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Modern Times Case Study (Chaplin 1936)

James Clarke | Monday May 19, 2014

Categories: A Level, WJEC A Level, WJEC A2, FM4, Section C: Single Film Critical Study, Analysis, Film Analysis, Films & Case Studies, Hollywood Films, Modern Times, Genres & Case Studies, Comedy, Drama, Hot Entries, Key Concepts, Audience, Film Language, Representation

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The first image that we see in Modern Times is of a clock - a symbol of the workplace and productivity as Chaplin’s Little Tramp struggles in the modern, industrialised world of which he is so critical during the time of the Great Depression, see more on that here. As such the image is emblematic of the entire film. Modern Times is a silent film comedy that is as ideologically rich and meaningful as a wide range of far more ‘serious’ dramas about ‘serious’ subjects; as evidenced by films such as Schindler’s List (1993) and 12 Years A Slave (2013).

In one of our other FilmEdu resources we looked at the film Les Enfants du Paradis (1945). Like that film, Modern Times is, to some degree a cinematic negotiation of the emerging, tangible presence of fascism in Europe during the 1930s. Significantly, Modern Times was (mostly) a silent film produced at a time when silent film was beginning to really fall from favour, creatively and commercially as synchronous film sound that allowed audiences to hear the actors’ voices began to establish itself. If you watch the film Singin’ in the Rain you will see a dramatic interpretation of this evolution in Hollywood production.  Modern Times then is both comedy and satire and, as the title suggests concerned with aspects of life in the twentieth century and the relationship between humans and machines. Prior to Modern Times, another silent feature film, by another silent film ‘auteur’ named Buster Keaton, had been released, entitled The General (1926).

In this resource, we will:

  • Identify something of the cultural context of Modern Times;
  • Consider the film’s director as an exemplar of the idea of authorship
  • Analyse several key scenes [in terms of the micro-level features of mise-en-scene]. We will also give some consideration to the film’s reception upon its original release and over the longer span of time.

Contexts

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