My Academic Papers

The Art of (Not) Killing
The act of killing is, for most, not an easy one and is nearly always misrepresented by those who have not had to take a person’s life. The band Carbon Leaf wrote in the song “The War was in Color” that “This black and white photo don’t capture the skin, /The shock of the shell, or the memory of smell,… /The war was in color” (Carbon Leaf). People who have not fought in wars often perceive very little of what actually happens to soldiers and what they go through while fighting. War, like killing in popular culture, if highly fantasized, if not romanticized. But in reality, war has multitudinous effects on those who participate in them. From seeing comrades and friends die to killing presumed enemies, war takes a physical and psychological toll on soldiers. Perhaps the most impactful aspect of war is when a solider takes another person’s life. The act of killing in war is extremely emotional, morally draining, and can cause psychological issues. Though the military prepares a soldier to kill and to fight in war, each soldier reacts differently to what he encounters in battle.
Many soldiers who participated in the Civil War found it impossible to take the life of another person. According to Dave Grossman’s work including his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, many Civil War soldiers only pretended to fire their weapons at the enemy or would just continue to reload their weapons. Of the 25,574 muskets found after the Battle of Gettysburg, approximately 24,000 or 90% of them were still loaded. Twelve thousand of those muskets were loaded more than once, and half of those were loaded between eight and ten times. One musket was even found to be loaded 23 times. Grossman came to the conclusion that the majority of soldiers did not want to kill the people against whom they were fighting and actually did not even wish to fire in that direction.

