Charlie
Chaplin’s Modern Times and Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera both study life
working in a factory and the cities that surround them. Both convey a story of
industry and explore the use of different cinematographic styles and effects,
ranging from the soviet montage theory within Vertov’s work to the use of
varied angle and shots within the Chaplin film. By exploring the ways in which
both directors utilise film form in their art, the audience is able to
understand how each director wished for the city and factories to be portrayed within
each film, looking from the seemingly monotonous work of a typical factory
worker to the excitement of the new age machinery found in the factories of Soviet
Russia. Although similar in idea, there is an evident clash between each director’s
view on machinery and mankind. Whilst one celebrates and the other attacks, as
an audience our position changes from each scene through the use of technical
effects in both films.

 

Following
the journey of Chaplin’s character “Little Tramp” into the industry-fueled 1930’s,
Modern Time explores the newly found brilliance of industrial machines.

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Throughout, Chaplin explores Little Tramp’s voyage through the modern times of
the 1930’s, the newly industrialized world. For the first part, the film centres
on Little Tramp’s occupation as a factory worker employed on an assembly line.

The film’s opening title – ‘The story of industry, of individual enterprise –
humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness’ juxtaposes the true message of
the following scenes in which the industrialized world functions in a mode
which subdues human activity and ingenuity. Industry work becomes dehumanized;
Little Tramp’s character is immersed in the factory in a continuous monotonous
action. Chaplin’s character’s role within the mechanisms of the factory
displayed in the first factory clip is a continuous tightening of cogs sent on
a conveyor belt. Camera centred at a medium close up on Little Tramp to focus
the audience’s attention on the character and his actions, Chaplin uses comedic
elements to highlight the continuity and monotonousness of his task. By
annoying his character with the wasp, Little Tramp is instantly put behind on
his job whilst trying to swat it away, portraying the idea that the modern industrialized
world waits for nobody and emphasises the inefficient work of humanity.

 

 

A
‘revolution by rejection’ (Stephens G, 2011) is found within Modern Times as
Chaplin gives the audience an artwork focusing on a monotonous humanity under
the rule of the industrialised revolution. Chaplin states that ‘Machinery
should benefit mankind’ (Truffault, P 2003) however conveys a negative response
to the revolution and presents to the audience the idea of enslavement to machinery.

As the conveyor belt at the Electro Steel Corp is increased to an unbearable
speed, Chaplin highlights the ineptitude of humanity in the contemporary machine
age. Little Tramp ‘crusades in the pursuit of happiness’ as he is ingested
within the machine. The camera pans out to display a scene of Little Tramp
entrapped within the cogs of the factories’ machines, symbolising machinery’s
control over mankind. Humanity is now intertwined within the cogs of factory,
portraying the dehumanizing effects of factory in the industrial revolution
(this is also seen in a later scene in which the feeding-machine feeds Little
Tramp steel bolts, presenting the idea that before the character is ingested by
the machinery and factory itself, ‘he finds the machine inside his belly’ (Castronovo, R 2007.)).

 As the conveyor belt is sped up, the tempo and
tone of the accompanying music changes to complement, creating a fast-paced
suspenseful disposition for the audience. This tempo and tone then slows as he
enters the machine, almost becoming lullaby like, as if balance has been
restored into the scene. This portrays the idea that mankind and factory are
now at an equal balance, instead of mankind ruling over. This is similar to
that in Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera in which as the workers work, there is
an accompanying fast-paced, lively track to convey the enjoyment of the
employee’s working. A balance is created in both films with use of music to
portray the feelings and equilibrium of humanity and machine.   

 

The
so-called “feeding machine” is another representation of Chaplin’s negative
view on factories within Modern Times. Chaplin’s protagonist has the machine
pushed on to him (highlighted by a wide angled shot to portray the largeness of
the machine, portraying once again machine’s rule over man) and is then force-fed.

However, there is a clear break in the power of machinery as the mechanism short-circuits,
only for it to gain more control to the point that Little Tramp is helpless and
injured by the uncontrollable rule of the factory. As noted in My Life In
Pictures (Chaplin, 2007), the idea of the feeding-machine had come to Chaplin two
decades before Modern Times, and is used to parallel his continuous message
that the industrial revolution of the 1930’s has lost mankind the control over
factory and machine. Instead of the comedic element of the film being Little
Tramp, a character that controlled comedy throughout Chaplin’s career, “the
feeding-machine has now become the comedic agent” (Stewart, G 1976).

 

Modern
Times’s negative interpretation on factories is contrasted with that of Vertov’s
Man With A Movie Camera in which the revolution of industry through factories
and cities is celebrated. Using a wide variety of cinematographic techniques,
Vertov explores the effect of montage and other cinematographic intensifiers
and effects to promote the industrialised world. Using Sergei Eisenstein’s dynamic
intensification, he cross-cuts fragments in a short, precise manner between
film of different types of machinery and the working force in action. By
cutting together images of train and factory wheels moving alongside the
monotonous work of humanity to ‘invite a natural and ideal harmony’ (Nguyen,
2011) between the two. This is also demonstrated in the flicking of film
segment between the woman folding cigarette boxes and the replacement by her of
the machine within a factory. Here we see as an audience an assimilation
between the two, accelerated through editing alongside use of fast-tempo
accompanying music, creating an equilibrium between both human and machine
labor.

