Tag Archives: Modern Times

Scorecard: March 2012

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

Yes, I realize this is now exactly one month late. I blame two things – the TCM Film Fest and how gorram difficult it was to pound out that Blind Spot review of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which I wanted to finish before posting this recap which includes it. But now it’s done and I’m already working on April’s, so hopefully I should have that ready soon. Though it is extremely large, given the aforementioned TCM Film Fest. By the way, I haven’t posted anything on that here outside of the initial preview – I meant to, but time has been short – but there are a few reviews and more on the way over on Row Three.

What I Really Liked

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

So after I struggled quite a lot figuring out how I wanted to rate and review this film (see my Blind Spot entry for it), it ended up coming in the respectable high 600s on my Flickchart, which is basically square in my “really liked it” section. I’m not sure I actually “really liked” it, but it’s probably a fairly good spot for it, considering how many sides of me were warring over the film. For the record, when I FIRST ranked it immediately after watching it, it was in the 1100s somewhere. So it has definitely gone up in my estimation with a few weeks to mull it over. Anyway. I wrote a lot about it in the other post, so I won’t bother writing more here.

1966 USA. Director: Mike Nichols. Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis, George Segal.
Seen March 21 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 621 out of 2901

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

This was one that was on Jonathan’s list for me to see, and I pretty much went into it knowing nothing about it. Even though I had no expectations, it was not what I expected. :) Mostly because I always forget it’s directed by Terry Gilliam – whenever I remembered that, the batshit insane things going on onscreen made sense. Er, “made sense” is a poor choice of expression. Nothing in this movie (purportedly about a journalist heading to Las Vegas to cover a race) makes sense, but that’s what you expect from Gilliam – and apparently Hunter S. Thompson, though I have no familiarity with his work beyond this. Basically this movie is a very long, very whacked out drug trip, and while that description doesn’t usually appeal to me, this movie is almost non-stop WTF fun. And it’s definitely the best thing I’ve seen Johnny Depp do for a while (“this here’s bat country”). Like most Gilliam movies, it goes off the rails at the end (how could it not, in this case?), and I had some issues following the chronology that made some of the later parts a little less enjoyable, but I really had fun with it overall, even if I spent three quarters of the movie with my jaw dropped going “I can’t believe that just happened.”

1998 USA. Director: Terry Gilliam. Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Tobey Maguire, Ellen Barkin, Gary Busey, Christina Ricci.
Seen March 30 on Criterion Blu-ray.
Flickchart ranking: 622 out of 2901

The Raid: Redemption

I first heard of this film after a few glowing reviews from friends who saw it at TIFF, who praised it for its non-stop, well-choreographed, high-octane fighting, even though the story of a SWAT team invading a drug lord’s apartment building is a little sparse. For a little while I was afraid I’d misheard and it was gonna be all guns, which would’ve been boring and just needlessly violent (in a boring way). But then the hand-to-hand stuff started, and all of that was awesome. So yeah. Just enough story to string a nearly 100-minute long fight scene on, and that was enough. Also, it was surprisingly well-paced for basically being a long fight scene, with some breather sections in there at just the right times. Definitely had fun with this.

2010 Indonesia. Director: Gareth Evans. Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy, Yayan Ruhian.
Seen March 24 at Arclight Hollywood.
Flickchart ranking: 991 out of 2901

The Hunger Games

The immense amount of hype and some decently cut trailers got me into the theatre for this even though I haven’t read the book, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Not that the film is a perfect one – the direction is lackluster and the camerawork and editing falls into all the traps of chaos cinema, using closeup shakicam and frenetic editing for no purpose whatsoever. That did kind of settle down a bit as the film went on, though most fight scenes were still indecipherable. And yet, I truly enjoyed the film anyway, because Katniss Everdeen is simply a great character, and Jennifer Lawrence does a great job of portraying her. She’s everything a hero should be – brave but not arrogant, intelligent but not infallible, trying to do the right thing, but often conflicted. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of her onscreen, so I’m hoping that Gary Ross’s replacement will not have quite as much affection for annoying camera and editing techniques.

