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Modern Times (1936) - Blu-ray Review

5 Stars


Modern times Blu-ray Review

The fact that Modern Times, originally released in 1936, was made ten years after The Jazz Singer, the first official ‘talkie’ from the motion picture industry, speaks volumes about Charlie Chaplin’s dedication to entertaining his audience. The fact that the film worked and continues to work speaks even more to his immortal artistry as a filmmaker. Modern Times is that rare film that can stimulate the emotions as well as the intelligence. Thematically, it’s a near-perfect balancing act; pitting Chaplin’s own adolescence as the Little Tramp against his political burgeoning as a socialist.  Yet, the politics don’t take over the picture; Chaplin’s heart does in this - his final - silent feature.

Chaplin, once again returning as the iconic Little Tramp, works as an inept factory worker who is fortunate enough to have a job during bleak economic times. He does his job tirelessly, that is until he goes stark raving mad at the idea of twisting anymore buttons on the assembly line. The industry – his job – has dehumanized him and turned him into just another cog in the factory’s big machine. His capitalist boss doesn’t care and chooses him for his feeding machine experiment in order to eliminate the lunch hour. The ballet insanity it causes in the factory results in the Tramp’s departure, subsequent arrest, and injection into the urban chaos and the labor unrest that is the Great Depression. Infatuated with a poor woman – a gamine – from the streets (Paulette Goddard), the Little Tramp discovers all too quickly the true cost of compassion during touch economic times.

Chaplin, who never had previously worked from a script, always created his films from within the camera. The rehearsal of ideas proved what worked. This fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants mentality always provided him with enough gusto and gags to win over audiences, but – ever the modernist – he himself knew the times were changing. The Great Depression was afoot and Chaplin, saddled with a strict economic budget, was forced to change that ‘anything goes’ mentality with the design of Modern Times. He does so successfully, proving to his critics that he could follow the rules with above average results. There is a structure to the film; a structure that can only be rivaled by its staging and its invention.  Chaplin’s physical passage through the machine is an example of this backboned bravado; his social conditioning of clocking back into work while being chased by a police officer is another example of this structure.

Yet, what remains a constant throughout Modern Times is the humanity of the Tramp against the mechanical entrapments of the modern world. Everything is rigid, automated, and even minimal, yet all emotion is simply stripped from daily life. The Little Tramp is the exception; his pathos for the suffering of his brothers and sisters is echoed as he strives to provide for the gamine.  Audiences who suggest the film is simply one two-reel gag after another aren’t seeing the overall construct of its mechanics; they aren’t sensing the humanity Chaplin injected the soul-crushing reality of The Great Depression – at least on camera - with.

Stacked with transmitted voices and sound effects, Modern Times is not your traditional silent film. True, it is without dialogue, but, with a score written specifically for the film by Chaplin and Alfred Newman, one can hardly suggest the film is one of silence.  It is not. Simply put, it buzzes with effective examples of how sound elements can raise the experience of a film; a good lesson for today’s filmmakers who overstuff their films with sound. From gags about gas and digestion to the mechanisms of cold technology, Modern Times is anything but your typical silent film. What it is, though, is the last time audiences – after 70 films – would ever see their beloved Little Tramp character again.


Component Grades
Movie
 
Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars
 
5 Stars
     
Blu-ray Experience
5 Stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - November 16, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
English: LPCM Mono
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

Modern Times arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion and their performance in the handling of this release is top notch.  Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and encoded with MPEG-4 AVC, this 1080p transfer is simply superb.  Detail is crisp and the contrast levels are equally impressive.  Chaplin loved to shoot Goddard with a close-up and those close-ups – especially with this transfer – reveal nothing but her beauty.  Fantastic!!  The English LPCM 1.0 track is very powerful and all blips from the source material have been removed using Pro Tools HD.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • There is an engrossing commentary provided by Chaplin biographer David Robinson.  It is always interesting, very thorough, and consistently pleasing for fans of Chaplin’s work.

Special Features:

The supplemental features on the disc include a 40-page illustrated booklet. It contains Saul Austerlitz's essay "Exit the Tramp" and Lisa Stein's essay "Chaplin Sees the World", both are informative and fascinating. The supplemental features are groundbreaking with their knowledge on the film and illuminate how some of the effects were rendered. The exhaustive and truly fascinating special features are as listed:

  • Modern Times: A Closer Look – A Visual Essay (17 min)
  • A bucket of Water and a Glass Matte (21 min)
  • Silent Traces: Modern Times – A Visual Essay (16 min)
  • David Raksin and the Score (from 1992) - (16 min)
  • Two Bits: Crossing the Street (2 min) & The Tramp's Song (5 min)
  • Three Trailers for Modern Times
  • All at Sea & Susan Cooke Kittredge Interview - Silent film (18 min) & Interview (14 min)
  • The Rink (25 min)
  • For the First Time (10 min)
  • Chaplin Today: "Modern Times" (28 min)

 

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