The sound era was well underway when Chaplin conceived and directed Modern Times in 1936. The film's elegiac quality stems from Chaplin's knowledge that it would be his last onscreen appearance as the Little Tramp, a character that would always be the mute poster child for silent cinema.
The film itself is a pop modernist confection, full of the visual and political tropes of a much more radicalized era. The Tramp toils inside a huge, Rube Goldberg-style factory, a bewildering facility full of gears and levers and conveyor belts that nonetheless produces little that is useful. Modern Times has some of the most famous sequences in the history of the moving image, and some moments will be familiar because they have been copied and parodied so often. And as always, behind the irreverent hi-jinks of Charles Chaplin lies a deep and passionate leftist humanism.
Charles Chaplin's Modern Times will be shown outdoors Friday night, June 4, at the N.C. Museum of Art. Tickets are $3-$6, and the film starts at 9 p.m. www.ncartmuseum.org