Sunday, April 8, 2012

Modern Times


Modern Times (The Criterion Collection)

#81 (1998) and #78 (2007) on the AFI List of 100 Best American Movies.

Modern Times is a 1936 comedy film by Charlie Chaplin that has his iconic Little Tramp character struggling to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and fiscal conditions many people faced during the Great Depression, conditions created, in Chaplin's view, by the efficiencies of modern industrialization. The movie stars Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Stanley Sandford and Chester Conklin, and was written and directed by Chaplin.

Modern Times was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress in 1989, and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Fourteen years later, it was screened "out of competition" at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.

* Director: Charles Chaplin
* Producer: Charles Chaplin
* Screenwriter: Charles Chaplin
* Director of Photography: Roland Totheroh

Chaplin began preparing the film in 1934 as his first "talkie", and went as far as writing a dialogue script and experimenting with some sound scenes. However, he soon abandoned these attempts and reverted to a silent format with synchronized sound effects. The dialogue experiments confirmed his long-standing conviction that the universal appeal of the Tramp would be lost if the character ever spoke on screen. Most of the film was shot at "silent speed", 18 frames per second, which when projected at "sound speed", 24 frames per second, makes the slapstick action appear even more frenetic. Available prints of the film now correct this. The duration of filming was long, beginning on October 11, 1934 and ending on August 30, 1935.

The reference to drugs seen in the prison sequence is somewhat daring for the time (since the production code, established in 1930, forbade the depiction of illegal drug use in films); Chaplin had made drug references before in one of his most famous short films, Easy Street, released in 1917.

According to the official documents, the music score was composed by Chaplin himself, and arranged with the assistance of Alfred Newman. The romance theme was later given lyrics, and became the pop standard "Smile", first recorded by Nat King Cole and later covered by artists as Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Trini Lopez, Eric Clapton, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Michael Bublé, Petula Clark, Liberace, Judy Garland, Madeleine Peyroux, Placido Domingo and Dione Warwick , Michael Jackson and Robert Downey, Jr. (included on the soundtrack for the film Chaplin).

Modern Times was the first film where Chaplin's voice is heard as he performs Léo Daniderff's comical song Je cherche après Titine. Chaplin's version is also known as The Nonsense Song, as his character has to sing it in gibberish (due to losing the shirt cuff on which the lyrics were written, and thus having to make up the lyrics on the spot). The lyrics are nonsensical but appear to contain words from French and Italian; the use of deliberately half-intelligible wording for comic effect points the way towards Hynkel's speeches in The Great Dictator.

According to film composer David Raksin, the music was written by him as a young man wanting to make a name for himself. Chaplin would sit, often in the washroom, humming tunes and telling Raksin to "take this down". Raksin's job was to turn the humming into a score and create timings and synchronization that fit the situations. Chaplin was a violinist and had some musical knowledge, but he was not an orchestrator and was unfamiliar with synchronization. Raksin later created scores for such films as Laura and The Day After.

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