This spectacular discovery does not just apply to the Civil War. Between 80 and 85% of soldiers in World War II were incapable of killing their fellow humans. Grossman, with much research, explored the reasoning behind these figures. Civil War soldiers were trained and drilled extensively so that they should have been able to fire at the enemy. Grossman concluded that there must have been extreme forces of moral will enacted in order for the soldiers to overcome all of their training not to kill the enemy. This indicates a “previously undiscovered psychological force…stronger than drill, peer pressure, even stronger than the self-preservation instinct” (Grossman 28). Though there is arduous and intensive training, soldiers may not always act as they did in training when actually thrown amid the crossfire.
The media do not help, either. From movies to books to political cartoons, popular culture fantasizes, if not romanticizes, the practice of killing others in war. “The point here is that there is as much disinformation and as little insight concerning the nature of killing coming from the media as from any other aspect of society” (Grossman 35). The movie Forrest Gump portrays no psychological repercussions although the title character fought in Vietnam. Tristan and Isolde, a movie about two star-crossed lovers, portrays killing in battle as swift and exhilarating and even as an honor. Other inaccurate portrayals of movie heroes include Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones series), James Bond (James Bond series), and John McClane (Die Hard series). In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana wrenched a machine gun from his father and fired it repeatedly, killing several Nazis out of anger simply because his father called him “Junior.” Indiana then proceeded to step over the dead bodies without a single glance backward and continued on his mission. Saving Private Ryan is one of the only movies that accurately depicts the trials and tribulations of war, according to veterans who were interviewed for the documentary The Soldier’s Heart.
 Other common misconceptions lie in literature, as pointed out by Grossman. He concurs with the philosopher and psychologist Peter Marin that “‘Nowhere in the [psychiatric and psychological] literature is one allowed to glimpse what is actually occurring: the real horror of the war and its effect on those who fought it’” (37). The Soldier’s Heart also alludes to the idea that Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage is one of the only books that somehow allowed people to experience, if only slightly, the atmosphere and environment of war.
Political cartoons, however, do not necessarily portray a hero-figure, but are more commonly known for depicting the enemy. Dr. Sam Keen made a documentary called Faces of the Enemy, based on his book of the same title, in which he interviewed people who had various perspectives of war based on their personal experiences. Keen focuses on how the media and other propaganda “dehumanize the enemy” and make the enemy out to be what are considered vile creatures like snakes and rats, if not fantastical monsters. The point of this is to erect a barrier between Americans, who view themselves as the “heroes” of wars, and those they are fighting and vice-versa. This tactic of emotionally distancing oneself from what is perceived to be the enemy through the process of dehumanization is used in military. William Broyles, one of the people interviewed in Faces of the Enemy, was a lieutenant in the army and was a Vietnam veteran. He informed Keen during the interview that the enemy was referred to in derogatory terms and other vulgar expressions. This ideal is further supported in Grossman’s book.
The PBS documentary The Soldier’s Heart elaborates on military desensitizing tactics, stating that the military accustomed
Soldiers to the idea of killing by starting them off with drills and paper targets that don’t look like anything, and then ultimately transition to moving targets, pop-up targets and things that are shaped like humans, so that [the soldiers’] response is automatic. (The Soldier’s Heart)
Faces of the Enemy comments that America is supposed to be the “good guy” of the war; ergo, the good guy needs a villain to fight, which is often what justifies the portrayal of an enemy as a barbaric creature. One of Keen’s final comments in the documentary, however, is: “The world has become too dangerous to portray our enemies as monsters…Can we make ourselves heroes without making our enemies villains?”
Only after World War II was the topic of “nonfirers” in the military addressed and discussed. Prior to World War II, the subject was hardly, if ever, broached in the military. Grossman compares it to a silent conspiracy, something that nobody spoke of, but everybody knew was there. Grossman suggests that this “elephant in the room” has been ignored for thousands of years and is based on lies, forced forgetfulness, and distortion of the truth.
            Due to the issues with nonfirers in the army, the military altered its training to increase weaponry discharge. As a result, the number of soldiers who fired weapons drastically increased from World War II to the Korean and Vietnam wars. The military addressed the issue of soldiers not firing after Samuel Lyman Atwood “SLA” Marshall, a renowned combat historian, brought it to the attention of the military after extensive research of the subject. As a result of Marhsall’s observations and suggestions, the US Army, between World War II and the following combatant wars, implemented various training measures to “fix” the problem. The rate of firing in the Korean War was 55%, and the rate of firing in the Vietnam War was 90 to 95%. These methods are known as conditioning or programming and were instituted in a manner similar to the way Pavlov conditioned his dogs.
Once soldiers were more readily firing their weapons, how did they deal with the consequences of killing other humans? Many come home from war traumatized, if not mentally ill. Perhaps the most common aftereffect of killing in war is post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. PTSD is frequently encountered through dreams in which soldiers relive their memories of war, specifically when they killed people. Soldiers also question themselves after the fact and wonder “‘How could I have done such a thing?’” and think about how the person or people they have killed probably had a family. William Broyles even went back to Vietnam to face his past and his personal demons. He met a woman there who had lost her husband, and Broyles told the woman that he might have killed her husband. She responded that “It was war,” and appeared desensitized to the subject. War is “a different mentality” (The Soldier’s Heart). Broyles was flabbergasted by her response, but it proves that war really is an entirely different environment.
Many experts on the subject, including Thomas Burke who is the Director of Mental Health Policy for the Department of Defense, have come to the conclusion that no soldier goes through the act of killing a person without a psychological change. In order to assist soldiers in coping with what they have done, the military will often bring in a chaplain to help veterans. Many veterans who spoke to the chaplain felt that they were no longer human and lost their faith in God. A large portion of the soldiers also lost their faith in the world and in themselves.
The military feels, collectively, that is important for veterans to talk about their experiences because they will not disappear or evaporate from their minds. Many things occur in combat, including memory loss and distortion. If veterans do not talk about their experiences, they can put themselves in the line of fire of their memories, such as envisioning grotesque horrors that did not actually occur. Statistics show that one fourth of police officers who escape a gunfight will remember something that did not actually occur. As expressed in The Soldier’s Heart, memory distortions can destroy soldiers’ lives and families, which is why it is extremely important, if not necessary, to discuss these memories.
            A similar situation occurred to William Broyles while in Vietnam. When instructed to cave in a tunnel, he “felt a presence” in the tunnel and repeatedly called out to it, in Vietnamese, to flee from the tunnel. Broyles detonated the explosives he placed inside the tunnel, and prayed that whoever was in the tunnel – if someone was even in it at all – escaped with his or her life. Broyles commented in Faces of the Enemy that he never found out and never actually knew if someone was even in the tunnel. But he did state that war plays games with a person’s head, and he is still haunted by that particular memory among others.
            War and the effects it has on soldiers, especially those who have killed others, are insurmountable. They bring not only grief and guilt, but memories with which the soldiers must live and often envision on a daily basis. Though soldiers are well-prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally, they will always come away from the experience different people. The rate of American soldiers firing and killing perceived enemies has increased drastically over the past one hundred or so years, rising from about fifteen percent during the Civil War to an astonishing 90 to 95 percent in the Vietnam War. Taking another person’s life has lasting effects that hardly anyone wishes to endure. Soldiers and veterans must go to bed every night knowing that they are the ones who took other humans’ lives, that they are the ones who are still living, that they are the ones who survived, and this sadly is a reality which many soldiers do not wish to have but with which they are forced to cope. They go to bed every night seeing the faces of those they killed. Though their acts may have been honorable and perhaps even necessary, nothing can truly erase the haunting memories and ghosts of their pasts.

