Category Archives: Modern Times

Moderner Times

2001 is a non-verbal experience; out of two hours and 19 minutes of film, there are only less than 40 minutes of dialogue. I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the sub-consciousness with an emotional and philosophic content. To convolute McLuhan, in 2001 the message is the medium. I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does; to ‘explain’ a Beethoven symphony would be to emasculate it by erecting an artificial barrier between conception and appreciation. – Stanley Kubrick
Where else have we seen such an aversion to “verbalized pigeonholing,” a resolution to remain silent in a fast-talking, fast-moving world?
Far removed from the bustling, chaotic world of a newly industrialized society, the universe of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey presents an elegant, civilized, and overwhelmingly quiet vision of the future.  Indeed, we hardly see any humans at all: only a few passing strangers frequent the halls of the space station, and the spaceships flying to the moon and beyond transport no more than five people at a time.  The largest congregation of people we see is in the lunar conference room, where a group of civilized adults calmly cooperates with protocol.
 But despite the outward decorum, elements of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times manifest themselves as poignantly as ever.
For example, eating – a strong motif in Modern Times – echoes throughout 2001. Eating in space is a purely mechanical process. Throughout the film, we see many characters eat, but their diet is restricted to blocks of unidentifiable edible matter (except in the last scene, where Dave elaborately dines, and the first scene, where primates eat plants and animals.  I won’t expand on these observations here.)  The scene in which Frank and Dave are introduced particularly reminded me of a scene in Modern Times, in which the factory boss considers a pitch to acquire a mechanical eating machine for his workers.

food eating times

We see Frank and Dave silently eating their food, as a prerecorded BBC interview plays to introduce the astronauts, their situation, and Hal.  Why would Kubrick decide to add this silent secondary level of perspective?  Is it simply a convenient expository tool, or something else?

Chaplin used a similar gimmick in the feeding-machine scene.  Instead of having the accompanying salesmen pitch the machine to the boss, a prerecorded voice lists its attributes while the men silently gesture.  Perhaps in this style, Frank, Dave, and Hal lose some aspect of their humanity- instead, they become advanced tools in pursuit of a larger mission.  In some regard, what difference do they bear to their sleeping crew mates, who exist solely as a collection of pulsing lines on a screen?

life functions


I found many other aspects of 2001 which mimic (or sometimes distort) the silent film drama of Chaplin.  In Chaplin’s acting, facial expressions are critical to his universality, and offer some of the most compelling and emotional aspects of his art.  This would seem to directly contradict the stone-faced, sharp demeanor of the astronauts and dignitaries of 2001.

normal dave

But what we see at the end of the film is an unapologetic outpouring of intensity and emotion, told only through facial expressions.

scream dave

And ironically, the only character who cannot emote via facial movements (Hal) evokes a visceral response from the audience through primarily visual means.  The sinister red light that represents Hal is unsettling at best and horrifying at worst.  Despite offering no real reason for concern when we initially meet Hal (and indeed, he speaks in a perfectly friendly manner), there is a certain difficulty in trusting a voice embodied by a menacing, unblinking red eye.


Though Modern Times and 2001: A Space Odyssey came out over thirty years apart, the legacy and artistry of silent film continues to live on- even in a genre as modern and futuristic as science fiction.  It’s unclear if Chaplin ever saw 2001 (he died about ten years after the film came out), but we can be sure that his sentiments from the end of The Great Dictator still apply:

 We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. – Charlie Chaplin

2001 a space odysseys famous match-cut 'bone to spaceship' - Imgur

“Modern Times:” A Title that Withstood the Test of Time

After watching Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, I began to realize that mechanized, de-humanizing labor is still very much alive today. Pegatron is a prime example of a manufacturer whose workers are treated liked herds of sheep more so than valuable human resources. Pegatron is a Taiwanese supplier that manufactures computers and other communication-oriented goods for high-profile brands. Although Pegatron serves multiple customers, they are best known for their relationship with Apple, who utilizes Pegatron as a contract manufacturer for its iPhones.

