Modern Times, contrary to its name is a tale about Past Times. It indeed portrayed the ‘Modern Times’, when it was made in 1936. It’s a black & white movie and I love to watch some of them. This movie is a partially silent movie. It has subtitles hardcoded in the reels which are shown time to time as movie moves. Main roles have been done by Charles Chaplin and Paulette Goddard. Goddard was an exquisite actress and she has done justice with the character she has played in the movie. The romantic scenes between Goddard and Chaplin are so real perhaps because they were married at the time this movie was made. Charles Chaplin not only was the main star in the movie but also the director and writer of it. Those who have just heard the name of this greater actor and never seen any film made by him might love to watch it. Charles Chaplin was a versatile genius. Comedy and Tragedy were his metiers not only as an actor but also as a writer and director in my opinion. His supple body movements show a very high bodily kinaesthetic intelligence and he was adept at nuances of comedy.
Charles Chaplin astounded me with his Moonwalk in a dancing scene in the hotel where he is appointed as a waiter who can dance and sing. His song is also hilariously comical but filled nonsensical lyrics. It was indeed Michael Jackson who made Moonwalk so popular later on, but Moonwalk was in existence as early as in 1932. Modern Times vividly portrays the life of a common man in USA in the times of Great Depression. It so clearly shows the existential nightmare of the common man who in spite of working like a machine is not able to earn his daily bread and butter in the times of depression. And he is so forlorn and forsaken by poverty that out of sheer necessity of satisfying his hunger and thirst he has to steal and commit burglary. The protagonist is a worker in a small factory and he is under so much pressure to work hard and fast that he goes crazy and the scene where he is made subject to an experiment where a new machine is used to feed workers in lunch time in order to save time is more tragic than comical in my opinion and seems to be the most touching scene in the entire film. The fine line where comedy turns into the tragedy dissolves in this scene. If you have observed jokers you might have realized that the pain through which they have to undergo in order to make you laugh is acute at times. I went to watch a circus show in my home town when I was a young kid and the clown in the show was being beaten with a plank in every ten minutes or so for one reason or other in order to produce comical effect for the audience. This was making people laugh but clown seemed sad. I wondered that day that why was pain of the joker a subject of laughter for audience of the show. That event touched my sensitive mind and has stayed with me since then. Clowns are not only mysterious but also very strange to me because they suffer and people laugh at their suffering. It’s not schadenfreude or gloating but something which has elements similar to them.
This was one of the last silent movies and the talkies were gradually starting to replace silent films. I loved watching this movie and found it better than most of the talkies. The movie is simple yet sensible, comical but profound and offers you a great work by a great artist. Charles Chaplin was the only artist who loved making silent movies when this movie was made as most of the other directors had already shifted to the magical trend of talkies by then. The movie has a significant message. It’s not a completely silent movie but with a few pieces of dialogue and as many good reviewers have already noted, almost all such pieces have something trivial, nonsensical or outright useless about them. For example: The song with ludicrous lyrics and the introduction of the feeding machine which fails to fulfil its promise. Chaplin is clearly conveying his dislike for sounds and mechanization in this movie. Original music is also by Charles Chaplin and I found an uncanny resemblance in one of the tracks of this movie with a track in The Godfather. The piece which is played when ‘The Gamin’ meets her father and gives him and to her sisters bananas is very similar to the piece played in The Godfather part 2 where protagonist goes to visit Italy and meets his love. I wonder if this track has been reused from Modern Times. Another scene where the Tramp loses ship into the waters because of his negligence is so similar to another such scene in the recent movie The Sherlock Holmes: Game of The Shadows.