Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This Has All Happened Before: Modern Times

So I just watched the Charlie Chaplin classic, Modern Times, for the first time last week on Hulu+. The plot itself it not so strange, but the circumstances behind the type of film are.

In today's world where films are really being pushed to be 3-D, even to the point where films shot in 2-D are "converted" to push the marketing gimmick, it's interesting to see a film from the past that rejected the norm of the time (sound) and was essentially one of the last films of the silent era. Obviously there are films that came after it that used silence for artistic purposes, but those are generally disconnected from the silent era. This film is certainly not one of them.

That last paragraph is not entirely accurate, as the film had some sounds that were added in post-production, as well as occasional scene with a speaking role, it's few and far between and all the principal players are "silent" when on screen - opting for title cards like any other silent film would.

Charlie Chaplin's reluctance to give into the talkie phenomenon wholeheartedly makes this movie a hybrid, a "silent talkie," if you will. In some ways, this mirrors the reluctance to move into color or even today's reluctance for directors to embrace the 3-D craze.

However, while I enjoyed the film, I couldn't stop thinking about how the film was, even by the standards of the day, a relic already years out of date. Chaplin's fears that the Tramp could not survive in the era of "talkies" was unfounded. Considering his "Tramp" character "talked" (through title cards) in the silent films, I could have easily have seen Modern Times adopt sound and embrace it fully (instead of partially in just a few scenes), allowing all the characters except Chaplin's to talk. I'm not comparing the styles or quality here, but the above method method has been pretty successful with Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean. While each episode is largely silent, the character of Bean utters perhaps one or two lines an episode (occasionally remaining silent the entire episode).

One thing is for sure, I really hope that 2-D doesn't go the way of silent films for some time to come.

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