Although Apple is one of the world’s most respected and widely recognized brands, they claim to not have been aware of the inhumane working conditions Pegatron employees are forced to endure. It is not out of the ordinary for an employee to work a twelve-hour shift, performing monotonous work on production lines, and there have been instances of individual shift lasting up to 16 hours and workers falling asleep on the line. The average workweek consists of 67 hours, and requests for time off are often ignored. There have been several instances of employee deaths that are most likely attributed to long hours and extreme exhaustion. More than 50% of employees are hired as temporary workers, despite Chinese law mandating that at least 90% of workers serve as full-time employees. The manufacturer has also been known to provide insufficient wages and hiring juvenile workers. Furthermore, factories are located far from employees’ homes, so they live in dorm-style houses provided by Pegatron. Unfortunately, these living areas are very cramped and are known to be inhabited by bed bugs and mold. Exposure to toxic chemicals and a lack of adequate training and safety equipment pose even more risks to employees’ overall health and well-being.


After conducting more research on other manufacturers with sweatshop-like conditions, it is unfortunate that even Pegatron is a far cry from the worst cases of dehumanization and slave labor in the workplace. Similar to the factory in Modern Times, Pegatron employees are treated like machines; they are expected to perform monotonous tasks for long hours until they are overtaken by extreme exhaustion. Rather than treating employees as valuable personnel, Pegatron hires the majority of its workforce as temps, who are over-utilized until they “break down” and quit. Then, similar to replacing parts on machinery, the next round of workers is brought in only to be subject to the same long hours and harsh conditions. Ironically, the one human aspect of these employees’ lives – their living quarters – is unfit for human inhabitance. It is unfortunate that the title, Modern Times, continues to stand the test of time, as slave labor and complete disregard for the well-being of humans are themes very relevant today.


Buster Keaton and Silent Comedy

It is interesting to compare Charlie Chaplin with his silent contemporaries. One of the most significant is Buster Keaton. Check out this video on Buster Keaton by Tony Zhou, who makes great video essays on film:

I have only seen about three Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films each, which comprises my foray into silent comedy, so I can’t say I know much about it, but Sherlock Jr. is my favorite Buster Keaton film I saw. It’s on YouTube for free and only 45 minutes long, so check it out if you have the time:

From what I have seen, it seems as if Buster Keaton focuses more on impressive stunts and gags while Charlie Chaplin’s jokes are smaller in scale and more detail-oriented. I do have to say the Tramp’s simple mannerisms are more entertaining than Keaton’s. I love to just watch Charlie Chaplin just walk around or do any simple action. It is also worth mentioning that of course Sherlock Jr. does not bear anywhere near the same sort of social commentary as something like Modern Times or The Great Dictator. I found Sherlock Jr. much more humanistic, though, as the film’s focus was on humans’ dreaming of the ideal.

Chaplain in Communist Romania

I don’t remember my first Charlie Chaplain movie, but I do remember watching it with my parents and being happy that I could understand it even though it wasn’t dubbed. We still watch Chaplain movies, our personal favorite is “The Kid,” and every time my parents tell me how much these movies made them laugh when they were growing up. This may not seem like a big deal, except my parents grew up in communist Romania, and I was lucky to have been born a few years after the Romanian Revolution. When I was a kid, the Tramp helped them tell me their stories about life in an oppressive regime through comedy.

“The Great Dictator” (1940)

For my parents, the Tramp’s endless quest for his next meal struck home in a time of severe rationing and actual bread lines. To this day, my parents hate pasta because grocery stores would be filled with aisles on aisles of pasta and canned fish…and nothing else. Electricity and running water were never a given; if anything was certain, it was that the water would run out or the lights would turn off exactly when you needed them most. (I should also mention that they lived in the capital city, Bucharest, not some tiny Transylvanian village.) The shantytown houses Charlie would sometimes live in looked a lot like the poor village homes you can still see in rural Romania today, torn, tattered, and falling apart. And while most people identified Adenoid Hynkel with Adolf Hitler, my parents could sneak a giggle at how much he resembled Nicolai Ceaușescu without incurring the wrath of the Secret Police (if you don’t believe me, here’s Hynkel, and here’s Ceaușescu). 

