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Modern Times, September 3

The Mechanical Age

Sunday, September 3, 2006
6:00 p.m. Modern Times
Charles Chaplin (U.S., 1936)

It starts with an overhead shot of pigs, cuts to the throngs coming out of a subway station. Was Chaplin a Surrealist, or just a realist? His version of modern times looks forward in equal measure to Jacques Tati and 1984. This "silent" is full of modern sounds, heard over loudspeakers and big corporate television screens (not to mention the Tramp's outburst of French-inspired gibberish). Charlie the ever-elegant Tramp is an industrial swashbuckler with an oilcan for a sword, but he's begun taking on the characteristics of factory machines, obsessively twisting buttons no matter where they are, just as the film itself plays with machinelike repetition. We can't have this antisocial behavior, can we? Charlie's eventually arrested as a Communist. Paulette Goddard as a starving gamine becomes his comrade in loving arms against an overmechanized world. Only Chaplin could both satirize their kitschy dreams and have them walk off into the sunset in the most poignant Depression image ever faked.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Chaplin. Photographed by Rollie Totheroh, Ira Morgan. With Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Chester Conklin, Henry Bergman. (83 mins, Silent with music track, sound effects, and occasional dialogue, B&W, 35mm, From Kino International)

Preceded by short:

Ballet mécanique (Fernand Léger, Dudley Murphy, France, 1924). This great abstract film takes ordinary objects and makes them look like machines, and famously offers a very un-Chaplinesque, Cubist image of Chaplin himself. Artist Fernand Léger linked the film to World War I, which “had thrust me, as a soldier, into the heart of a mechanical atmosphere. Here I discovered the beauty of the fragment.” Original music composed by Georges Antheil for Ballet mécanique was never actually performed with the film on its release. In 1999, Paul D. Lehrman reconstructed the score (which included multiple player pianos and mechanical sounds) to sync with the film; we present that reconstruction, as recorded on the Unseen Cinema DVD collection, with our print tonight. (c. 16 mins, Silent, 35mm, PFA Collection. We thank Bruce Posner, Anthology Film Archives, Paul D. Lehrman, Charles Amirkhanian, and G. Shirmer Inc. for permission to use the score to accompany our print.)

• (Total running time: c. 99 mins)