The Chaplin Collection: Modern Times Charles Chaplin

Four Chaplin classics get the deluxe DVD treatment with this series of two-disc issues that delves deep into the history of the Little Fellow, fleshing out the restored classic films with documentaries, archival footage, and in many cases more than one version of the film. For Charles Chaplin — writer, director, producer, music composer and philanderer — Modern Times was literally the last gasp of the silent era, the last silent film ever released by Hollywood. Given its subject matter of automation versus human passion, of machinery run amok in the face of human experience — not to mention Chaplin getting eaten by a machine that looks remarkably like the inside of a camera —his message is clear. Modern Times is also the final appearance of Chaplin's beloved Tramp, and it's a different world than the Little Fellow — credited here as "Factory Worker" — is used to. As automation battles with human endeavour at the end of the Depression, Chaplin explores a variety of work-related themes throughout Modern Times. During one sequence, having been arrested for stealing food, Chaplin begs policemen to let him stay in jail, where at least he has a bed and meals. Less a full narrative feature and more a series of related incidents, Modern Times moves the Tramp through a variety of circumstances: as a rolling, skating night watchmen, and as a singing waiter, where the Tramp makes his one and only spoken appearance on film. Modern Times is, in essence, a silent film but it was completed more than half a decade after the incursion of "talkies," and Chaplin makes a few interesting concessions to the technology in Modern Times. There are spoken lines, but all of them come through machines: the factory boss speaks to employees through a giant television; a salesman sells an automated feeding machine via a "sales recording"; and important plot points are made through radio announcements. The Tramp's one spoken appearance comes as a singing waiter, when he's expected to entertain a roomful of guests. His vocal debut comes in the form of the famous "nonsense song," a ditty he constructs from gibberish Italian. The "nonsense song" gets a fair amount of attention on the second disc of this DVD as well, in the form of the complete version (along with other deleted scenes) and as a karaoke version that deciphers his syllables. In terms of DVDs, there's probably no one alive that's seen a better version of the film than this. The digital transfer, sourced from the Chaplin family collection, has been meticulously done and all of Chaplin's glory as a filmmaker is brilliantly on display. Silent films are typically dismissed in the modern age as the cave drawings of the medium, but that impression of Chaplin couldn't be more wrong. The sheer scale of sets on Modern Times is epic — most of them built on soundstages at Chaplin's own studio — and his masterful dance around the machinery, an industrial ballet, makes for delightful contrast. Especially in terms of silent films, context is everything, and The Chaplin Collection does an excellent and occasionally unusual job with DVD extras. Chaplin's career and the context for Modern Times is contained in a brief introduction by his biographer, David Robinson. "Chaplin Today" is a series of films that explores his influence on a range of other filmmakers — in this case, two French filmmakers, Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne. (Their connection to Chaplin seems one of the bigger stretches in this series.) This particular DVD concentrates on the industrial era, through government educational films and a musical film commissioned by the Ford Motor Company to demonstrate the wonders of its assembly lines — one of Chaplin's key inspirations. There's also a short documentary about a group of Cuban peasants watching their first ever film: Modern Times. But given the material, is a commentary from Robinson or a noted silent scholar like Kevin Brownlow too much to ask? Extras: "Introduction" by David Robinson; "Chaplin Today" featurette; deleted scenes; "nonsense song" karaoke; "Smile," by Liberace; "Behind the Scenes In the Modern Age" industrial short; "Symphony in F"; "Por Primera Vez"; photo gallery. (M2K Editions/Warner)