Nine years after the arrival of film sound, the silent cinema’s biggest star remained reluctant to leap into the new world. While City Lights (1931) was almost wholly silent however, Charlie Chaplin’s new film incorporated some sound effects and voices, alongside the by then archaic use of intertitles in place of dialogue.
Chaplin admitted he didn’t know how to make the Tramp work in sound, but his ambivalence about the new technology was appropriate to the theme of Modern Times, which distils anxiety about the dehumanising effects of mechanised labour into inspired comedy.
Sequences including the Tramp unable to stop his assembly-line bolt-tightening (to the alarm of passing women with temptingly placed buttons), or being conveyed helplessly through the cogs of a giant machine, found the director’s comic genius undimmed.
“Chaplin’s final screen outing in the Little Tramp persona sees him taking on the impact of industrialisation on the working class. Modern Times marked Chaplin’s first use of dialogue on screen, albeit in Chaplin’s typically adventurous, unconventional way: when the audience finally hears the Tramp’s voice, he’s singing gibberish as the character improvises the lyrics to a song. While the Tramp rotates between prison and employment and life seems a constant struggle, Modern Times remains stubbornly hopeful and hilarious.“ David West
“For releasing the human body into such kinetic chaos and comic élan, defying so many forces that would browbeat our bodies, our dreams, our movies into conformity.“ Nick Davis
“The 20th century in 87 minutes.“ Paolo Mereghetti