- Apr 24, 2006
- Charlotte, NC
- Real Name
- Matt Hough
Modern Times (Blu-ray)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 87 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Review Date: November 11, 2010
It must have taken a combination of colossal ego and unabashed faith in his audience’s loyalty for Charles Chaplin to release yet another silent film almost a decade after the talkie revolution had taken over Hollywood. He had risked it once before with City Lights in 1931, but that was relatively early in the talkie onslaught when sound equipment was still rather primitive, and he had emerged not only with a masterpiece on his hands but a big hit, too. Modern Times turned out to be a brilliant comedy, and it was the second highest grossing film of 1936, but its excessive cost ($1.5 million) meant the profits from its domestic release were minimal (though it was a huge international hit for him). It would prove to be Chaplin’s grand good-bye to the silent era, especially when, at long last, we hear his lovable little tramp’s voice for the first time near the film’s conclusion. The tramp may have been singing gibberish in his showstopping cabaret turn, but his meaning was clear enough. His time with us had come to an end.
A little fellow (Charlie Chaplin) has a nervous breakdown doing his part on a nightmarish assembly line with constant pressure to deliver with minimal breaks. When he’s released from the hospital, a series of unfortunate events prevent him from either landing or holding a job. During his travails, he meets a street urchin (Paulette Goddard) who’s a victim equally of the harshness of the depression and a broken home. When she finally lands a job dancing in a cabaret, she arranges for her friend to wait tables and perform as a singer. He has no experience doing either job, but he’s always willing to give it a good, honest try.
Unlike his brilliant storytelling and star turn in City Lights, Chaplin’s story in Modern Times is really a collection of extended comic sequences only barely connected with a gossamer thread of a plot. One sequence often has little to do with the scenes before or after, but each is so brilliantly constructed and performed that it never matters. They’re utterly hilarious in their execution, and when a section like the assembly line factory sequence that begins the picture is so inspired that one thinks it won’t be matched, along comes the scenes with him as a department store night watchman patrolling his watch on roller skates or the return to the factory as an assistant to silent comic Chester Conklin that are just as fall down funny as the earlier moments. The prison sequence introduces Charlie to cocaine, and its effects on him, so simple and yet so side-splitting, are what kept Chaplin at the peak of popularity long after silent comedy miming had been replaced with the mostly verbal jesting of comedians like W. C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. Chaplin gently comments on the depression’s debilitating effects on morale, and the lock-step assembly lines of the factories have that eerie Metropolis vibe about them that’s satirically unsettling. But the main order of the day isn’t political stances or satirical swipes at the bureaucracy but pure, unadulterated fun, and Chaplin and his fellow clowns deliver in style.
W.C. Fields called Chaplin a “ballet dancer,” not a sneer at him but his own sad realization that Charlie’s litheness and agility would forever make his physical comedy second to none, and it’s on full display in Modern Times. His instincts are as sharp as ever, and it’s just a pleasure to watch him work no matter how many times one has seen the movie. Paulette Goddard is fetching and fresh as the gamin, but a lovely face and figure are mostly all that she’s required to furnish for the movie. She always plays straight (wo)man to Chaplin’s clown, and when the pair walk off together into the distance, it’s comforting to know the sad little fellow has a companion who gives him unblinking support. It’s always wonderful to see Chaplin stalwart Henry Bergman in a small role (as the restaurant’s owner), and Chester Conklin gets some nice physical bits as Charlie’s mechanic superior. Dick Alexander’s physical presence gives Chaplin a physical opposite to play against in the prison sequences, while Myra McKinney is memorable as the minister’s prim wife whose stomach gurglings along with Charlie’s makes for a hysterical use of sound for the filmmaker.
The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. It’s a beautiful, pristine image that Criterion has delivered for the film with scratches and dust specks a thing of the past. Grayscale renderings deliver such exquisite black and white images that one will be impressed with the richness of the blacks and the bright but nonblooming whites. I’ve never seen the film have this much dimensionality and detail, and one glimpse at clips in the bonus features taken from older sources show what a tremendous step forward the image quality is here. Sure, there are a couple of missing frames (not a fault of the transfer), and the intertitles show some signs of wear and tear, but the film images are joyous to behold. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 audio track has been cleaned up as much as possible to eliminate signs of aging, but there’s still some unmistakable faint crackle later in the movie and a little light hiss, too. High end fidelity is sometimes a trifle shrill, and there isn’t much low end present either, but there never has been. It’s a clear and clean delivery of a very dated soundtrack, likely the best it’s ever going to sound.
David Robinson, Chaplin expert par excellence, provides the striking audio commentary offering biographical information and behind-the-scenes stories in an interesting and frank discussion of the movie.
“Modern Times: A Closer Look” has critic Jeffrey Vance offering a 16 ¾-minute overview of the film and its principal contributors. It’s in 1080p.
“A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte” is an examination of the visual and audio special effects Chaplin used in the film discussed by visual expert Craig Barron and audio effects man Ben Burtt. It runs 20 minutes in 1080p.
“Silent Traces: Modern Times” is critic John Bengston’s examination of the locations around Los Angeles Chaplin used for the movie (and some of his other films), often comparing scenes where fellow comic directors Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd had shot sequences for their movies. It runs 15 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
“David Raksin and the Score” features a 1992 interview with composer David Raksin who worked on the musical score with Chaplin, his stories of his hiring, firing, and re-hiring being of great interest. It runs for 15 ¾ minutes in 1080i. There is also 9 minutes of orchestral excerpts of the score that may be played.
Two outtakes are shown: a crossing the street bit runs for 1 ¾ minutes. The complete 4 ¼-minute version of the gibberish song with the last verse reinstated (as Chaplin should have retained when he reedited the film for a later release) is played, unfortunately with quality much removed from the brilliance of the Blu-ray transfer. Both of these clips are in 1080i.
There are three trailers: the U.S. version runs 2 minutes, the French version is 2 ¼ minutes, and the German version is 3 ¼ minutes. All are in 1080i.
“All at Sea” is a 17 ¾-minute silent home movie in 1080i shot by Alistair Cooke showing Chaplin and Paulette Goddard on Chaplin’s yacht Panacea as it sails around the Catalina area. A new accompanying score is provided by Donald Sosin. There is also an interview with Cooke’s daughter Susan in which she discusses her father’s two year friendship with Chaplin. It runs 13 minutes in 1080p.
The Rink is Chaplin’s 1916 Mutual comedy in which ideas for restaurant gags and roller skating comedy were first formed later used in Modern Times. It runs 24 ¼ minutes in 1080i. The image is windowboxed.
For the First Time is a 1967 documentary running 9 ¼ minutes. Projectionists in Cuba take a film into the rural areas of the country where the residents have never seen a film before. The movie chosen to show them is Modern Times. It’s in 1080i.
“Chaplin Today: Modern Times” is another in the series of Chaplin discussions featuring filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne focusing on this particular film and what about it impresses them so much. This 1080i featurette runs 27 ½ minutes.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
The enclosed 38-page booklet features a chapter listing, cast and crew lists, several striking black and white stills and behind-the-scenes shots, a celebratory essay on the movie and Chaplin’s career by movie historian Saul Austerlitz, and an overview on Chaplin’s world tour which had a profound effect on his political and social views by professor Lisa Stein.
4.5/5 (not an average)
One of the cinema’s greatest comedies comes to Blu-ray looking for all the world like a new film. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is one of the classics of American cinema, and this complete edition with terrific bonuses is a not-to-be-missed treat. Highest recommendation!