Works Cited
Carbon Leaf. "The War Was in Color." 2006. CD.
Faces of the Enemy. Dir. Sam Keen. Quest Productions, 1987. Videocassette.
Grossman, Dave. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.         
     New York, NY: Back Bay, 2009. Print.
The Soldier's Heart. Dir. Raney Aronson. PBS, 2005. Transcript.
All rights reserved. All written work on this page is the sole copyright of the author, username Dani, and may not be reprinted or used in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author. I certify that all work written here is original unless otherwise cited (such as in reference lists, etc.), and is my own. Any questions, comments, concerns, or requests for reprinting can be submitted to for review.

Mocking the Mockumentary
Christopher Guest has become a living legend and auteur through his humorous documentary-styled fiction films, more commonly known as “mockumentaries.” His list of award-winning pictures includes: Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration. He also starred in and co-wrote This is Spinal Tap. Each film follows a colorful cast of characters as they generally prepare for a final performance and the twists and turns life takes them on along the way. Various actors have parts in more than one of Guest’s mockumentaries, such as Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins, Bob Balaban, Larry Miller, and several others. Michael Patrick Jann has also tried his hand at mockumentaries with his 1999 film Drop Dead Gorgeous, which follows the antics of the small town citizens of Mount Rose, Minnesota and the quest to win the town’s annual beauty pageant. But someone is out to get the other contestants as several suspiciously die or are injured. The main stars of the film are Kirstie Alley, Kirsten Dunst, Brittany Murphy, Amy Adams, Allison Janney, and Denise Richards. Guest’s overall presentation of the film from scripting to shooting to upholding a true “documentary feel” and the love of his characters make for a far better film, especially in A Mighty Wind,  than Jann’s conspicuous mockery of small-town pageant life.
            The main difference between the two movies is the script, or lack thereof. For A Mighty Wind and the rest of Guest’s films, the writers, usually he and Eugene Levy, would develop the story and write out the plot, but they never wrote a script. They would give the actors information about the scene they were shooting and then let the actors improvise it.  “It’s always amazing to hear what they come up with,” quotes Guest in the A Mighty Wind commentary. “It’s astonishing.” At several points in the commentary, both Guest and Levy point out moments of exceptional improvisation, such as Fred Willard’s scenes and Jennifer Coolidge’s quote about model trains and their importance “because without them we wouldn’t have the big ones” (A Mighty Wind).  Drop Dead Gorgeous, on the other hand, was entirely scripted by Lona Williams. Many looks and quirks were also scripted, such as when Kirstie Alley is supposed to look “back to [the] camera” (Williams n.p.). Though there is creative license to be had with these characters, there is a lot less mobility than Christopher Guest allows.  Drop Dead Gorgeous is “intended to be a ‘mockumentary’ along the lines of This is Spinal Tap or Bob Roberts, but the production is so obviously rehearsed that the necessary illusion of reality fails” (Persall n.p.).
            What Michael Patrick Jann does that detracts from the somewhat cinema verite feel of Guest’s films is enhance Drop Dead Gorgeous with non-diegetic music. Pop songs and scores are overlaid onto the audio accompanied by modern montages of scenery. The opening sequence of credits and music makes it clear that this is still a Hollywood movie, whereas Guest’s films hardly have opening credits at all. Normally just the title is shown. No actors’ names are displayed at all. The use of non-diegetic music throughout the movie, especially the ending scenes in which the character of Amber Atkins discovers the statewide pageant has been cancelled reminds the viewer that this is a movie, not an attempt at a farcical documentary.
             Guest truly loves the characters he has developed in each of his films. He spends days developing them, often with frequent co-writer Eugene Levy, and they make sure there is a solid backstory to each even if it is not conveyed in the film. In the audio commentary of A Mighty Wind, not once does Guest refer to his characters as crazy or weird. The only word he uses to describe the characters is “bizarre.” But that is because they are. The actors highlight their characters’ eccentricities, not their flaws. No mocking comment is ever made toward them. Michael Patrick Jann and Lona Williams, on the other hand, have the “documentary crew” filming Mount Rose’s beauty pageant ask the contestants questions that are clearly meant to poke fun at both pageant and small town life, highlighting the lack of intelligence many of the characters exhibit. “Jann and screenwriter Lona Williams don’t have any affection for their subjects, turning each tasteless gag into a sucker punch” (Persall n.p.).
