Modern Times

89 minutes

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 opening sequence in Chaplin's second Depression masterpiece (1936), 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 have brilliantly observed, the famous shot of his being run through machinery equates him with a strip of film. Still, there's more hope here than in Chaplin's preceding City Lights, perhaps because this time the Tramp has Paulette Goddard, another plucky urchin, to keep him company.

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