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Release Date(s)1936 (November 16, 2010)
Studio(s)Charles Chaplin Productions/United Artists (Criterion - Spine #543)
What a better way to start the festivities off than with a revisit to this comedy classic. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times may focus slightly less on the overall theme that it’s tackling and more so on the comedy itself, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant. The theme of industrialism and the struggle to survive in a modern world couldn't be any more potent, but it feels only slightly less important than other things contained within. The comedy itself branches out more into territory more familiar to the Tramp character: slapstick, situation comedy and prop comedy. His previous films and those that came after this one certainly have that, but it feels more up front than you would expect it to be.
We follow The Tramp’s plight as he’s thrown into one situation after another: working on an assembly line, trying out a new gadget for the company, and even being set loose in a department store after hours. It feels like a series of set pieces strung together with an overall theme, instead of the comedy coming naturally from the theme, at least to me. You can certainly see the influence that Fritz Lang had on the film, which may be the most direct reference to another film of any of Chaplin’s work. I'm not deriding the work by any means though, because what we're left with is another classic film from one of the world's greatest auteurs. It may not completely blend together seamlessly, but the visuals and craftsmanship of Modern Times is impeccable, while both the theme and the comedy are timeless.
As with most of Chaplin’s recent forays into high definition, this transfer was created in conjunction with the Cineteca di Bologna of Italy. Rest assured though that this is an extremely pleasing presentation. Film grain is completely even and stable, as are the frames of the film themselves. Jitter seems to be non-existent. There’s plenty of image detail on display, and blacks go pretty deep. It’s a very clean print as well, with a high enough contrast to get the most out of the images without going overboard. It’s not perfect, and there are some signs of possible edge enhancement, but it’s a very sharp picture without any major compromises to its integrity. The audio is the original mono soundtrack, and it’s just as good. It’s very clean, with most of the major soundtrack issues for a film its age gone altogether, including hiss, crackle and pops. There’s not a lot of depth to it, but what’s present is as clean and clear as you would want. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
There are also plenty of extras to be found on the disc, as well. There’s an audio commentary by Charlie Chaplin biographer David Robinson; visual essays by Chaplin historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance; a featurette on the film’s visual and sound effects; an interview the film’s music arranger David Raksin; two brief moments trimmed from the final film; a home movie entitled All at Sea featuring Chaplin and actress Paulette Goddard; the Chaplin short film The Rink; the documentary For the First Time; the featurette Chaplin Today: “Modern Times”; three theatrical trailers; and finally, a 36-page booklet featuring an essay by film critic Saul Austerlitz and a piece by film scholar Lisa Stein. It’s all pretty concise and informative, and supplements the film well. Overall, it’s another great Criterion release of another great Chaplin film. It may not be as thought-provoking as the next film, but you simply can't ignore the film’s charm.
- Tim Salmons