Modern Times, Week 3

Modern Times definitely showed a good deal of repetition with the themes and events. One of the more explicit features was the music: you could always tell what was happening in the scene by the tempo of the music, which was very appropriately matched with the emotion and energy of the scene. While Chaplin was always accidentally getting himself into trouble, there was always some upbeat and lively music playing as the soundtrack to his shenanigans. Meanwhile, the orphan girl who was misbehaving just to put food on the table was accompanied typically by more depressing or slow music. It was rather cyclical as Chaplin kept going back to jail and the girl was always there waiting for him to get out (although the nature of the relationship was rather confusing to me).

Another repetitive theme in Modern Times is Chaplin being the “black sheep.” After being intrigued and slightly perplexed by the opening scene (the herd of sheep and one black sheep), I quickly started to make the symbolic connection. Chaplin was always dressed differently, slightly smaller, had different facial expressions and body language, etc. than the rest of the characters that surrounded him. He was always getting himself into all sorts of trouble to the point where you were SHOCKED that he didn’t roller-skate right off that construction site in the mall. Slowly, the viewers witness Chaplin getting small victories though, only to be let down again and again. This continues until the end when he finally achieves happiness and the simplicity that he and the somewhat mysterious girl have been trying to achieve the whole time.

These cyclical themes hold true to a rather implicit meaning. To me, the silence played a big part in this form. Chaplin goes through the whole film unable to fit in and unable to be successful, even with mundane tasks such as factory work and apprenticeship. But at the end, when he is finally successful, it is by singing of all things. You hear his voice finally and he is singing! And what do you know…he’s a great success and everybody loves him. He uses the creative outlet to find something he was good at and I think that shows that for some people, the run-of-the-mill jobs just aren’t going to work. Chaplin is simply the black sheep standing up for all the black sheep out there.

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3 thoughts on “Modern Times, Week 3

  1. I also felt that the music played such an essential role in portraying the events in the movie. The music moves the audience’s emotions so that they feel like they are part of the movie. When the tempo of the music speeds up, we know that something suspenseful is happening, like the chase scene between the Tramp and the police. If the tempo of the music was slow, than we would be expecting something much less dramatic to happen. However, it wouldn’t make any sense to put slow music in a fast paced action scene. Music is undeniably one of the most important aspects of this film, and every film for that matter. What would a film be without music? It would be odd to sit and watch a movie that had no music. The music of the film heightens our emotions and keeps us on the edge of suspense, even if the storyline isn’t a very dramatic one.

  2. I think you make an interesting point when you say that when we finally hear his voice, it is through song of all things. It really drives home the idea that “Actions speak louder than words” is an explicit meaning of this film. Though he is technically no longer silent, he is singing in another language, significantly one that most of his viewers do not speak. He sings, dances and basically just performs the words he is saying, rather than speaking. Ultimately, we have little idea of what he is actually saying, but it does not matter; we get the idea because even though he has not really spoken, his actions and tone of voice convey the feeling that we’re supposed to get from the scene.

    In response to tianatristram’s comment, I think that your point is very valid as well. Something I noticed was that (I forget exactly what part of the movie this was in) when The Tramp and his lady friend were speaking to another character, the music would change depending on who was speaking. Once again, even though we didn’t know what was actually being said, we got a feel for it by the music that played while each person spoke. Also, we got a better feel for each character; music that was a little sillier was played for the Tramp vs more the more dainty music played for the woman.

  3. I disagree that at the end he “finally achieves happiness and the simplicity that he and the somewhat mysterious girl have been trying to achieve the whole time” because he is 1) still homeless, 2) still broke, 3) still hungry, 4) still unemployed.

    It seemed as though he and the girl were leaving town to find work elsewhere—work which may not exist. In my opinion, I think he ended the movie with more troubles than he started the movie with.

    I agree that the silence played a big part in the film, and I found it interesting that not one single person commented or posted about Chaplin’s boss in the first sequence—he was the only person in the entire movie who spoke, wasn’t he? Charlie later sang, which was shocking because there were very few words vocalized in the film, but he didn’t actually speak. Only Charlie’s first boss spoke, and I wonder why that is. I thought about why Chaplin would decide to let only one person, someone completely unimportant in the grand scheme of things, speak in the entire movie. I thought maybe Chaplin was trying to send a message that maybe speech was mundane or dogmatic or limiting.. or perhaps that speech showed who was in control or had the power in a relationship; the boss spoke to his worker pulling the levers, but the lever operator never responded. He simply took orders. This showed that the boss had the power because he was the one speaking. But then I realized that if Chaplin were really trying to send that message, he would have given all of Chaplin’s bosses the ability to speak, and he didn’t do that (correct me if I’m wrong?). So now I’m of the idea that Chaplin maybe at first had had a plan for who was going to have speech and what message that was going to send would be but later changed his mind or didn’t see his plan to the end, so we just have this artifact of a thought left over that is completely out-of-place and irrelevant and should have been edited out or re-shot. What do you think?

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