For Guest, just because a character is neurotic (i.e. Mitch from A Mighty Wind) does not mean that he or she is present on screen to be exploited. The neuroses morph into laughs at the behaviors exhibited as these characters try to accomplish their somewhat mundane tasks. There is nothing out of the ordinary for folk musicians, dog owners, or aspiring Broadway actors to try to achieve their dreams in the most feasible ways possible for them. But for a mother-daughter-duo to go around killing off other beauty pageant contestants is much more of a stretch when it comes to believability. In 1991, Wanda Holloway was convicted of conspiring to murder her neighbor due to the fact that the neighbor’s daughter received a spot on the school cheerleading squad over Holloway’s daughter. Drop Dead Gorgeous draws inspiration from this national scandal. Though this is an out-of-the-ordinary situation, Drop Dead Gorgeous capitalizes on this absurdity. Guest, meanwhile, draws his inspiration from human quirks and flaws. No well-known national scandal has ever rocked the folk music industry, the dog-showing profession, or the small-town attempt of making a sesquicentennial musical. By drawing from the national scandal, Jann and Williams exploit real people; Guest creates his characters with nothing but compassion for them.
            The plot of Drop Dead Gorgeous is far-fetched. Somebody successfully killing several beauty pageant contestants and severely injuring another one is virtually unheard of. Even Wanda Holloway did not actually murder her neighbor. It is untrue to the characters and the world in which they live. It is too far out there to be believable, and this detracts from the quality of the movie and its attempt at a mockumentary, especially when compared to Guest’s. His stories are believable and ordinary to the point of mundane; his characters make the films funny. Nothing too far-fetched occurs to his characters; they are placed in situations that are fairly routine for them and react accordingly. This works wonderfully for Guest’s formula as he has cranked out successful film after film. For Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and even the less successful For Your Consideration, what it prominent, worthwhile, and
what’s notable about Guest’s movies isn't how much humor he and Levy wring out of their dog people and folk musicians but how much humanity…. It isn't that Guest is afraid to mock his characters; it's that he takes them seriously, even when he's going in for the kill. (Dargis n.p.)
The presence of the film crew in Drop Dead Gorgeous also affects the overall quality and feel of the film. They ask the characters questions about their lives, highlighting not-so-subtle areas of their lives that are easy to make fun of. On occasion the viewer sees a member or two of the camera crew or a boom mike here and there to remind the viewer that it is supposed to be a documentary. The crew also captures certain shots or snippets of conversation that give the viewer more insight to the goings-on in town, specifically events dealing with the suspicious deaths that occurred. This technique is used to push the plot along and create an air of mystery as to “Who dunnit?” There is no suggestion as to a camera crew in any of the movies Guest has directed. Only in This is Spinal Tap, a mockumentary starring and co-written by Christopher Guest, is the audience aware that the film is actually a “documentary” because in the beginning director Rob Reiner, who also acts in this movie as “director” Marty DiBergi, tells the audience so. But Guest’s films are more observational while Jann’s is more participatory. Each filmmaker does include interviews with the characters, which brings in characteristics of the expository mode of documentary filmmaking.
Each filmmaker has similar shooting techniques. For A Mighty Wind, Arleen Donnelly Nelson shot the “whole movie virtually handheld” (Audio Commentary). If the viewer looks closely, he or she can see the slightest wavering of the camera, but this imperfection suggests authenticity, even if it is fake, because it feels true to life and is along the “same unobtrusive lines of a mainstream documentary” (Dargis n.p.). Nobody in real life is going to have a perfectly shot film or home video. Drop Dead Gorgeous has mostly unwavering shots, though there are several that are clearly meant to be oscillating up and down as the “cameraman” of the documentary film crew runs towards or away from something.
