modern times

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German title modern times
Original title Modern Times
Portada de Modern Times.JPG
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 1936
length 87 minutes
Age rating FSK 6
Director Charlie Chaplin
script Charlie Chaplin
production Charlie Chaplin
music Charlie Chaplin
camera Roland Totheroh ,
Ira Morgan
cut Charlie Chaplin

Modern Times (Original Title: Modern Times ) is an American feature film created by Charlie Chaplin in the years 1933 to 1936 , which premiered on February 5, 1936. In terms of content, the film, in which Chaplin once again portrays the figure of the tramp that he created , takes up Taylorism in the world of work and mass unemployment as a result of the global economic crisis . Although acoustic elements are used, it essentially continues the tradition of silent films .


In the opening credits, a second hand rotates over a full-screen clock. A flock of sheep appears, in the middle of which is a black sheep. Then workers are shown pushing close together from the shaft of a subway station into the factory, one of them is Charlie. Here absurd machines have to be operated, and the director of the production facility called "Electro Steel Corporation" constantly monitors the activities of his employees with a monitor system. The company boss sits bored in his comfortable office, playing puzzles and reading the newspaper, while Charlie and his colleagues work at high pressure on the assembly line . With the monitor system, the manager has direct influence on the control center and can use it to influence the production speeds of the systems at will.

Due to the rapid and steady assembly line work, Charlie already shows the first disturbances in his motor skills and coordination . During a meal break, an engineering team - in the presence of the boss - comes to the assembly line and wants to test a new invention. It is a machine that is supposed to feed a worker automatically. This is intended to save break time. Charlie is chosen as the test person. At first the feeding equipment is still running as intended, but suddenly it becomes uncontrollably fast and shows dangerous malfunctions, as a result of which Charlie is maltreated by the machine. The test of the machine is aborted by the disappointed boss, whereupon Charlie continues his previous work on the assembly line. The work only consists of turning two nuts with two wrenches at the same time, but the high production speed means that even small disruptive factors have an enormous effect.

After a while it ends up completely in the machine gearbox of the plant. There he is compulsively intensified - while rotating together with huge cogwheels - tampering with the accessible screws. Spit out again by the reversing machine, he suddenly goes completely crazy. With his two wrenches he runs after the secretary as he thinks her big buttons are nuts. When he reached the street, screwing wildly, the screws of a street hydrant distract him from the woman. But when a passerby walks by in a dress with fashionably oversized buttons, he now wants to continue working on it. A police officer who has been summoned follows Charlie, who runs back to the factory, not without ticking the clock at the entrance again . After further destructive acts, he ends up in a madhouse.

Assembly line work in the film, Charlie turns screws

He is released as cured and on the street sees a long timber truck losing its (usually red) tail flag. When he tries to get the flag back for the driver, he runs into unemployed demonstrators and gets involved in a fight with the police. With the flag first, he is pulled out of the sewer in which he was hiding and ends up in prison as a supposed workers leader. There he accidentally ingests drug powder hidden in the salt shaker. The drug intoxication makes him a hero: Without a clear objective, he prevents fellow inmates from escaping. While in prison he now receives preferential treatment in a comfortable cell, outside of it there is more and more social unrest in society.

He will be released. A letter of recommendation from the prison director helps him to get a job in a shipyard, where he accidentally launches and sinks a half-finished ship. He then quickly runs away. On the street, Charlie sees a nearly adult orphan girl about to be arrested for stealing bread. Since he wants to go back to prison anyway, he tries to be arrested instead of her. When this fails, he provokes his re-arrest as a dodger. Finally he meets the girl again in the prisoner transport and they both flee together. With his letter of recommendation he finds another job - as a night watchman in a luxury department store. They both spend the night there. After Charlie shows breakneck feats as a roller skater in the toy department, the girl goes to rest in a huge bed. Charlie does his rounds on roller skates and meets burglars, one of whom turns out to be a former, meanwhile unemployed colleague. The encounter ends in a frenzy. After Charlie, completely hungover, was dragged out from under a mountain of clothes in the department store by a saleswoman the next morning, he was thrown into prison again.

