Special Edition, Criterion Collection
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Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin’s last outing as the Little Tramp, puts the iconic character to work as a giddily inept factory employee who becomes smitten with a gorgeous gamine (Paulette Goddard). With its barrage of unforgettable gags and sly commentary on class struggle during the Great Depression, Modern Times—though made almost a decade into the talkie era and containing moments of sound (even song!)—is a timeless showcase of Chaplin’s untouchable genius as a director of silent comedy.
For this edition of a comedy masterpiece, Criterion has assembled a delightful collection of supporting materials--some new, some old, all lovely. The new stuff begins with a feature-length commentary by Chaplin biographer David Robinson, who knows as much about Charlie Chaplin as any person alive. Also new are visual essays on the film's production; its special visual and sound effects (much more interesting than you might expect); and John Bengston's nifty tour of various Los Angeles locations used in the film, including the stretch of road seen in the final fade-out. Even more spectacular is an 18-minute 8 mm short called "All at Sea," created by future author and Masterpiece Theatre host Alistair Cooke--essentially a home movie of a trip Cooke took with Chaplin and Paulette Goddard aboard Chaplin's yacht, during a weekend cruise to Catalina Island in 1933. (A new interview with Cooke's daughter provides the fascinating tale behind the long-lost little film, including the fact that Chaplin directed some of the rapturous shots of Goddard.) Also seen in an interview (from 1993) is composer David Raksin, who assisted Chaplin in the devising of the score of Modern Times.
Two very brief deleted scenes from Modern Times are here, and so is Chaplin's 1916 short "The Rink," which has some great roller-skating material. Carried over from previous DVD issues: an excellent 26-minute "Chaplin Today" piece featuring the Dardenne brothers, who speak insightfully about the social concerns of Modern Times, and a 10-minute Cuban documentary, "For the First Time" (1967), which depicts a peasant village witnessing their first movie--you can guess which film it is. --Robert Horton
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The transfer is close to flawless. There's some artificial (I'm assuming it's digitally added; it looks odd) grain near the beginning that sticks out like a sore, grainy thumb. But either it only lasts that one scene or I quickly acclimated to it - though I suspect the former, as I still haven't noticed it on repeat viewings. There doesn't appear to be this astonishing restoration as there is for many classic Criterion titles, because the film seems to have survived in excellent shape - when TCM airs it, their version is nearly this good. But if you're looking to purchase a copy of this film, as always, you'll do well to purchase the Criterion version.
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!