2012 USA. Director: Gary Ross. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks.
Seen March 31 at AMC Burbank.
Flickchart ranking: 964 out of 2901

Possessed

This film has a pretty killer opening, with a sans-make-up Joan Crawford stumbling down a Los Angeles street in a daze, calling out the name “David” over and over again. She soon collapses and is taken to a hospital, where she eventually becomes well enough to tell what happened to her. The film settles into a more conventional noir melodrama, but as with any of these films, the interesting bits are in the details. The David she was searching for is Van Heflin, a man who she’d been obsessed with earlier, but who hadn’t returned her love. He’s basically an homme fatale, taking the place of the femme fatale so much more common in noir – he pops in every once in a while to turn the emotional knife in Crawford’s gut, with never a care in the world beyond himself. Eventually she snaps, falling into a schizophrenia that has her believing all sorts of things happened that didn’t, and the film is told closely enough from her point of view that it’s often hard for us to tell what’s real and what isn’t. The film may try to do too much, between the unrequited love, eventual loveless marriage, love triangle, stepmother-stepdaughter conflict, nurse-patient trauma, schizophrenia, murder/suicide/accident plot, and whatever else. But Crawford holds it together, and the noirish cinematography makes it often very interesting to look at. There’s a tracking shot near the beginning as she’s being wheeled into the hospital – her POV, so all ceilings going by until the exam room and two doctors pop their heads into the frame to exam her/the camera. Very nice, and alerts us immediately we’re in her shoes for the duration. That’s not an isolated good shot, either – the film is full of them. Not necessarily flashy or attention-grabbing, but effective and effortless.

1947 USA. Director: Curtis Bernhardt. Starring: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks.
Seen March 22 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 1224 out of 2901

What I Liked

Lilac Time

Capitalizing on his memorable single scene in 1927’s Wings, Gary Cooper played a WWI pilot again in this film, which is not nearly as great a film, but still quite watchable and with some very endearing parts. Colleen Moore is cute as a button as the French girl who tends to a contingent of British pilots stationed in France. They’re “her boys” as she feeds them, entertains them, carefully counts their returning planes and mourns for any losses, but when Cooper joins them, her affections run a little deeper for him. The film is really solid until the melodrama of their probably doomed romance takes over everything else, kind of ruining the great group dynamic the film had worked so carefully to balance for the first three quarters. Even so, it was an enjoyable watch, Moore was enchanting (especially in the lighter earlier sections), and it’s fun to see Cooper so young.

1928 USA. Director: George Fitzmaurice. Starring: Colleen Moore, Gary Cooper, Burr McIntosh, George Cooper, Cleve Moore.
Seen March 7 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1499 out of 2901

Rewatches – Loved

Modern Times

I ended up writing a whole long post about this film after seeing it at Cinefamily a few weeks ago, so I won’t belabor the point here. It’s in my all-time Top Twenty on Flickchart, so it’s pretty clear how much I adore this film. Even though I would probably now tend to favor Keaton et al over Chaplin et al, there’s not much that can come close to my love for Modern Times.

1936 USA. Director: Charles Chaplin. Starring: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard.
Seen March 14 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 19 out of 2901

Rewatches – Liked

The Circus

It had been quite a while since I last saw The Circus, which is sandwiched up between The Gold Rush and City Lights in Chaplin’s filmography and rarely gets as much attention as either of those films. And granted, it may not be quite as amazing as they are, but it is still a pretty freaking awesome movie. Chaplin’s Tramp runs into a circus as he’s being chased by the police (this is after a tremendously funny and exciting chase through an amusement part, with way more sight gags and baits-and-switches than I remembered) and ends up inadvertently becoming the hit of the show. But not all goes as well for him on the personal front, as he falls in love with the ringmaster’s daughter, who only has eyes for the tightrope walker. The story invokes all of Chaplin’s trademark pathos, and has a lot of magnificent set-pieces as well – the most well-known are when Chaplin tries the tightrope walking himself, and when he accidentally locks himself into a cage with a lion. This film is definitely a worthy entry in Chaplin’s filmography, and gag for gag, probably as funny as any of them.

