Modern Times | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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I don't have much patience with colleagues who dismiss Charlie Chaplin by saying that Buster Keaton was better (whatever that means). To the best of my knowledge, with the arguable exception of Dickens, no one else in the history of art has shown us in greater detail what it means to be poor, and certainly no one else in the history of movies has played to a more diverse audience or evolved more ambitiously from one feature to the next. The recent European release of his eight major features on DVD, digitally restored and with superb bonus materials, has been matched over here by only four titles so far, including Modern Times (1936), the second of his two Depression-era masterpieces--though viewing it on a big screen is required for maximal impact. The opening sequence of the Tramp on the assembly line is possibly his greatest slapstick encounter with the 20th century, and as Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne brilliantly observe on one of the DVD extras, the famous shot of his being run through machinery equates him with a strip of film. Still, there's more hope here than in City Lights, perhaps because this time the Tramp has Paulette Goddard, another plucky urchin, to keep him company. 84 min. Music Box.

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