BIFF 14 - Modern Times - Cinema Review

'Where Laurel and Hardy were using and embracing dialogue to enable their pratfalls and do away with the accentuated gestures that necessarily drive narrative, Chaplin was sticking steadfastly to his modus operandi.'

Modern Times, showing on a Saturday morning at The National Media Museum's Pictureville cinema, was a joyful way to start my limited time at this year's Bradford International Film Festival, though I must admit that it is not a Classic that holds a particular place in my heart.

Whilst the cinema was populated by a scattering of youngsters, taken for a silent education by their parents, my own introduction to this era was Laurel And Hardy's shorts. Them Thar Hills, for example, is a riotous calamity, where the duo accidentally get loaded on illegal moonshine, in the company of a passerby's wife. The follow-up, Tit for Tat, sees our heroes open an unfortunately located shop, next to their new 'friends'. Made in 1934 and 1935, both are talkies, which continue to make use of Silent Comedy traits, rather than scripted laughs.

Modern Times, made in 1936, takes place in the hinterland between the talkie and silent eras. There is dialogue and sound effects in it, but rarely do characters talk to one another, or use dialogue to advance the plot. Where Laurel and Hardy were using and embracing dialogue to enable their pratfalls and do away with the accentuated gestures that necessarily drive narrative, Chaplin was sticking steadfastly to his modus operandi.

The shorts of Laurel and Hardy also make more sense to me when you consider the episodic plot Modern Times presents. The opening, which famously sees Chaplin sucked into modern machinery - a metaphor of things to come? - and ends with him having a 'nervous breakdown', (coincidentally, Them Thar Hills also uses Hardy's nerves to get the duo into a situations worth of a film) in truth has very little to do with the main plot of the film, concerned with The Factory Worker (Chaplin) and The Gamin's (Paulette Goddard) attempts to escape poverty, homelessness and generally being in trouble. In actual fact, much of what follows afterwards - including an episode where Chaplin is in jail and the two are separated - could be different films entirely.

The success of Modern Times when they are together hinges on their relationship and whilst Chaplin continues the comedy, Goddard excels at playing to our sympathies. Her Gamin is shown giving food to children, mourning over her dead father and escaping the be-suited child protection services, all within her opening segment. If ever a character was designed to engender sympathy, she is it and she brings the notion home with aplomb.

Modern Times is, clearly, about sticking to what worked in the old days and rejecting new-fangled inventions such as the failed machine that attempts to cut out The Worker's lunch break. As a tribute to the old days then, it proves to be great, at least partially because of the fact that it exists during a time when it didn't have to be produced as it was, though I would still take those carrying out early experiments over Chaplin's fond reminiscing.




The 20th Bradford International Film Festival runs from 27th March to 6th April 2014, with Widescreen Weekend taking place between 10th and 13th April. It is based at The National Media Museum, in the centre of Bradford.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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