After a few days again at large, he is met by his girlfriend. In the meantime, she has found her own place to stay, a hovel in which both of them undauntedly celebrate the caricature of a petty-bourgeois life. Charlie manages to get a job as a locksmith's assistant in a factory. This time it is his colleague who gets caught in a big machine. Charlie feeds the trapped man during the lunch break and then finally frees him. But after the break, both found out that a strike had been called. At the factory gate, Charlie accidentally steers a stone at a police officer and is arrested again as an alleged stone thrower.

The girl finally finds a job as a dancer in a dance hall, where Charlie is also employed to serve and sing. Things go wrong with the waiter's job and he can't remember his lyrics, but Charlie proves himself with an improvised laughing act. He is then offered a permanent position. The lives of the two now finally seem to get into order. But then the official guardian of the girl wanted for vagrancy appears, wants to get her out of the bar and separate her from Charlie. Both manage to escape again. Finally they walk together on the street towards morning.

Production history

Charlie Chaplin worked on Modern Times in the historical setting of the Great Depression . Filming began on October 11, 1934 and ended on August 30, 1935. The starring street girl, Paulette Goddard, became Chaplin's wife a little later. The role in modern times also meant her breakthrough and, unlike most other Chaplin leading actresses, she managed to be successful outside of her collaboration with Chaplin.

The scene with Charlie's involuntary drug intoxication in prison was very daring at the time, as a voluntary censorship was ordered in 1930. This requirement, also known as the Hays Code , was a compilation of guidelines for the production of American films with a view to a morally acceptable representation, especially of crime and sexual content. The umbrella organization of US film production companies initially adopted the code on a voluntary basis; However, threatened government censorship laws made it mandatory from 1934. The code was never anchored in law, but films that violated it faced a cinema boycott organized by the Catholic League of Decency . It was not until 1967 that the Hays Code was abolished.

The waiter's song is Chaplin's version of Je cherche après Titine , which dates from 1917 and was composed by Léo Daniderff (poetry by Louis Mauban and Marcel Bertal). When the owner of the dance hall asked if he could sing at the end of the film, Charlie was embarrassed. His later vocal performance is well received by the local guests shown, but is carried out in incomprehensible gibberish. The background to the vocal performance of the silent film star was that this innovation in his repertoire was imposed by the production company.

The United Artists production cost a million and a half dollars. In the USA, this was the third best-grossing film of the year behind San Francisco and The Great Ziegfeld . In Chaplin's homeland Great Britain, the most successful film of 1936.

Silent film or sound film?

The “Movie College Team” rates Modern Times as the late silent film and Chaplin as the “greatest latecomer”. Modern times are considered satire on the sound film : sound effects are only used for dramaturgical purposes. You can hear the noises of machines, involuntary body noises and media-conveyed statements such as the instructions of the operations manager from the loudspeaker and the performance of the eating machine recorded on record. You can also hear the protagonist's lecture. However, this is completely incomprehensible; the gibberish to be heard is only given meaning through expressive gestures.

In 1936, Chaplin's fear was still palpable that speech films would destroy the ability to mime , which he saw as the basis of the art of film. As a result, every communication that is not mediated by apparatus in modern times (as in silent films) is mimeographed, which is particularly funny when the eating machine is presented, since its inventor could also speak directly the advertising text played on the record, which the machine is supposed to explain to the director ; instead, he pantomises his own words, true to the audible statement that a practical demonstration can show how the machine works better than any words.

The fact that spoken text is only audible when it is conveyed via apparatus creates the impression that only those “have something to say” who have control over the apparatus. Non-owners of devices, on the other hand, remain unheard.

Parallels to other filmmakers and films from the silent era

In Charles Bower's 1926 silent film He Done His Best , the filmmaker Bowers plays a man originally employed as a dishwasher who invents a fully automated restaurant that he can control via a large control panel. His film shows clear parallels to modern times , also in relation to the feeding machine in Chaplin's film. Like “the greats” of the silent film era, Bowers is an American comedian who struggles with the problem of the object, which he prefers to tackle with monstrous meshugge machines in order to devote himself to mostly surreal tasks. In his films full of bizarre ideas, he mixes animation with real recordings and creates amazing cinema scenes that have never been seen in a similar way before. Bowers took a pioneering position in the film world and is now often equated with Chaplin or Buster Keaton .

