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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO
Synopsis:
The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman.

Director:
Charles Chaplin
Cast:
Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard
Writing Credits:
Charles Chaplin

Tagline:
You'll never laugh as long and as loud again as long as you live! The laughs come so fast and so furious you'll wish it would end before you collapse!

MPAA:
G

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 87 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 11/16/2010

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Chaplin Biographer David Robinson
• “Modern Times: A Closer Look” Featurette
• “A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte” Featurette
• “Silent Traces: Modern Times” Featurette
• “David Raksin and the Score” Interview and Orchestral Track
• “Two Bits” Deleted Scenes
• “All At Sea” Home Movie and Interview
The Rink 1916 Short Film
• “For the First Time” Featurette
• “Chaplin Today: Modern Times” Documentary
• Theatrical Trailers


• Booklet


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Modern Times: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1936)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 5, 2010)

Of the three Charlie Chaplin movies found in the American Film Institute’s Top 100, 1936’s Modern Times came out last. The other two - 1925’s The Gold Rush and 1931’s City Lights - appeared earlier in his career. Interestingly, all three offer surprisingly different experiences. While they clearly share some similarities - mainly because of the “Little Tramp” character portrayed by Chaplin in each film - the three movies had varying emphases and looked at varied aspects of life.

Modern Times was Chaplin’s examination of contemporary society. Actually, that doesn’t seem totally true, as we witness technology that wasn’t exactly the norm in the mid-Thirties; for example, factory workers are monitored and cajoled by a Big Brother-esque video screen. As such, Times forms more of a mildly futuristic fantasy than a depiction of life during the Depression.

However, Chaplin’s point seems clear: the dehumanized, cold society seen in Times is where he appeared to think we were headed at the time. He shows a place in which individuality is lost and subsumed to the cold, faceless power structure. In that way, Times comes across as a cautionary tale, a warning against those who’d favor technological streamlining and “progress” over simple humanity.

Or perhaps his statement was less profound than that. Perhaps Times was nothing more than his reaction to the overwhelming encroachment of sound films. Within a very short period of time, “talkies” took over and silent movies went the way of the dodo. Stubbornly, Chaplin continued to avoid adding much sound to his pictures. Times offers something of a compromise, but a telling one. In addition to music and some effects, we do hear a little speech during the film. However, all of the audible dialogue comes from disembodied sources like the TV screen. Whenever real human characters interact, their lines come from old-fashioned title cards.

Was this Chaplin’s comment upon the soulnessness of talking films? Perhaps, or maybe it was just his fading jab at the excesses of the era. Times would be Chaplin’s final silent film, and also marked the last appearance of the “Little Tramp”.

At least Chaplin’s legendary creation went out on top. As I noted in my reviews of both The Gold Rush and City Lights, I never thought much of Chaplin’s humor and I expected to dislike all of these films. However, I found the first two to provide surprisingly charming and witty experiences, and Modern Times follows suit.

Frankly, The Gold Rush remains my favorite of the three, but each has a lot to offer. Occasionally, the social messages in Times can seem rather heavy-handed, but happily these don’t overwhelm the comedy. This is the sort of movie from which you can glean deeper meaning if desired, or you can just go with the flow and enjoy the humor for its surface value. Those who desire the societal commentary are welcome to it, but such interpretation is not required to enjoy the film.

As one who had little prior experience with Chaplin’s work, it comes as a minor shock to discover how amazingly influential his films have been. While I viewed Times, I saw numerous bits that looked familiar to me since other comedians had “borrowed” them. From Lucy to Dick Van Dyke to the Flintstones, the film was chock full of gags that materialized elsewhere over the years.

Despite this familiarity, the material still worked well during Times. Although the whole “Little Tramp” routine could become a bit cloying at times, there’s no question that Chaplin was an extremely gifted physical comedian, and this movie offers a nice variety of excellent routines. Probably the best of the lot was the scene in which Chaplin is used to demonstrate an “automatic feeding machine”; the abuses to which he’s subjected in the name of “progress” are very funny, and the segment makes its point without too much overemphasis.

Not all of Modern Times follows suit, and Chaplin can become more than a little heavy-handed at times. Frankly, his negative view of new technology seems almost in the Luddite vein, and he seems a bit too closed to any advantages these changes may offer. Nonetheless, Times presents a spirited and engaging comedy that works well with or without social commentary.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Modern Times appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Overall, the film looked very good for its age.

Sharpness mainly came across well. The majority of the flick appeared nicely crisp and well defined. However, a few shots displayed slight softness. No concerns with jaggies or shimmering materialized, though, and edge haloes remained absent.

Given the age of the material, print flaws remained remarkably minor. I discerned a few specks and the odd hair or two, but otherwise none of those concerns appeared. However, the image did flicker a bit at times. Black levels looked very good, as dark tones were deep and rich, and contrast seemed strong. The movie exhibited a nicely silvery appearance from start to finish and didn’t suffer from any blandness in that domain. Low-light shots were clear and well delineated. Ultimately, Modern Times presented a very positive picture.

Since this was essentially a silent film, most of the monaural audio involved music; we heard a few examples of speech and effects, but these remained minor factors. The score was the major component, and the music usually sounded quite good. The loudest pieces could be a bit shrill, but those instances remained rare; most of the score was surprisingly robust and full.

Effects usually worked fine. A few loud bits like gunshots were a bit distorted, and the elements never seemed especially accurate, but I wouldn’t expect much from them; after all, this track was recorded 74 years ago. While the effects weren’t terribly impressive, they seemed more than adequate for their age.

