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Day 49: 'Modern Times'

Paulette Goddard and Charlie Chaplin in 'Modern Times'

It's easy to forget, but once upon a time, mainstream Hollywood entertainment was actually considered a real art form. Watching a brand new print of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times with an all-ages crowd, my overriding impression was...a) 75 years after he made it, Chaplin's Depression-era comedy is a shining example of that gold standard...and b) it would be extremely difficult to make a big-budget studio comedy like this today...or at least a successful one...

Today's high-priced cinema does have room for smarts and wit. For example, Robert Downey, Jr., who played a great Chaplin himself in 1992's Chaplin, manages to enliven his blockbusters with a confident, keen intelligence. And filmmakers a la Christopher Nolan consistently include thoughts and ideas in their lofty creations (e.g. - the upcoming mindscrambler Inception).

But there's a seamless blend in Modern Times between comedy and social commentary that's fairly unique to its time period. The story follows Chaplin's beloved Tramp character, and his partner, Paulette Goddard's orphan girl, as they run into all sorts of obstacles in their pursuit of financial/domestic stability...but throughout, everything's played with an easy, charming humor. Kids small and large are encouraged to laugh at the Tramp's antics regardless of the scenario - Charlie being trapped in an automated food-serving machine by his employers, Charlie being forced to sing for his dinner, Charlie being thrown in the pokey, etc. The underlying current of desperation, though, adds to its effect and touching conclusion - as the Tramp and his girl stroll off together into an uncertain yet hopeful highway sunset...

For all of the Chaplin fans here in So Cal, the American Cinematheque has a few more days of  these classic screenings left for your viewing pleasure, again being presented in glorious new prints that update the icon for our high definition era...check out the schedule here...and if you've got a particular Chaplin movie favorite, or other silent film era nuggets to recommend (Buster Keaton perhaps?), be sure to say so below!

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Next Article by Erik Davis

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