1928 USA. Director: Charles Chaplin. Starring: Charles Chaplin, Merna Kennedy, Allan Garcia, Harry Crocker, Henry Bergman, George Davis.
Seen March 28 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 728 out of 2901

Sunshine

I still think the third act falls apart, though I will say I didn’t mind it as much on a second viewing, when I knew what to expect and wasn’t totally thrown off-guard by the tonal shift. I still much prefer the more meditative part before they find the Icarus I, but I can understand better now where that last bit was trying to go. I just don’t think it totally worked. That said, I did have a fun time this go-around finding comparisons to Apocalypse Now (I hadn’t seen it yet last time I watched Sunshine). Even with the third act let-down, it’s still a pretty top-notch sci-fi movie, and I like the film overall enough to still rank it pretty highly.

2007 UK. Director: Danny Boyle. Starring: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Hiroyuki Sanada, Troy Garity, Cliff Curtis, Mark Strong.
Seen March 24 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 854 out of 2901

A Shot in the Dark

When this popped up on Instant, I was seized with a sudden desire to rewatch it, since I hadn’t in a very very long time, so I made Jon watch it, too (he hadn’t seen it before at all). It’s easily the best of the Pink Panther films, with Clouseau taking center stage and getting himself into some pretty ridiculous situations. I will say, though, that the comedy was a lot slower and less hysterical than I’d remembered – it really takes its time setting up gags and letting them play out perhaps a bit longer than necessary. I won’t say I was disappointed – I still think it works quite well as both a comedy and a mystery, but memory had amped up the hilarity more than is actually the case.

1964 UK. Director: Blake Edwards. Starring: Peter Sellers, Elke Sommer, George Sanders, Herbert Lom, Tracy Reed.
Seen March 2 on Instant Watch
Flickchart ranking: 749 out of 2901

Rep Cinemagoing: Modern Times

The thing that makes me happiest in the world is seeing audiences respond to classic films with joy and wonder, and that’s exactly what I saw Wednesday night when Cinefamily screened Modern Times to a nearly full audience. First off, it’s awesome that 150 people will choose a Chaplin silent film over the hoards of other entertainment options in this city, but it’s proven to me again and again that Chaplin (or Keaton) will still pack them in at Cinefamily, as they run these films every year or so to new and delighted audiences. Last time they ran Modern Times, though, I think I wasn’t able to go. This time it coincided with my volunteering night, so once I finished taking tickets, seating people, and clearing up a minor popcorn vs gravity issue, I settled in just as the credits finished to watch my favorite Chaplin film with a wonderfully receptive audience.

I’ve seen Modern Times probably five or six times, but never before with an audience, and it added an awful lot to the experience. The film itself is incredible, and falls squarely within my top twenty of all time. Chaplin’s tramp starts off as a cog in the machine (literally, at one point) of a steel factory, spending his days tightening bolts on an endless stream of conveyor-belt carried steel plates. Slowing down piles him into the workers further down the assembly line, and stopping (for lunch) puts him into spasms as his muscles try to continue the tightening motions. After being put into an automatic lunch machine to test it – with hilarious results – he ends up having a nervous breakdown, losing his job, getting arrested by accident, meeting up with an orphan waif from the docks, trying to find a job to support her and protect her from the child services authorities, etc.

Every time I watch this film, I’m amazed again at just how much goes on in it – I forget that the roller-skating scene in the department store is here, for example, or the Tramp stopping the jailbreak. Part of that is because to some degree, a lot of the gags could be interchanged with any gags in his shorts; part of it is that there are so many moments indelibly associated with Modern Times and etched forever in my brain that it’s understandable that I would miss a few. But for a good chunk of the audience, this was their first experience with any of it. There’s no doubt some of the people had seen it before – you don’t get 150 people at Cinefamily to watch a silent film and them all be first-time viewers. But others were going with their guts, laughing as they realized the gag that was being set up (like the woman walking down the street with bolt-like buttons on the bust of her dress), crying out “no way!” when the Tramp maneuvered his way through hundreds of would-be factory works to get the last job, gasping when Chaplin pulled off a particularly flashy stunt, like rollerskating blindfolded three inches from a precipitous drop.

All these story elements still work, and some of them work even better now, because we know that if someone did the roller-skating scene today, they’d be in no danger. The drop would be green-screened in, or Chaplin would be on wires that would later be digitally removed, or there would be a trained stuntman taking his place. But we know instinctively watching this scene that Chaplin really did this stunt, that he really was skating that close to the edge, and that he really could’ve fallen. There’s a wonder to that knowledge that lasts throughout the ages.