 

Unlike in
Modern Times, Vertov’s city surrounds the protagonist with factories, the
relativity of space between humanity and factory is never large. By centring
the camera within two train tracks in the city, by having cars pass toward,
away, left and right around the camera and panning over the city filled with
busy people surrounded by factories, there is a constant presence of the
industry in every shot, once again showing a natural “harmony between man and
machine” (Nguyen, 2011). The scene in which the woman is folding cigarette
boxes is cut between However, it could be argued that similar to than in Modern
Times, these scenes which have been placed throughout the film highlight the control
and mass produce of said-factories, portraying the message that once again,
mankind may no longer have control.

 

The
Soviet Union was ruled by the First Five-Year-Plan, created by Stalin at the
time of the initial release of Vertov’s film. The film mirrors Stalin’s economic
plan to outperform the rest of the globe by working well as a force, both
humanity and factory. Nevertheless, the film does not end with the theme of
working hard. Instead, segments of film of “leisure time” are cut together of
the city. Here, Vertov’s dynamic changes from work to play, and we see an
equilibrium between the two. Factories closed, the camera focuses on workers
playing sports and enjoying time away from work. The film could be argued as
being a piece of propaganda for factory labour, demonstrating the ideal life of
both enjoying labour and leisure. This contrasts the idea presented in Chaplin’s
modern times in which due to the control of factory work over the city, workers
live solely to work, creating a dehumanized city.

 

Chaplin’s
dehumanized city is highlighted within establishing shots, in which daybreak sees
a clock tower dissolving into a herd of sheep and then to men emerging from the
subway for the start of their working day in the factory. The scenes “reflect a
kinship with the projection of daily routines in Vertov’s film” (Howe, 2013),
however lack the enjoyment of the labour workers in the city of Man With a
Movie Camera. Chaplin also explores the effect the dehumanized city and factory
work plays on labour workers. Little Tramp suffers a nervous breakdown due to
his inability to cope with the monotony of his work and to separate his work
from reality. Chaplin balances the comedic effect of repetitively using the
bolt shape to cause Little Tramp’s breakdown to lead him out of the factory
with the notion that the factory is everywhere and machinery rules the daily
lives of the workers. The camera is continuously following Chaplin’s character
however due to the use of a medium shot, we are constantly aware of a
factory-type setting, portraying the idea that he is trapped within the
mechanization of industrialised society. This is contrasted with Vertov’s
portrayal of the effect of factories on mankind in which the factories do not serve
in a manner which suppresses, but instead unites with human agency. Whereas
Chaplin believes that machines were ’employed solely for profit, they brought
only misery’ (Truffault, Chaplin Today) Vertov’s film celebrates factory and
its benefits to mankind.

 

Whereas
Vertov’s piece concentrates predominantly on the way in which editing controls
the portrayal of cities and factories, Chaplin’s use of camera angles, shots
and mise-en-scene depict his negative view on the industrialised city. Vertov theorises
that everyday things are ‘in fact, relative, including time, space, motion and
even politics’. (Tsivian et al, 1998). By utilising the Kuleshov effect, Vertov
cross cuts segments of film, such as hairdressers and factory workers to alter
the viewer’s emotional and contextual place and view upon the factories in Kiev,
Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa. The city shown within the film are futuristic and functioned
as an observation on prevailing Soviet ideals. As one of the Soviet Montage
Theorists, Vertov believed that shots had no meaning until a dialectic was
established between the juxtaposed shots. Believed to have become the ‘indisputable
axiom'(Eisenstein, S.M 1985) on which cinema had been constructed, it has been
stated that the success of Soviet films was due to methods of montage.

 

Both
Chaplin’s and Vertov’s works are silent films with little/no dialogue. In Man
With a Movie Camera, there is no sound except an accompanying soundtrack which
is used to intensify and pace the film. Vertov uses the music throughout to
intensify the rapidity of the constant cross-cutting of the montage and works
alongside this to portray the speed of the factory and city in play. The
accompanying soundtrack in Modern Times is also used for this, but is not the
only sounds heard. There are often loud mechanical noises heard which convey
the ferociousness and power of the factories at work, and we also hear the “voice
of the factory”, the boss, controlling its employees. This is not heard in
Vertov’s futuristic style factories as the film assimilates machine and mankind
working as one.

 

Whilst
the city and factories portrayed in Chaplin’s Modern Times are seen to run on
the power of efficiency rather than emotion of human, Vertov’s Man With a Movie
Camera celebrates its futuristic city life and factories. By use of camera
techniques, editing and other cinematographic effects, Chaplin and Vertov
portray their factories and cities in dissimilar ways, Chaplin attacking the
new industrial revolution whilst Vertov praises the mechanized Soviet cities
and factories. Chaplin challenged the idea of the mechanical factories ruling over
mankind, allowing his protagonist character Little Tramp to undergo severe
implications of factory machinery’s control whereas Vertov allows the two to
work in harmony, demonstrating a kinship between humanity and the modern age
industrial factory life.  It could be
argued that Vertov’s piece is a piece of propaganda of the previously mentioned
Five Year Plan due to this kinship and because of the enjoyment of the workers
in the factory. By showing leisure time Vertov could be intending to portray
that the city and factory life are together an ultimate pairing.