As for the speech, it failed to sound natural, but it was never meant to come across that way. The film never offered lines directly from its characters; the only dialogue came from electronic sources. That made the soundtrack an old recording of old recordings, which obviously reduced its fidelity even more – and that factor became exacerbated by the decision to give the lines a cold feel in the first place.

With all those restrictions in place, I still thought the speech sounded fine. Dialogue was mechanical and somewhat harsh, but I didn’t have any problem with that. Really, the audio was quite positive given the movie’s age.

In terms of extras, the set launches with an audio commentary from Chaplin biographer David Robinson. In his running, screen-specific chat, Robinson discusses cast and crew, social/political context and the film's place in Chaplin's career, Chaplin's shooting techniques, some controversies, Chaplin's shift to sound movies, sets and locations, music and various production areas.

That’s exactly the kind of material I want from a commentary such as this, so Robinson delivers a useful piece. He covers the movie in good detail and keeps us engaged along the way. We learn a ton about the flick and enjoy ourselves through this winning track.

Next we find two “Visual Essays”. Modern Times: A Closer Look goes for 16 minutes, 53 seconds and offers notes from Chaplin historian Jeffrey Vance. As we watch production photos, Vance discusses the film’s genesis, deleted scenes, various aspects of its production, and the movie’s reception/aftermath. Vance manages to avoid repetition with Robinson’s commentary, so we get a lot of good new details. The photos also add a lot to the package.

For the second “visual essay”, we head to the 15-minute, six-second Silent Traces: Modern Times. Author John Bengtson chats about Chaplin’s career and the creation of Times with a heavy emphasis on various studios and filming locations. It also uses stills to flesh out our understanding of the different spots. Bengtson delivers interesting details about the LA spots.

Next comes a featurette called A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte. It lasts 20 minutes, two seconds and provides info from visual effects supervisor Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt. As you might expect, they talk about Chaplin’s use of audio and visual effects. We get some of this info elsewhere, but Barron and Burtt offer a good historical perspective on their specialties.

We get into the movie’s music via the 15-minute, 58-second David Raksin and the Score. This offers a 1992 chat with the composer as he talks about his experiences with Chaplin and his work on the film. Though we already know about his firing and other controversies, Raksin digs into his music well and makes this a rich conversation.

The Raksin interview also comes with an orchestral track. This runs about nine minutes and features score from the factory sequence. What makes it interesting? We hear the music without any of the film’s sound effects.

Under Two Bits, we get deleted scenes. “Crossing the Street” (1:48) never appeared in the film, while “The Tramp’s Song (Unedited)” (4:16) was there in 1936 but got dropped for a 1954 re-release. “Street” has some comedic value but seems kind of dopey; it shows the punishment a jaywalking Worker gets from a cop. The officer’s actions don’t make much sense – why not just give the guy a ticket? “Song” simply extends the existing scene and helps alleviate a bad edit, which makes it worthwhile.

In the trailers area, we get reissue ads. These come in English, French, and German. From the early Seventies, the German clip seems the most unusual because it apparently includes some commentary about the film. This seven-minute and 33-second package of trailers offers some good stuff.

For some candid footage, we go to All At Sea. It goes for 17 minutes, 39 seconds and documents a 1933 boat trip taken by Chaplin, Paulette Goddard and journalist Alistair Cooke. This never becomes terribly fascinating, but it’s still a moderately interesting slice of real life. (Note that the film can be viewed silently or with score from Donald Sosin.)

“All At Sea” also includes an interview with Susan Cooke Kittredge, Cooke’s daughter. In the 13-minute, two-second chat, she talks about her father – best known as the host of Masterpiece Theater - as well as his relationship with Chaplin and the creation of the short film. Though she wasn’t there at the time, she manages to flesh out the reel well.

From 1916, we get a short film entitled The Rink. It lasts 24 minutes, 14 seconds and shows Chaplin as a waiter. Why does it appear here? Because at one point, the waiter rollerskates, an activity that would turn up in Times. That’s a pretty tenuous connection, but I still think it’s nice that the Blu-ray tosses in an old Chaplin short.

Shot in 1967, a featurette called For the First Time runs nine minutes, 10 seconds. It shows residents of rural Cuba who see their first movie. The picture in question? Modern Times, of course. The documentary works better as an idea than as a film; some of the pre-screening comments are interesting, but mostly the piece falls flat.

Chaplin Today: Modern Times runs 26 minutes and 10 seconds. It shows bits from the movie, some archival and historical materials, and also provides narration and remarks from filmmakers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. We get a general feeling for the roots of the film and its production, but much of the piece gives us interpretation from the Dardennes. Too much of it falls in that category, unfortunately, as we find lots of pretentious and not terribly useful introspection. The occasional bits about the making of the movie – such as its unused ending – seem much more compelling, but because they appear infrequently, this is a pretty spotty program.

Finally, the set includes a 40-page booklet. It features film critic Saul Austerlitz’s essay about Times as well as film scholar Lisa Stein’s piece about a world tour Chaplin conducted in 1931-32. This becomes a classy way to end the package.

For much of my life I thought that Charlie Chaplin was nothing more than an overly silly and lackluster comedian. I was wrong. I’ve never been a fan of physical comedy, but his material remains fresh and vibrant after many decades. In Modern Times, Chaplin offers a somewhat muddled but always entertaining social commentary that provides a consistently stimulating experience. The Blu-ray provides very strong picture and audio along with a nice set of supplements highlighted by an excellent commentary. It’s hard to imagine a superior home video release of the film, as this Criterion release served the Chaplin classic well.

To rate this film, visit the Charlie Chaplin Collection review of MODERN TIMES

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main