin portraits the unemployed and the hunger. Trying to find a steady job, he ends up in a Caffe where he waits on tables and sings. Yes! He does. The nonsense song (with Chaplin original voice in there) stands as one of the best moments in movie history. I can't quit this song off of my mind ... Paulette Goddard, Chaplin's wife at the time, appears here in what's considered her best and liveliest leading lady. This DVD is beautifully repackaged for the Chaplin Collection (a wonderful collection, thanks Warner!) It includes an all-new digital transfer and a soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as original mono. The second DVD comes full loaded with many speacial features, like a documentary about "Chaplin today", deleted scenes, an introduction by Chaplin biographer David Robinson, a Karaoke of the nonsense song, the wonderful song Smile, sung by Liberace, a Behind the Scenes in the Machine Age 42 minutes documentary, and lots of more extras!
I recommend this DVD to everybody, you will not be disapointed, and I would say it's a MUST for movie collectors. A classic, a masterpiece, a timeless movie!
P.S. If you like my review vote YES. You can read all my other reviews if you wish to. I modestly write them to help people form an opinion about movies, music and books, but if nobody reads them (if you don't vote I do not know if you did) there is no point in writing them
on July 29, 2003
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.
"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.
on February 13, 2000
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.
on August 28, 2001
Chaplin's Modern Times leaves us awed with various noteworthy marks. First of all, Chaplin endeavored to make his second sound film following City Lights (1931), in spite of the wide-conquering trend of talkie. Not only the background music but also occasional sound effects bring out the brilliance of the director. Second, even after two decades since his silver screen debut in 1914, the performance of Charlie the Little Tramp and Chaplin's directing had been matured, not faded, like a good wine. Those laughing spots fairly spread in the entire film proves it. Last but not least, you can never forget this film for the moment when the long-time silent Little Tramp finally open his mouth to sing!--for the first and final time, unless you count The Great Dictator (1940), the following film and another masterpiece of Chaplin. --After all those struggles, Charlie gets a job at a cafe, where his adventure partner the Gamine (Paulette Goddard; Chaplin's wife at that time) works as a dancer. Charlie is to wait and sing. As he can't remember the lyrics when rehearsing, the Gamine helps him writing the lyrics on his cuff for a cheat sheet. A fanfare goes and the Little Tramp marches in the floor stage performing an eccentric dance until he dances so hard that the cuffs are blown away. He frantically and desperately searches for the cuffs and the Gamine says (in the spoken title) "Sing! Never mind the words!"-- It is well known that Chaplin was the last resistant against talkie claiming the universality of silent films. What he performed in this "Titina" sequence, singing in the stateless language (still obvious it is conjured up with a few languages such as French or Italian) and storytelling by his brilliant pantomime. The audience in the film reacts the same way as we do: get a nice-surprise, laugh and applaud. With its theme song "Smile", composed by Chaplin, the performance of Charlie the Little Tramp is definitely one of the highlights of this film. Play it again, Charlie!
This was one of my introductions to Charlie Chaplin's brilliant body of work in film. I must have been about twelve or thirteen. While other kids were out watching Luke Perry and Tom Cruise, I had a growing love for early film. "Modern Times" is a timeless, laugh-out-loud, very intelligent and insightful little picture about modern life, the plight of the assembly line worker and the "pick them up by their bootstraps" mentality that has been attributed to the growth--and sometimes downfall--of modern day American society.
We meet the "Little Tramp" (Charlie Chaplin) once again. This time, he is working in an assembly line, working the nine-to-five with no possiblity of promotion. Eventually, the little fellow snaps, and begins operating on various things with his tools (this includes a fireplug and a woman's garments). The film follows his adventures and misadventures in the world. It is the era of the Great Depression, and a new job is not easy to come by. He encounters the Gamin (Paulette Goddard), a struggling young woman who comes from a poor background, and is striving to just put food on the table for her family. When their paths cross, inevitably, neither of their lives remains the same.
Though, this film was made post "talkie" (i.e. sound was already incorporated into films several years before it was released). Charlie Chaplin, director, star and writer, insisted that this body of work stick to the standard he had set for silent pictures. Though, there is minimal dialogue toward the end (and one sentence uttered early on), Chaplin and his co-stars stick to the broad accessiblity of physical comedy and facial expressions, to convey to the audience what is going on in the plot. This definitely works to its advantage.
A great example of Chaplin's genius...which reminds me...I still need to buy this!!!
on April 19, 2011
This is the second Criterion Blu-ray release that I've seen after M (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]and I am still impressed at just how good they are at restoring classic old films to as close to perfection that they can. Kino did an excellent job with the Fritz Lang film that this film borrows greatly from i.e. The Complete Metropolis [Blu-ray]but Criterion has improved greatly both the picture and sound quality of the score over the previous dvd version. I tried very hard but I could hardly find any picture imperfections taking into account the fact that this is a 75-year old film. The special features are also very good as is usual for a Criterion release.
I have watched this film a few times and I never tire of watching it. There are just too many excellent sequences to mention and so you'll have to watch it yourself to truly appreciate the genius of Chaplin. Chaplin himself preferred "The Gold Rush" as his personal favourite film which is also a classic and while "City Lights" is also very good "Modern Times" for me is still overall his best silent film. Like Lang before him in "Metropolis" Chaplin shows how technology and innovation can only be helpful to humanity if compassion and common sense is used. Otherwise man becomes a slave to the machine instead of the other way around.
This is one of the best movies of all time and like any classic, I find myself enjoying it more every time I watch it. Excellent picture and sound quality, great bonus features and excellent content makes this an easy review.
Very highly recommended!