BFI Classics: Modern Times

Author: Joan Mellen

Modern Times is widely considered to be Charlie Chaplin’s final silent movie (although it does contain a few moments of speech) and the historical end of his legendary Little Tramp character. The film uses the great depression as a structure for Chaplin to produce audience friendly laughs mixed with a social and political context. It has certainly stood the test of time, standing proud within the company of Chaplin’s earlier features; The Kid, Gold Rush and The Circus to name a few.

Within this lovely little edition author Mellen has written a rather interesting ‘making of’ companion piece to the main feature. Focusing on the effect the depression had on the people during the time, it’s an interesting piece of film history, getting a few bonus points from myself for being more than just informative and insightful.

The main draw for this book is that it looks past the critiquing of the film and instead delves into the history of the production. This is undoubtedly for all those film fans who appreciate the art of the silent movie and what went into crafting such a complex piece of entertainment.

Particular highlights include Mellen looking at how Chaplin achieved the famous (and most certainly perilous) roller-skating stunt, atop a high ledge. Even now, knowing how this sequence was achieved, it still manages to make many viewers hair stand on end (myself included). There’s also a deconstruction of the factory sequence, going into fascinating detail on Chaplin’s stylised approach to his character’s comical breakdown.

The book is also filled to the brim with various photos from the film, from advertising and some taken during the depression. Mellen really has excelled herself and written a slim and concise guide which any Chaplin fan would be proud to have in their collection. If nothing else it’ll help to pique the interest of those wanting to see Chaplin’s very last Tramp film.

Dominic O’Brien

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