What really brings Guest’s films together is how involved the cast and crew are with different aspects of the film. The actors are not just actors; they are contributors to the entirety of the film. This chemistry and camaraderie is apparent by how well the actors work together and the passion they have for their characters. The crew also doubles as extras if need be. For example, in A Mighty Wind, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy (Mickey and Mitch, respectively) wrote several songs together as did Michael McKean (Jerry Palter) and his real-life wife Annette O’Toole (she did not act in the film). John Michael Higgins, who played Terry Bohner, was the vocal arranger for many of The New Main Street Singers’ songs. One of the production heads at Castlerock Entertainment is a musician for Mitch and Mickey, and Sunday Stevens, the second assistant director, plays the stage manager at Town Hall (Audio Commentary)By the time A Mighty Wind was made, many of the cast had collaborated on previous films including This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and Best in Show. They had the routine down by the time A Mighty Wind was made and the passion they have for what they do is clearly present on-screen and enhances the material. The characters in Drop Dead Gorgeous had far less chemistry than in A Mighty Wind, and the viewer feels that this is a typical Hollywood film in which the actors are just doing their jobs, and they are not doing fantastic work, either. For Michael Patrick Jann, each person in the cast or crew has a specific job and sticks to it, while for Guest the lines blur and the collaboration makes for a better film.
The characters in Guest’s mockumentaries are relatable, despite their neuroticisms and the viewer finds him- or herself empathizing with the characters. The viewer wants Corky St. Clair (Waiting for Guffman) to get his show to Broadway, because the viewer has been the underdog before and knows what it feels like to strive for success in the face of adversity. The viewer roots for the dogs and their owners in Best in Show because the viewer knows how it feels to win and wants to experience it vicariously again through the dog show. The viewer wants Mitch and Mickey to kiss during “There’s a Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” in A Mighty Wind because the viewer has felt that passion and wants to reclaim it through the duo. But most of all, the viewer wants each of the characters to succeed and finally pull it off and put it all together because that the viewer has failed in life before, and maybe if these characters can do it, so can the viewer.
The viewer grows to love these characters just as much as the movie itself, because without these specific characters, the film would probably be a flop. What would happen if Mitch was not a neurotic, emotionally stunted man broken in pieces when he and Mickey split up? These characters have an underlying goal to succeed, and the struggle for that success is the truth to the films which is what makes them still even more enjoyable. And it is through this that the viewer can see and feel the immense love Guest has for his characters. He, like the viewer, wants them to succeed to the best of their ability. Even if it means losing the dog show, the character still made it that far and still tried. There is always next year. Even if it means after Ode to Irving, the characters go their separate ways, they still gave it one last shot and that inspired them to stay in music, regardless of whether it is playing in a tacky casino or the new song “Sure-Flo” at a medical convention. Even if it means not going to Broadway, the character pulled off a small-town hit musical that will forever be remembered. The viewer roots for these underdogs because the viewer sees himself as these characters and this connection mocks not only the characters but the viewer as he realizes his own neuroticisms and quirks and eccentricities. “Drop Dead Gorgeous simply manipulates the ideas of satire without connecting to the underlying truth” (Ebert n.p.).
To put is simply: Christopher Guest does it better, if not best. Michael Patrick Jann and Lona Williams make a solid attempt at creating a great mockumentary but their success borders on mediocre. The humor is there, and so is the delivery, but the lack of love and underlying truth just does not cut it. The slapstick comedy is less sophisticated and tackier than the subtle English dry humor present at every turn of Guest’s films. The characters are less relatable and the plot goes too far beyond the boundaries of believability for small-town life in Mount Rose, Minnesota. Even if Guest is not the all-around best in show, he still takes first prize at making mockumentaries and poignantly addressing the viewer’s quirks as they are played out before the viewer’s eyes through the colorful, creative, all-star cast that takes the films to a perfect level of comedy mixed with the simple truth.

