Friday, September 23, 2005

Modern Times

1936, US, directed by Charles Chaplin

It's hard to watch Chaplin's last silent film without an awareness of almost seventy years of criticism and quotation, not to mention dozens of Chaplin biographies. There's no doubting the work of an artist - nay an auteur, given that Chaplin did more or less everything of note, and probably made the tea, too - but often the sense is of an artist frustrated by the very medium in which he excels. While it's easy to read the film as a commentary on the dehumanizing effects of industry more broadly, Chaplin himself felt very acutely the pressures to mould himself to an inflexible Hollywood system, notwithstanding his own wealth and, for the most part, artistic freedom. In a sense, he was fighting against the very collaborative nature of the film industry - a near production line at the height of the studio era - but also the industry's ceaseless pursuit of the dollar. As to the film, it's inescapably a string of - well-made - two-reelers extended to feature length; the famed sequences in the factory work brilliantly as vignettes, while the scenes with the gamin (sic) change the tone entirely. There's plenty of bite to Chaplin's portrait of the humiliations of factory life, although the buffoonish owner is a cipher, while Chaplin is never entirely sure what he thinks about the unions. The final optimistic title card, while absolutely in tune with the American Dream, seems altogether too naïve in the context of the enormous social turmoil of the Depression. It's a fascinating film as an impetus for debate, a clever piece of cinema which sends a very confused message.

No comments:


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States