But Modern Times is far more than treacherous stunts – in fact, it depends on them far less than some of Chaplin’s earlier films, or Keaton’s films, or the virtuoso third act of Lloyd’s Safety Last. All the other gags continue to work as well, even the ones that have lost some amount of context over the years. We may not know about the labor disputes of the 1930s or the communist rallies, but it’s pretty clear what’s going on in all those parts, and Chaplin’s unwitting involvement in them is imminently understandable. Even the kids scattered throughout the audience were totally on board – one near me was jabbering nonstop about the nonsense song as his family left the theatre after the show. He was fascinated and trying to figure out what language it was in.

Speaking of the nonsense song, I’m so used to thinking of Modern Times as “the last silent movie” (at least, that last one that actually has some valid claim on the term outside of homage or imitation) that I forget how much synchronized sound it really has. Besides the song – which is the first time Chaplin was ever heard on screen – there are sound effects scattered throughout, especially in the factory sequences, and the factory boss speaks audibly through his intercom several times to tell the foreman to speed up production. Of course, Chaplin’s making a statement with this: as he clings to silence seven years longer than everyone else, he associates sound within his film with the mechanized “progress” of technology. Factory owners use sound; the Tramp and the waif and other ordinary, working-class people do not. When the Tramp does express himself audibly, he sings nonsense – words that make no sense in any language (to answer the kid’s question, it’s mostly based on French, but seems to have some Italian-sounding stuff in there, too). It’s hilarious, and a success for the Tramp’s hopeful singing waiter-wannabe, but the subtext is clear: audible language is either mechanized and oppressive, or gibberish. Neither holds a candle to what Chaplin does with silence. (Of course, with The Great Dictator four years later, he proved he could speechify with the best of them.)

Though it should be noted that like any other silent film, Modern Times is never silent, even when it is, because it has a nearly omnipresent and absolutely perfect score, written by Chaplin himself. Chaplin often wrote his own scores for his films, or at least themes meant to be provided to the theatre’s musician, going way back into the 1920s. He was actually in the vanguard of providing specific music to be used along with his films, though the practice was fairly common by the late 1920s. In fact, Modern Times uses music much more fully and expressively than most sound films did in 1936, using the love theme judiciously to build pathos at just the right places. The words to the theme are never used in the film, but it became a popular song of the time:

Smile
Tho’ your heart is aching
Smile
Even tho’ it’s breaking

When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by
If you
Smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining thru for you.

Light up your face with gladness
Hide ev’ry trace of sadness
Altho’ a tear maybe ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile
What’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just smile.

These days, Chaplin is often scoffed at for his sentimentality, and it’s easy to see why modern audiences often gravitate towards the stoic Buster Keaton instead. Even I do most of the time. But here, Chaplin’s pathos is so perfectly pitched, and balanced so well with the humor and with the Metropolis-lite satire on a mechanistic society, that it works splendidly. I can’t watch Chaplin and Paulette Goddard walk off into the sunset without getting a well-earned tear in my eye. Speaking of Goddard just briefly, with all the praise of the actors in The Artist for imitating silent acting styles so well (and I think they do), it’s even more refreshing to watch Goddard, who started in movies right at the turn from silent to sound, simply inhabit her anachronistic character, darting furtive glances around with her whole being, acting with every part of her body to get that dynamic movement that sound films lost almost immediately.

Everyone in the theatre had smiles radiating from their faces as they walked out of the theatre, everyone from the people who come to Cinefamily’s silent film presentations every week to the families with children who might’ve been seeing their first silent film, to college-age students and jaded film bloggers like me. I almost didn’t stay to watch the film. After all, I thought, I’ve seen this half a dozen times. Mightn’t my time waiting until it’s time to take tickets for the next screening be better spent studying up on golden era exhibition for a post I’m planning, or working on my Blind Spot review of The Virgin Spring, or catching up on everyone’s blogs? But no. I made the right decision, because sharing a movie you love with a large group of appreciative viewers in a big-screen setting is always the right thing to do.

A few more clips to leave you with (click the link to open in a lightbox):

Working at the factory assembly line
Being mauled by the eating machine
The gorgeous finale