Charlie Chaplin in a scene from Modern Times
Rage Against the Machine!
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra screens Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) this Thursday, April 14th, with live orchestral accompaniment. Like 2009's presentation of City Lights, it should be good fun, combining the time-tested appeal of a classic movie with the anything-can-happen excitement of a live event.
Three reasons to check out the WSO's presentation of Modern Times.
1. It's a fabulous film.
With Modern Times, Chaplin defiantly released a (mostly) silent picture almost a decade after the advent of talkies. Written, directed, produced and scored by Chaplin, the story follows his iconic Little Tramp character -- in what would be his last appearance -- as he bounces between jobs and jail.
There are some brilliant, hugely influential bits of physical comedy (the Tramp roller-skates while drunk, accidentally gets hopped up on cocaine, and manages to completely wreck several workplaces); a little heartstring-pulling (particularly the chaste friendship between the Tramp and Paulette Goddard's plucky orphan gal); and some surprisingly current social commentary.
Turns out Chaplin's Modern Times, in the midst of the Great Depression, are a lot like our own modern times. Chaplin examines the stresses of unemployment, economic uncertainty, and the often dehumanizing effects of technology. This ain't earnest social realism, though. He mines comic gold as the naturally anarchistic Tramp collides with the mechanized, standardized routines of industrial production and the humourless pomposity of authority figures.
2. There's live music.
Chaplin's score for Modern Times, widely considered his best and most demanding, combines snippets of popular songs (Hallelujah, I'm a Bum; How Dry I Am) with speedy, antic sequences and lush, lyrical passages. (The movie's romantic theme later became the Nat King Cole hit Smile.)
To perform this music live, all the while keying it to the complex physical action onscreen, is a real high-wire act. The 65-piece orchestra, under the direction of Richard Lee (who also handled City Lights), will need some nimble timing in the breakneck comedy sequences (like the famous assembly-line scene, in which the Tramp keeps falling behind on his bolt-tightening, with hilariously disastrous results).
3. It'll get you out of the house!
OK, I'm dating myself here, but I remember when going to the movies was still an event. You dressed up a bit, you went to a downtown theatre -- not a shopping mall multiplex -- and you made an evening of it. Watching a movie at the Concert Hall offers a bit of retro-style glamour.
And there's something about watching a classic film on a big screen with a big audience. Sure, it's nice to view a Chaplin Criterion Collection DVD in the privacy of your living room, but comedy is really meant to be a shared experience.