Formal Analysis

Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” is a black and white film from 1936. Music is the majority of sound in the film, with a very few voice clips from radio or other media devices in the film. The music is purely instrumental and mostly fast-paced to mimic that of the characters. The only other way the viewer is aware of the speech or thoughts of the actors, is through caption slides containing brief quotes form characters or descriptions of happening in the plot. These caption slides are used sparingly due to the very active and expressive body movements by the characters, especially Charlie Chaplin himself.

Scenes are shot almost always with a full body view of characters, and characters are generally positioned in the middle of the screen.  Lighting of the sets is very spread out evenly from the ceiling and causes no harsh glares on characters’ faces. In many scenes there seems to also be light facing the characters from behind the director.

The character of Charlie is especially interesting. His attire and mannerisms tie the whole film together. This occurs for a few reasons. He is supposed to represent an ordinary man in the Great Depression. This can be seen through the many ordinary jobs he is given and common treatment (and punishment) he is delt for his actions. However, in order to stand out to the audience, his attire is ill-fitting, most prominent being his oversized shoes. His eyebrows are darkened as well as his unique mustache, and he is of a short stature. This comes across as comical to the viewer. Had Charlie acted and dressed like any of the other male characters, the viewer may not have understood this film to be comedic.

Overall, the film succeeds in making a solemn topic (the Depression) very funny. It is successful in this by basing its plot on the many ridiculous events that make up one “ordinary” man’s life. To give a few examples; the food machine, the camera screen in the bathroom at Charlie’s first job, the way Charlie’s nervous breakdown came about, the shack he was going to live in, the amount of times he interacted with the police in a negative fashion etc.

IMage 1: Charlie’s clothing

Image 2: Front on characters and overhead lighting

Image 3: Another ridiculous event in Charlie’s life

{ 11/26/2012    4 Assignment 7   

3 responses to “Formal Analysis”

  1. Sofia says:

    Your observation of how the full body of the characters is always shown in the film was very interesting, I hadn’t thought of that. It does feel as if we are always looking at these characters from a distance, and we don’t really get emotionally attached to them because of this.

    I also thought it was interesting that you said that we get very few captions because Charlie’s active and expressive body allows for very few text explanations. I wonder if all of the captions being used were absolutely needed, or if they could have used Charlie’s acting instead of the captions to show meaning.

  2. Su says:

    I also didn’t realize how the characters are always shown in full body view. I think it’s because it is mostly a “silent film”, we need to understand the characters by how they look, and how they act, or how they dress. The film has a very cartoonish manner to explain things, but it also maintains very minimalistic which I find very interesting.

  3. John says:

    See Life is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni. Making the Depression funny.

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