Lines at the grocery store in Communist Romania.

How do you explain poverty and political oppression to a 6-year-old girl? Show her a Tramp who would rather go to jail for a hot meal than be homeless. Show her a dictator who speaks in understandable gibberish. Let her laugh, because she is too young to understand how tragic it is when these situations are real. 

I know these blog posts are supposed to be more research-oriented, but two points were brought up in class that literally struck home for me. The first was that Chaplain believed silent movies were more universal. I think he should have been less modest and insisted that HIS silent movies are more universal. The Tramp became a symbol of resilience in communist Romania, somebody who was staring into the face of poverty and still finding reasons to laugh. Because his comedy was all transmitted through his body and his facial expressions, his movies were incredibly easy to understand. His use of universal themes, like hunger and societal oppression, also made the movies translatable. 

Ceaușescu giving a speech in 1967. He was the dictator of Romania until 1989.

Another point we brought up in class is the ability of comedy to reflect on social issues. To be fair, “The Great Dictator” would undoubtedly have been banned in my country if it weren’t a blatant satire of Nazi Germany. Still, it struck the hearts of a people who were tired of hearing the ruthless leader of their country screaming on the TV for an hour every week about how rich Romania was when everyone was miserable and starving. Chaplain gave them a way to express their criticisms and frustrations with the oppressive regime. 

In that vein, we also mentioned in class how comedy is a fine line away from tragedy, as noted in the roller skating scene of “Modern Times.” One step over the edge turns laughter into tears. For my parents, that ledge was moving from the movies back to reality. But at least the movies gave them a chance to laugh.

I haven’t seen the film, but I have an opinion

Have you ever seen Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator? NO??? Well, neither have I!!

In all honesty though, I feel like I’ve seen this movie because I’ve seen so many clips from it I can pretty much fill in the blanks. Its the age old tale: Boy saves pilot. Pilot becomes stormtrooper (not the Star Wars kind). Boy grows up and becomes barber. Everyone has to run from a dictator who’s looking for jews. Barber looks exactly like dictator. Barber somehow manages to convince everyone that he’s the dictator and to stop this war of madness. A timeless story, no?

(If that’s not how it goes down… I repeat: I haven’t actually seen the film)

If you also haven’t seen the film (or haven’t even heard of it), it uses Nazi-like imagery and themes to help the audience understand that this is a commentary on the events that were going on in Germany and Europe at the time. Think The Interview but instead of James Franco, we have Charlie Chaplin. The film itself is very good, It even has a 92% ‘fresh’ approval on the movie-rating website Rotten Tomatoes. But I wanted to write this post because of my– and many others’– favorite part of the film.

It’s the moment of glory. The barber is finally going to take the stage as the great dictator to attempt to keep up his charade as the dictator, and he suddenly realizes what he has to do: he has to try and stop the war. While the real dictator was arrested for something absolutely silly like duck hunting (it is a Chaplin film, after all), the Barber is appealing to the crowds that he has made a mistake and he pleads them all for goodwill and peace. The speech itself is astounding. It takes a hard turn from Chaplin’s normal silly antics and is still to this day regarding as one of the most captivating speeches ever delivered. You can watch below:


You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men.”

Amazing, right? If I ever had to perform a monologue, it’d be that. Although it’s not very funny, how could you make that funny? Even Chaplin took a turn in drama, I guess.

I used the below articles and websites to write this article:

Charlie Chaplin- Can you hear me now?

What really interested me about Chaplin’s film, “Modern Times”, was the use of sound. Sure, in any movie the soundtrack plays a vital role in the overall message of the movie. Nobody ever questions why there is background music in movies, or how it started. The soundtrack of a film can either make or break the film as a whole. It can also give a film a different interpretation or overall feeling and mood.


As we all know, films started out as silent. In my experiences, silent films are awkward because… well, it’s silent! Back in the day, the reels that the film was projected from was loud and distracting from the content of the silent movies. So, this is where the film score comes in to play. Charlie Chaplin composed the background score in “Modern Times”. It’s quite remarkable, really, how a simple sound can change how a scene is interpreted. What really interested me about Chaplin’s film, “Modern Times”, was the use of sound. In any movie, the movie soundtrack and sounds play a vital role in the overall message of the movie.

