Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Buck up – never say die. We’ll get along.

I found an old review I wrote back in high school of Modern Times. I used to write an essay for every single movie I saw back in high school, just for the fun of it. I kind of miss doing it honestly. But I don't know if I would have the time (or will power) to do it now.
I just love Chaplin. He truly is one of my greatest inspirations. I'd even go as far to say he's my hero (corny, I know). Over the last couple weeks, I've watched Modern Times two times (once over the break and once in a class), and each time I found something new I wanted to write about. So here's a throwback, I wrote a new essay on the movie, as inspired by my old high school review. I'm only posting this for posterity...I don't expect anyone to read it.

In the wake of a sound revolution in Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin was hard-pressed to drop his traditional silent act of the “little tramp”. From the character’s debut in the 1914 Keystone short Kid Auto Races at Venice up to The Great Dictator in 1940, Chaplin made biting satire and physical comedy a benchmark of his silent cinema. With there being no language barrier, Chaplin was seen across the world. So when sound came around, it’s easy to see why he was so hesitant to completely give himself over to making a full “talkie”. In making Modern Times, he even went so far as to film an entire scene with dialogue between characters only to decide he only wanted to make a partial talkie. By the film’s 1936 release, sound had been used in films for nearly a decade. Chaplin took a great risk in testing the relevancy of his silent persona. Later on in his career, well after Chaplin’s “little tramp” years, he said, “I was wrong to kill him. There was room for the Little Man in the atomic age. Modern Times ended up becoming one of Chaplin’s most beloved films.

The reason why Modern Times works so well is because the character of the tramp is such a timeless character. He easily fits into just about any time period of culture you set him in. The Tramp represents the oblivious bewilderment of an ever-changing society as well as those left in its unforgiving wake. Chaplin fine tunes this character as he sets him against an industrial man vs. machine society, radical political revolution, urban poverty, and other issues of the day. All this can be found wrapped in a light-hearted comedy. Chaplin always jumped on the opportunity to push serious issues of the day into a light where they could be laughed at and made manageable – this is his greatest accomplishment as a comedian and filmmaker.

Modern Times explores many social and technological changes and their effects on mankind. Many times in the film, we see characters reactions and behaviors towards this new foreign industrial society. Man is slowly becoming machine, and those who refuse to let this happen are usually in between jobs and living in poverty (the gamin). These psychological issues are often explored in Chaplin films. Chaplin dealt with psychological issues from a young age. In his teenage years, Chaplin’s mother suffered from mental illness and was in and out of mental hospitals. Chaplin explores similar issues in Modern Times. He takes on the idea of "bucking up". I think it would be safe to say that Chaplin would be of the belief that you can find humor or entertainment in just about any experience, whether it be good or bad. It's a very admirable notion set in a time when many were still living Great Depression-era lifestyles.
I find it fascinating how often we witness characters breaking down. No matter their role in the film, they are effected by this unforgiving man vs. machine society. The antagonist, a big burly man the Tramp worked with in the factory makes another appearance in the film when he and few other men break in to the department store the Tramp is working in. He breaks down crying claiming he is hungry, only looking for some food. The Gamin has moments of despair living in poverty throughout the film but has her big break down at the end after she and the Tramp have fled from the police. All throughout, Chaplin’s Tramp gives reassurance to the characters, and the audience. He leans over to her and says, “Buck up – never say die. We’ll get along.” She glances over at a grinning Chaplin and manages to pull out a smile from beneath the tears.


redneckzilla said...

You're right, didn't read it.

Dude you're going to be out here in two weeks. I don't even care about this post.

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