“The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman.”
Now, I have this bad habit of falling asleep during ANY SILENT FILM EVER. It’s not because I’m bored. It’s not because I’m not enjoying myself. I honestly don’t know what it is about silent films that make me sleepy. And, although I dozed off for, roughly, ten minutes in this film, that does not mean that I did not enjoy it.
There’s something so mesmerizing about Charlie Chaplin. He directed, wrote, starred in, and composed the music for this film. He did it all. His work always seemed to mean a great deal to him, and that comes through in his films. There’s a sense of passion and attention to detail that you don’t always get with old, silent films.
Of course the film is funny. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Charlie Chaplin film where I didn’t laugh multiple times throughout. But, my favorite thing about this film (and his films, in general) is that whatever was in his head, he wanted to portray on screen, and he would always do so successfully. Like in Gold Rush with the tilting cabin, and in this film, Modern Times, with the amazing gear scene.
Back then, back in the beginning of film, everything was done practical. They had no other option. They didn’t have CGI. That was not around until much later. So, they had to be creative. They had to use their heads. Clearly, some of my opinions about CGI are leaking into this post, but it is what it is. Imagine if CGI never came to be. Imagine all the awesome practical effects that would be used or that would have been developed. OR imagine that all films used CGI as a mix with practical effects (like the original Jurassic Park). Imagine the possibilities. Anyway, that’s a blog post for another time.
What I found most interesting about this film is that it isn’t really a silent film, nor is it a film with sound. This film was released in 1936. “Talkies” were now becoming the norm in Hollywood. Silent films were beginning to really fade out of existence. Actor’s careers were ending because of it. Modern Times really pulls aspects from both silent films and “talkies” and puts them together in one film. There are several talking bits with characters, and there are songs that are sung. However, there’s still the dialogues cards, and pantomiming throughout the film. It really is an odd mix. But, it seems to work. Somehow, it seems to work.
Chaplin was always good at holding the audience’s attention. He was especially good at this when he was being the character of The Tramp. Something about The Tramp, whether it’s the way he walks, the way he interacts with others; there’s just something about him that makes you want to continue to watch. So, it’s no wonder that Chaplin made him the main character in so many of his films.
Modern Times is a film that is still relevant today. In particular, the beginning of the film, with the overworked factory workers and trying to find time to cut back on lunch in order for the workers to get more work done. This all seems to be relevant with our society today. Our society that puts more emphasis on work and money than actually enjoying the life we are living. In fact, working in the factory ends up causing our main character of The Tramp to have a nervous breakdown. Then, once released, he’s in and out of jail (albeit for silly reasons. This is a comedy, after all). But, he’s not truly happy until the end of the film, where he and his love (who has also been in and out of jail throughout the film) are walking down the road at dawn, together, walking towards an uncertain but happy future together. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Overall, Modern Times is an enjoyable film. It’s a no-brainer as to why it is on this list. I recommend watching it. However, if you’re like me and fall asleep in every silent movie EVER, just drink enough coffee to keep you awake for an hour and a half. That should do the trick!