For the majority of this movie, the soundtrack gives a feeling of mechanism and routine. It is very modernizing, almost, and the factory rhythms are emphasized through the rhythms of the music. Another sound we repeatedly hear is the noise that signals the start of the machine. This sound is mechanized, too. Imagine if we heard a horn to a clowns car or a whimsical sound. The machine would seem much less intimidating and large and more like a toy of some kind.


A simple example is this “How to Make Chili Cheese Nacho Dip” video. When making food or watching cooking shows or videos, there is usually a fun, upbeat soundtrack playing in the background. Cooking and food are topics that are usually looked at as being fun and happy. The sad music just gives it a depressing, sad and melancholy feeling. In this video especially, I almost feel like laughing since the music soundtrack is so unfit for the context of the video, giving cooking chili cheese nacho dip a whole new level of sadness.

How Important Was Charlie Chaplin?

Professor Jordan talked a lot about how Charlie Chaplin was and still is one of the most recognizable figures in history with his character of The Tramp. I wanted to look into it. Because I was never one for “silent” films, I didn’t really get the whole Chaplin thing. I mean, I know people have talked about him and said that he was important, but from what I saw, he was just another actor from back in the day.

A lot of what I saw showed that Chaplin was one of the biggest figures responsible for the transition of movies from what was essentially just a play on film to the medium we know them as today. As in, before (like we saw with A Trip To The Moon), the camera was in a single position and actors did their whole scenes in one take in front of it. Sure, the lack of voices meant that there had to be more expression, but that didn’t keep the actors from still acting in plays. Chaplin, even in a time when voices could be added to movies, made it much more expressive. The cameras focused on his expressions and his nonverbal communication. This was a huge impact for films, and still is today.

In fact, many actors still cite Chaplin as their inspiration for a lot of their performances. Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) got the inspiration for his “very funny things said in a very serious tone” style of acting form watching Charlie Chaplin. Even great actors like Charlie Depp try to emulate the great Chaplin in their films, and often have a hard time. Depp even had to do one of Chaplin’s famous dances (the one with the dinner rolls) in one of his movies, and said he struggled with just the level of talent that Chaplin had.

After death, Chaplin is still known as one of the great American actors. Many have written on his impact, Winston Churchill included. It’s ironic, considering that he was born in London.

Information gotten from these two articles

A Timeless Classic

When we watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on Monday, I was frankly prepared to be bored. I generally consider films from the 80s to be too old to bother with, never mind a film from 1939. But on Monday, I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was. Many of the film’s funny moments still got a laugh, such as when the coin landed on its side or Jeff kept dropping his hat. I was also charmed by Jeff’s relationship with Saunders, since she was the skilled and knowledgeable one of the pair and stayed that way throughout the film. Oftentimes the female love interest will start out being much better than her male partner, but over the course of the film he will somehow surpass or at least equal her skills and become the most important figure in whatever struggle there is (see Antman and The Lego Movie). While Jeff does become the focal point of the conflict here, he is still looking to Saunders for cues throughout the whole filibuster. It is his sincerity and spirit which make him strong, and it foils nicely with Saunders’ strategic mind. But in the end, it was the message that really made this film enjoyable. As we know, the American people’s satisfaction with the government is at an all time low, and seeing a film about a hopeful politician trying to make a difference is very heartwarming. And I am a little embarrassed to admit that I did shed a tear or two at the end.

With all this in mind, I recalled from the lecture that this movie got some heat from all sides when it first debuted. I did some digging to see what sort of reception this film got and found that, after the movie’s debut, the Senate majority leader said it “makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks” and the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain worried that the film would damage America’s reputation in Europe. The Boy Scouts themselves wanted no part in the movie, thus leading to the fictional Boy Rangers. This all sounds bad but there’s something to be said about the fact that we are still talking about it in a film class today and that the film enjoys a very high rating on RottenTomatoes, if that means anything, One thing’s for sure, this movie has definitely affected my perspective on what “old” movies can be.