The film critic and essayist Frieda Grafe describes the relationship to the machines of the famous comedians in the silent film era as follows: “Chaplin gets helpless in its gears, Laurel and Hardy fiercely defended themselves against them and demolished them; Buster Keaton masters it with serenity and insight; Bowers is not primarily your adversary, but a designer who himself ..., devises and builds the most insane apparatuses and lets loose on humanity. "


Do the workers in the film "fight" with the oversized machines, so to speak against an overwhelming world of machines? The viewer has many options for interpretation.

The film criticizes the loss of individuality caused by industrialization through time pressure and monotonous work processes shaped by machines. The workers in the factory are depicted as jaded, only the main character reacts with human sensitivity to what is happening in the depicted work and environment, which is also expressed in the love story with the girl.

The machines appear threatening not only because of their size. Hungry, they suck not only material but also people into their wheels on rollers and treadmills and threaten to crush and crush the workers. Only with luck can you escape them again and then, so to speak, you are spat out. But not only the production machines pose a threat. When the tramp is harassed by the immature feeding equipment, the bystanders first try to fix the malfunction of the machine. Only when the company boss breaks off the test with succinct words is he released. The film shows clear parallels to the cinematic industrial nightmare Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang . If, for example, the company boss directs and permanently monitors his workers at the monstrous production facilities via huge monitors, then the factory worker appears tiny and intimidated. The sparse setting in the film has almost exclusively negative connotations: machines make noise, the time clock sounds, the factory director yells. Clay stands for power and the exercise of control, for an inhospitable and misanthropic machine world. Charlie, on the other hand, only opens his mouth once to recite a song in a fantasy gibberish in the bar.

The film represents a further development of the tramp role worked out by Chaplin in earlier films under changed social conditions. Against the background of mass unemployment, the tramp as a typical migrant worker ( hobo ) has become one of the many unemployed people who have to fight for survival at this time . In the film Gold Rush from 1925, poverty, hunger and longing trigger hallucinations in the trampoline, in modern times the industrial exploitation of humans leads to mental and physical malfunctions. The tramp, often tormented by hunger for food, looks funny in a familiar way when a giant roasting bird hangs from a tray on the chandelier while doing his waiter job in the dance hall. Food intake and hunger also play a role in the film overall. Because now Chaplin is contrasting the requirements of the machines with human needs. If Charlie is forcibly fed by the automatic human feeder in the first part of the film, later - in a mirror image - a colleague who is trapped in an oversized machine is at his mercy. Charlie feeds him food first, even before he frees him, after all, it was a matter of keeping the break time. When the man-feeding machine fails in its task in the film, which robs it of the nimbus of omnipotence over people, the viewer, when viewed again, reacts to the scene with immediate laughter. This laughter, which in the interpretation of the philosopher Walter Benjamin is always aware of the playful nature of the film scene, works as medicine against the shocks of modern life by relieving tension. The tramp is not only able to turn the factory world upside down, but with his comical body language he also demonstrates which conflicts industrial work triggers in order to immediately treat them with laughter on a sensual level.

Unlike in earlier films, the tramp is not alone at the end of the film and has become more complex. “There is another difference between the old and the new Chaplin that is very thought-provoking, a difference between the old grotesque figure and the new, multi-faceted person,” wrote the film theorist Béla Balázs . “It happened in the modern times, in the last picture, for the first time that Charlie did not wander out into the world alone, but with his girlfriend. The mute Chaplin was lonely! "

Production: Fords Model T (1913)

Chaplin on the film idea: “... Then I remembered a conversation I had had with an intelligent young reporter. He told me about the assembly line system that was being used in Detroit's factories. It was a harrowing story of how big industry wooed healthy young men from agriculture who, after 4 or 5 years on the assembly line, collapsed mentally and physically. This conversation gave me the idea for Modern Times . "

In Chaplin's autobiography you can read: “With the appearance of the sound film, Hollywood's charm and carefree disappearance. Overnight, film production had become a cold, arithmetic, and serious industry. The sound engineers rebuilt the studios and installed complicated recording equipment. Cameras the size of an entire room moved like primeval monsters through the set-ups, radio-electrical equipment was installed that depended on thousands of electrical cables. Men with headphones that look like Martians hovered over the actors like fishing lines during the recording. It was all very complicated and depressing. How could you still work creatively when all these technical things were piling up around you? "

