Do you know what is one of the best things that ever happened to me? Discovering classic films. They are just magic. Yes, there are some good contemporary films, I don’t deny it, but there’s something different with classic films. They HAVE to be seen, you know. That’s why they are called “classics”. Unfortunately, those are snubbed these days and people (especially young ones) prefer to see blockbusters with special effects and, if we think about it, not very good films. They seem to forget what is “pure cinema”, but I’m sure that, if we’re able to convince them, we can make them realize that “old films” are just as great as the new ones (the good new ones of course)!
This is why I’m participating in the “Try it You’ll Like it” Blogathon hosted by Movie Silently and Sister Celluloids. This will be the chance for me to convince those who are not too much into classic films to watch one of them. For the occasion, I’ve decided to go with Chaplin’s Modern Times. Yes, a black and white, SILENT FILM! 😀 It wasn’t a difficult decision because this is really one of the films that introduced me to classics and I think it’s a film everybody can enjoy, kids like adults.
I think you’ll agree with me if I say that Charlie Chaplin was the most popular actor of all times. You might not have seen any of his films (yet), but you have certainly heard about him. You know what Charlot looks like, that he was known to be a funny one, etc. However, you don’t really know him until you’ve watched one of his films. Many of Chaplin’s films are great, but Modern Times is often cited as a favourite. What’s especially special about this film is the fact that it’s a silent film, but it was released in 1936 when talkies were then much more popular than silent films. As a matter of fact, the only character we hear speaking in this film is the boss of the factory where Chaplin’s character work. He has the power, so we hear him! There’s also a scene where Chaplin’s sing, but we’ll come back to this later.
Before continuing to try to convince you why you HAVE to see this film, I bet you’d like to know what it’s all about. Chaplin as “the factory worker” (but still being Charlot) works in a factory where he has to screw nuts all day long. Alienated by his unhealthy work, he finally has a nervous breakdown and has to be cured in a mental institution. Cured but without a job, he’s out of the hospital, but then is back to trouble when he is arrested by the police (who thought he was the leader of a demonstration). In jail, he becomes a hero when he saves the guardians from a bandits attack. He then has preferential treatment and spends a happy time in jail, befriending the guardians. When he’s free, the prison chief gives him a recommendation letter so he can find a job. Even with this letter, it won’t be easy, as Charlot is quite clumsy. He who enjoyed life in prison so much is determinate to be back there. He plans some trick to be arrested and then meets Ellen, “The Gamin” (Paulette Goddard), a poor orphan who has been arrested for stealing a bread. She decides to escape from the police car and Charlot finally escapes with her. They then become friends and accomplices. Together, they try to find a job, but this always seems to be a failure. Fortunately, Chaplin is always optimistic and ready to cheer his friend up. The life lesson of this film really is: “never give up”.
Modern Times (like other Chaplin’s films) is really the work of a genius. Why? Because Chaplin directed the film, wrote it, produced it, played the leading role and composed the music. Even better than Woody Allen! Chaplin was simply incredible and his work would be remembered forever.
There are so many things to say about Modern Times and so many reasons why this film HAS to be seen by everyone. One of its best quality is that it’s entertaining, but remains clever. When you watch it, you know you’re looking at a masterpiece. Modern Times is a film that makes you live many emotions, from joy to sadness. Every time, you feel like you are watching a visual poetry. But let’s not forget the comedy either. Charlie Chaplin makes us laugh and laugh and created so many inventive gags. Of course, the most famous is the “eating-chair” one. A company presents a strange chair allowing the workers to continue their work while eating. They decide to show an example to the boss with one of the employees. Charlot is the chosen one. In the beginning, things are going alright, but when he starts the eat the corn, the machine suddenly becomes crazy. It’s certainly one of the most famous visual gags created by Chaplin. But if you think about it, without those funny moments and without Charlot (because he is the one who creates these scenes) this film would have been much more dramatic. The end, without revealing it, is a little sad, but in a way beautiful and gives us high hopes. Chaplin was able to create a good balance between comedy and drama, and I think it’s perfectly represented in this ending scene.
But the film is also truffled with a great number of small moments that can last 2 seconds, but that makes us laugh all the time. Just the way Chaplin walks would be one of them. One of my favourites is when he splashes the boss with oil and then, does the same to one the ambulance drivers and to a policeman. I also like the part where he’s in jail and puts salt on his meal, but cocaine has been put in the salt shaker. His reaction worths a million. As it is a silent film, these are all visual gags, and it makes us understand why the visual potential of a film is very important.
