Movie Review: No 52. Modern Times

Movie Review: No 52. Modern Times

Distracting me from the fact that I haven’t had a decent morsel of food since Sunday night comes Charlie Chaplin’s silent 1936 film, ironically titled ‘Modern Times’.

Now, before I even begin my review, I’d like to play a little game of ‘Spot the Difference’ between this and another Top 100 film:

Modern TimesClockwork Orange

It’s very subtle. I’ll give you a minute to mull it over…

Ha Ha! Tricked you! There is no difference at all!

Now, back to the review.

Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ was a refreshing change of pace from the somewhat repetitive film choices of late. Chaplin’s ‘Little Tramp’ character complete with bowler hat and “toothbrush moustache” is about as iconic as they come, so it seems fitting that he make it onto the Top 100 list.

It is hard to judge this film alongside modern classics. It is not technically brilliant and the plot is all over the shop. It is funny, yes, but in the kind of way where you almost want to pat the movie patronisingly on the head for trying so hard.

Nevertheless, there is a unique skill involved in making a charming comedy from such seriously heavy subject matter as mental illness, police brutality, sexual harassment, communist uprisings, widespread unemployment, poverty, drug trafficking, theft, a serious motor vehicle accident and, of course, murder. It takes a special individual indeed to pair these themes with cheerful honky-tonk music and hop about bowlegged in ill-fitting clown shoes.

The film opens with a very era-appropriate factory worker scene. It made me wonder to myself “What scenes will define this era?” Squeezing into skinny jeans and facebooking?

In the 1980s the term “going postal” was coined to describe US postal workers who, under extreme stress, suffered nervous breakdowns and shot up their workplaces. Now, imagine your worker is a factory worker instead of a postie, then take away the gun and replace it with a couple of spanners. So begins ‘Modern Times’.

Much like ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ epitomised the Western, ‘Modern Times’ epitomises the silent film, complete with sped-up police chase scenes. For a moment I thought we’d get a banana peel slip too, but sadly that wasn’t to be.

Visual humour is obviously a huge part of the silent film genre, and I have to confess that I laughed out loud during the jail scene in which Chaplin unwittingly gets cocaine all through his tiny mo’ and subsequently loses the plot completely. Similarly, there is a quaintly funny scenes wherein Chaplin causes one of the Engineers to fall into the machinery, attempting to extract him from the gears (but only after his lunch break!) It was like ‘Willy Wonka’ meets ‘Hugo’.

Reading more about Chaplin himself I was surprised to discover that he led quite a particularly interesting life. He was 4 years old when his mother was hospitalised for mental illness and later in life, despite his many millions, Chaplin lived as if in poverty. Along the way he got himself into all sorts of international trouble – dubbed by the Brits as a deserter and by the US as a communist sympathiser. Even after his death he couldn’t escape drama, with his corpse stolen from its grave and not recovered for 3 months.

So much scandal for one little man.

Perhaps its the moustache?

The movie is slow in parts and silly all over, however there is a real display of creativity and individuality that gives the film serious charm. Bearing in mind the context in which it was made, I give this film 8 pumpkins.

Have you seen ‘Modern Times’? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments below.


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