Henry Ford mechanized and refined the principle of assembly line manufacturing by building a permanent assembly line in 1913 with the help of his engineer Sorensen and foreman Lewis. In his film, Chaplin considers the individual and society in their environment in radically alternative contexts. He depicts existing social, scientific and technological interactions and speculates - for example in his exaggerations about the factory world - about future ones . The film is rarely perceived as a science fiction film or, more precisely, as a future tragicomedy. Today this is also due to the fact that the world and with it the type of film in fiction has modernized rapidly. Today the film looks closer to the present and the technology shown is partly outdated. At the time when the film was made, when assembly line work was still perceived as a new American invention, the development and spread of which was heavily influenced by Henry Ford , viewers certainly did not get these impressions. The oversized surveillance monitors in the film are one of Chaplin's fictions of that time, today you can see them with different eyes.

As early as the early 20th century, critics pointed out the dangers that the new social technologies incapacitate the people subject to them and at least threaten individual freedoms. Chaplin expressed these fears in the film.

Lexicon of International Films : “A tragic comedy of bitter ironic sharpness; Designed with the simplest means, lots of visual humor and gallows humor, the film sets the vital needs of people against the exaggerated rationalization and mechanization of life. "

First performances in German-speaking countries

  • Federal Republic of Germany: March 31, 1956.
  • Austria: July 1956
  • GDR : 1978, shown for the first time as part of an “American Week of Film”.


In 1989 Modern Times was added to the National Film Registry . In surveys by the American Film Institute for the 100 best American films, it was the third Chaplin film (behind Gold Rush and City Lights ) in 1998 to be 81st and in 2007 78th place.


Political tendency

The film was assumed very early on that it had a “ communist tendency”. Boris Shumyatsky , the first man in the Soviet film industry, wrote in Pravda after a visit to Hollywood, during which Chaplin showed him a rough cut of the film , that Chaplin had created “a document that takes sides in the social struggle.” The film's title , which was originally supposed to be The Masses ("New Masses" was the name of a communist newspaper published in the United States in the 1930s), was changed to Modern Times . Because of its alleged communist tendencies, the film could not be shown for the first time in the Federal Republic of Germany until March 31, 1956. The authorities in the USA also observed Chaplin's " anti-American " activities with suspicion: When Chaplin traveled to Great Britain in 1952, FBI boss John Edgar Hoover made sure that he was no longer allowed to enter the USA because of allegedly subversive activities. Modern times was only shown in the GDR in 1978 as part of an “American Week of Film”.

The film critic Philipp Bühler attests to the film, whose beginning “seems to summarize the entire 20th century in one picture”, “unmistakably Marxist omens”, as Chaplin demonstrates what “alienated work” means: “The huge machines, operated by division of labor, produce nothing - at least nothing recognizable. The workers are decoupled from the product and have to function as a variable calculated solely on the basis of time, wages and labor. ”However, according to Bühler, Chaplin was not a communist. "Chaplin wanted to know more about how it is possible not to become a communist in these times."

The filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne write about modern times that the tramp eludes the industrial world and neither capitalism nor communism of that time could approve of this attitude. For him, drinking milk means milking a cow that is passing his house, but without intervening in any production process . They call this indicative of the essence of the film character.

As early as December 1935, the Motion Picture Herald magazine noted : "He [Chaplin] is certainly a philosopher too, not overly optimistic, but he is first and foremost a showman - as his great bourgeois fortune proves."

Chaplin himself was quoted in the New York Times in 1936 as saying, “There are people who attach social importance to my work. It doesn't have any. This is a subject for public speakers. My intention is to entertain first. "

Topicality in the 21st century

The tramp and the human feeding machine on Laurentiusplatz, Wuppertal 2013

Modern Times was rated "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress in 1989 and was selected as worthy of protection by the United States National Film Registry . In 2003 the film "out of competition" was shown at the Cannes Film Festival . The journalist and comics expert Andreas Platthaus asks the question of the topicality of the film in the 21st century: Apparently it fits "better into the time of Roosevelt II than in that of Hartz IV ". Nevertheless, Modern Times is the “most modern film of the season”; because it shows that one (like the tramp in the film as the bearer of the red flag) can only be "[d] through innocence, not calculation [...] to become the leader of a social movement ".