Well, Chaplin used the visual not only for his gags but also for creating marvelously beautiful images. Of course, we all know the final ending shot. Ok, for those who haven’t seen the film, I’m sorry, but I HAVE to show it because it’s too beautiful not to be shown. Chaplin and Paulette Goddard look so adorable here, especially Paulette with her pretty dress. She looks like a little doll. Because this shot is so poignant, it brings tears to me every time I see it.
Another shot that is absolutely brilliant visually is this one when, after he has learned that the factories are re-opened, Charlot runs from their “house” to go to the factory. I don’t know why, but there’s something so strong in this image. You see this little man, with his derby hat and his cane, running to the city, to a solution to live. The contrast between him and the factories in the background is so impressive. Well, there’s a lot of meaning in this shot and it “gets” me all the time.
Of course, Chaplin ends his film in a brilliant way, but he does the same to start it. The first image we see is a group of sheep and then, a group of people coming out of a subway station. They all wear similar clothes. This image kind of tells us that we are now in a society where everybody is alike and everybody follows everybody, just like sheep do. Charlot is the “different” one and, because of that, he creates a chaos around him. However, he’s the hero, he’s the one we want to see on the screen, he’s the one we like.
I’ve talked a lot about the visual aspect of this film which. You now understand how brilliant it is. So, now, I’ll focus a little bit more on the performances. Of course, when you watch a film, whatever if it’s a classic or not, I think it’s important to pay attention to all its aspects, including the actors’ performances. Some people don’t care too much about them, only for the film itself. I think it’s sad, because they are an important part of it and, without them, there wouldn’t be any movies. Well, except if it is a documentary, but you know what I mean. Of course, as I already mentioned it many times, Charlie Chaplin is the star in this film. He never disappoints from the beginning until the end. What’s incredible about him are his mimics, and he seems to be the only one who can make them. He really is the spirit of the film. He owns it, in the right way. In Modern Times Chaplin is the one who acts, and the others characters around him react to his actions.
On her side, Paulette Goddard does a fine job but doesn’t overshadow Chaplin. She’s lovely and acts with an undeniable charm. That’s why we appreciate her as well. In Modern Times, Paulette Goddard is full of life and joy, but also knows how to be sad, and then happy again (when Chaplin cheers her up). She proves us a great versatility. Of course, my favourite Paulette Goddard moments are those when she smiles, because she has a truly adorable smile! Chaplin and Paulette Goddard made a good team together. They had a good chemistry.
I previously told you that Chaplin made a silent film in 1936 and those weren’t common in the late thirties. However, it’s not completely a silent film. We hear the boss speaking at the beginning of the film, the radio, but the most significant talking moment is when Chaplin, who didn’t like talkies, decides to make fun of them with the restaurant-song scene. In this scene, Charlot, who is on a trial as a waiter and entertainer in a restaurant where Ellen works, has to sing a song to entertain the customers. He can’t remember the lines, so Ellen writes them on his cuffs. However, when he starts to dance, the cuffs go away… Ellen tells him to sing. Anything. As long as he sings. So, what was supposed to be the song “Titina” (a song from the 20’s), becomes… eum… something…interesting! Chaplin uses the same melody but changes the lyrics. It’s an absolute gibberish. It seems to be a mix of Italian, Spanish, German, French, etc., but it doesn’t mean anything. This was the very first time Chaplin’s character Charlot was speaking on-screen. He decided to make him sings stuff that means nothing to ridicule the talkies, but also to make it “international”. It indeed seems to be sung in every language, but also because we understand what the song is about thanks to his mimics.
Finally, always concerning the sound dimension of this film, we have to give good credits to the music that was composed by Chaplin himself. The music in Modern Times fits perfectly the action of the film. Chaplin was able to present whatever mood he wanted with this music. Of course, what became popular in this soundtrack is the theme “Smile”. Later, in the 50’s, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added lyrics for this song and it became a classic. Nat King Cole was the first one to sing it, followed by many artists such as Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, etc. We’ll listen to the original Nat King Cole version:
Modern Times is just too much fun and it’s a CLASSIC. There will be many other things to say about it, but I let you discover the rest by yourself. I think it’s a movie that is impossible not to like. It is brilliant but remains a great entertainment. That’s why I think it can be a great introduction to classics. It’s with films like these that you convince people to watch classic films. Even if it’s considered to be the best film of all times, don’t show Citizen Kane to someone you want to convince to watch classic films… Modern Times is a better start, believe me! And then, when they are “into” classics, you can peacefully show them Citizen Kane. 😉
A big thanks to Movie Silently and Sister Celluloid who hosted this amazing blogathon. I HAD to write about Modern Times as it is the cover image for this blog. The “Try it You’ll Like it” Blogathon was the perfect occasion to do so!
Of course, I invite you to read the other entries as well:
Yes, classic films will make you SMILE!