Sunday, April 18, 2004

I saw Modern Times last Friday evening at the Nickelodeon; the restored version that played last year at Cannes and to my eye a near-perfect restoration job. I didn't see a pockmark on it; no fades, no watery tones. I think it's my favorite Chaplin, with The Great Dictator; here again is the Little Tramp, stuck in Depression-era America, wandering into one pitfall after the next, always happily going wherever he's kicked, always bearing with guileless dignity each new indignity that comes his way. Of course, that's a little easier when you've got Paulette Goddard at your side, playing the "gamin" -- surely the leggiest over-aged orphan in cinema history. It's a critique of capitalism that is as scathing as it is sentimental, and -- as a basically silent film with title cards that also employed sound and spoken dialogue -- a fond farewell to an era of cinema. It's still hilariously funny, and eventhough I'm always the first one to say Keaton is better than Chaplin, and that the ending of City Lights is the corniest thing I've ever seen, I found myself overcome with renewed admiration. It has one brilliant sequence after the next: that Kafkaesque Feeding Machine is still just an absolute laugh riot.

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