Modern Times, one of the last silent black and white films (okay there are a few words said but you can’t class it as a talkie), follows a factory worker (Charlie Chaplin) as he suffers a mental breakdown and goes from job to job desperately trying to cope in a economically failing world.
Despite its depressing subject matter, the film is one of the most iconic comedies of cinema history and stars arguably one of comedy’s finest names. Made in an age where talkies were prevalent (Chaplin apparently shirking off the constricting Modern Times to create a nonetheless enjoyable romp), the film still manages to captivate audiences.
The chaotic situations Chaplin finds himself in, although unbelievable, are classic scenes. Performed by the most iconic figure of early cinema, alongside Pauline Goddard as a tramp, the scenes flit between factory backdrops to shop settings to prison riots.
Its comedic face hides the social commentary at the heart of Modern Times, later being labelled ‘culturally significant’ by the Library of Congress. Through focusing on a man trying to find a permanent job it subtly critiques the expectations held during the Great Depression. Its vilifying of the unemployed allows the film to draw attention to the problems suffered at the time.
As well as commentating on the social problems experienced during the 1930’s, Modern Times also subtly derides the fascination with new technology. Poking fun at the allure by making Chaplin’s character a guinea pig for a new feeding machine the film almost manages to predict the wonder we would still hold for technology. Predictably the experiment goes haywire but its inclusion provides the film with one of its funniest moments. With the modern employment issues and our continued love of technology the film’s title seems a little ironic…
Often hailed as a genius, Charlie Chaplin is the film’s everyman, having starred in, written, composed, and directed Modern Times (one wonders how many unemployed he made in doing so?) and it is thanks to this fact Modern Times is firmly a Chaplin film. Most of the film’s comedy is thanks to Chaplin’s comedic timing and hugely expressive face.
Although Modern Times still has the ability to create laughs it has undoubtedly aged somewhat and some of the scenes can be a little tiresome. Chaplin himself is a bit of a marmite man – some love him, some hate him… some love to hate him and some hate to love him. No matter where you stand the film is undeniably a classic and, although over 70 years old, is still capable of touching everybody.
Best performance: Could it realistically be anyone other than Chaplin?
Best song: The theme that later became the now famous ‘Smile’.