Interesting Facts About the Great Chaplin

Though Charlie Chaplin will always be remembered as the eccentric screen legend, there are aspects of the Tramp’s personal life that are as interesting and unusual as his on-screen persona. Without further adieu, here are some interesting facts about the unforgettable Sir Charles Chaplin.

Related to his films:

  1. Chaplin was born on April 16, 1889 in London. Ironically, his birth was four days before  German dictator Adolf Hitler’s, who Chaplin actually portrayed in his film The Great Dictator.
  2. Additionally, though the film The Great Dictator was banned in Germany (for obvious reasons) it is rumored that Hitler himself privately viewed the film, twice.


3. Chaplin personally viewed his best film to be A Countess From Hong Kong (1967) which starred Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. Though it was his only color film, critics were not as enthusiastic about the film as Chaplin, viewing it as a “dismal, uninviting comedy”.

The view in Hollywood:

  1. Though he won 3 Academy Awards total, his only “real” Oscar was for Best Score in 1973 for Limelight, with the other two Oscars being Honorary Awards (1929, 1973).
  2. The project for his star on the Walk of Fame started in 1958, but it was not completed until 1972 due to his believed communist affiliations.
  3. Additionally his film Limelight, though completed in 1952, was not shown in the U.S. until 1973 (21 years later) due to his believed communist affiliations.

Relationships and Family:

  1. Chaplin was married four times, with three of his wives being between the ages of 16-18 when he married them.
  2. He had 11 children (8 with his last wife Oona O’Neill). His daughter Geraldine, an actress, portrayed his mother in the 1992 film about his life, Chaplin.
  3. After a brief relationship with a woman named Joan Barry, she gave birth to a child and claimed him to be the father. Though DNA results proved this statement wrong, the test was deemed inadmissible in court and Chaplin was ordered to pay child support.

Other Intriguing Facts:

  1. Chaplin once one third prize in a Chaplin look-a-like contest, which was probably because people did not recognize his blue eyes, due to all films being in black and white.
  2. Chaplin never became a US citizen, being exiled in 1953 and remaining in Switzerland until his death in 1977.
  3. After his death, Chaplin’s body was actually stolen in attempt to get ransom money from his family. When his body was recovered, it was placed under six feet of cement to prevent any future attempts.

As one can see, Charlie Chaplin was truly an interesting character, on and off screen.

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The Artist: Silent Film in the Modern Era

artistWhen talking about the transition from silent films to “talkies,” I can’t help but think of a modern callback film made in 2011 called The Artist.  Written and directed by French director Michel Hazanavicius, the story of the film tells of a silent movie star,George Valentin, who is struggling in a time when Hollywood is switching to talking pictures.  He meets a young dancer and helps her rise to stardom, but as the talking picture “fad” grows ever more popular, he is slowly met with financial ruin.

The film is especially interesting for two reasons.  First, Hazanavicius makes spectacular use of sound throughout the film.  There are only 2 times in the film where the audience hears diegetic sound.  Once is during a dream sequence when Valentin has a prophetic vision of his downfall.  He (and the audience) hears people speaking, but he himself is unable to say anything.  The second instance is at the end of the movie, when Valentin has accepted a role in a talkie.  The audience hears the movie being filmed, signifying Valentin’s acceptance of a new era of film.

The history of the The Artist is also very interesting.  Hazanavicius had been previously successful with comedy spy films, so when he approached producers with the idea of a silent, black and white romance, he was basically laughed away.  However, with his growing success, he was eventually taken seriously and went on to win a variety of awards (including 5 Academy Awards and Best Picture for 2011).  Additionally, he used the same actor from one of his successful spy movies (OSS 117), as he believed that the overly-expressive nature of the comedy would apply well to silent films.

The main reason producers were reluctant to fund The Artist was their belief that modern audiences did not want a silent, black and white film.  However, The Artist’s success goes to show that all the technology and CG in the world is no substitute for a well-made film.  Hazanavicius studied the films of the 1920’s and what made them good, and he used similar techniques in his own movie.  Movies need heart and artistry.  Talking is optional.

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