The literary critic Thomas Klingenmaier, like Platthaus, points to the changed reception of the film by viewers in the 21st century: The viewers of the time immediately after 1936 would have seen an act of "rescue" in the spitting of the protagonist from the machine. Today's audience, however, did not experience this scene as "liberation" of the worker from his drudgery , but as a "culling" of what has become superfluous from the deserted become factory.

If at the beginning of the film the factory director constantly monitors the activities of his employees with elaborate surveillance systems, today the informed viewer creates mental links to George Orwell and his dystopian novel 1984 , in which a totalitarian prevention and surveillance state is portrayed. The film gives the impression that only someone has something to say who has the means of communication that were still considered modern at the time.


In reference to the film, the English choreographer Jean Renshaw named a dance piece that premiered in Fürth in 2011, Modern Times . The French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre , Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty named their newly published journal in 1945, Les Temps moderne, after the film title.

Web links

Commons : Modern Times  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Johannes Schmitt: Charlie Chaplin. A dramaturgical study. LIT Verlag, Münster 2006, p. 112.
  2. ^ Marion Vidal: Histoire des plus célèbres chansons du cinéma. Paris 1990, p. 165.
  3. ^ A b c d Philipp Bühler: Modern times - man against machine. In: The floodlight. December 1, 2005, archived from the original on March 7, 2012 ; accessed on September 21, 2016 .
  4. TV tips for New Year's Eve (December 31st): Charles Chaplin remains silent. Arte shows masterpiece "Modern Times"., accessed on January 12, 2018 .
  5. ^ The sound film in the 30s ( Memento from April 23, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  6. cf. The last silent film - On the making of 'Modern Times'. ( Memento from April 12, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) in the Dirk Jasper FilmLexikon
  11. Grafe is quoted by Thomas Brandlmeier in Filmkomiker: Die Errettung des Grotesken , S. Fischer Verlag, 2017, subchapter: Bowers, Charley .
  13. a b c Dominik Kamalzadeh: The world in screwdriving. In: taz. June 2, 2005, accessed September 21, 2016 .
  14. ^ Charlie Chaplin: The story of my life , Reutlingen, 1964, Hoffmann & Campe, p. 385 f.
  15. The invention of the battle plan.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 2.2 MB) - The history of the Union Stock Yards at brand eins@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  16. Arnd Bauerkämper in Tagesspiegel Online, Getriebe-der-zeiten/20714198.html
  17. ( Memento of the original from April 14, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  18. World premieres according to IMDb
  19. ^ Uta Andrea Balbier, Christiane Rösch: Courted Class Enemy: The Relationship of the GDR to the USA. Ch. Links Verlag, 2013, ISBN 978-3-86284-098-4 , p. 155.
  20. ^ Arbeitsgemeinschaft Rundfunk Evangelischer Freikirchen (AREF): The calendar sheet . Calendar week 05/2011
  21. a b Fritz Hirzel: Modern Times 1/6.
  22. moviepilot: 55 years ago today: Chaplin's Modern Times enriched the cinema. March 31, 2011.
  23. ^ Uta Andrea Balbier, Christiane Rösch: Courted Class Enemy: The Relationship of the GDR to the USA. Ch. Links Verlag, 2013, ISBN 978-3-86284-098-4 , p. 155.
  24. ^ Festival de Cannes: Modern Times. In: Retrieved November 8, 2009 .
  25. Andreas Platthaus: Why we still need Chaplin. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. June 9, 2005.
  26. Thomas Klingenmaier: Modern times - sucked in and then spat out. ( Memento from July 12, 2012 in the web archive ) Stuttgarter Zeitung. July 28, 2005.
  27. Modern times. Dance piece by Jean Renshaw. In: Stadttheater Fürth. Retrieved September 21, 2016 .
  28. ^ Lisa Appignanesi : Simone de Benauvoir. House, London 2005, ISBN 1-904950-09-4 , p. 82.