Works Cited
Audio Commentary. A Mighty Wind. Dir. Christopher Guest. Perf. Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy. Castlerock Entertainment, 2003. DVD.

Dargis, Manohla. "MOVIE REVIEW; Mockument to the Past; Christopher Guest Turns His Loving but Ruthlessly Satirical Eye on Aging Folkies." Los Angeles Times: 0. Apr 16   2003. OxResearch; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Health Management.Web. 18 Dec. 2012 .

Ebert, Roger. "Drop Dead Gorgeous Not Drop Dead Hilarious." Niagara Falls Review: 0. Jul 22 1999. OxResearch; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Health Management. Web. 18 Dec. 2012 .

Persall, Steven. "For Laughs, Watch the Real Thing." St. Petersburg Times 23 July 1999,   Weekend; Movie Reveiw sec.: 8. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.    <>.

Williams, Lona. "Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) Movie Script." Screenplays for You. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

All rights reserved. All written work on this page is the sole copyright of the author, username Dani, and may not be reprinted or used in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author. I certify that all work written here is original unless otherwise cited (such as in reference lists, etc.), and is my own. Any questions, comments, concerns, or requests for reprinting can be submitted to for review.

Modern Times for Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin has long been regarded as one of film’s greats, as a person who changed cinema and redefined it by his own means. Many of his movies reflect his exceptional filmmaking in which he is frequently the director, writer, composer, and lead actor. Charlie Chaplin’s comedy Modern Times is no different. In Modern Times, Chaplin provides a poignant social commentary about the socioeconomic conditions many Americans faced during the Depression era presented through the “Little Tramp’s” humorous, sometimes sad, yet always insightful antics. The film also criticizes the upcoming “talkie” movement of film in which dialogue was incorporated into cinema. Chaplin seamlessly combines his criticisms and satire with pure comedy, leaving his unforgettable contributions and mark on the film industry.
            The opening twelve minutes of Modern Times set the feel for the movie when the Tramp (interchangeable with Chaplin) is working in the factory. The audience is shown the harsh working conditions the factory workers suffer right from the very beginning. The stress and tension are high, and one mistake can wind up ruining the whole factory, which it does when the Tramp has his nervous breakdown. Chaplin’s tyrannical boss forces him to work faster and faster and appears to threaten Chaplin, who, like many of the time period, could not afford to lose his job. The factory conditions the workers in the film are subjected to are similar to the actual conditions workers faced in real life during the Great Depression. Chaplin is further victimized when he is chosen as the test subject for the Billows Feeding Machine, produced by the Sales Talk Transcription Company, Incorporated. Chaplin, as the “robotized victim of the machine, extends this into a frontal assault on industrialization” (Stewart 297-8).
            Once the machine starts to malfunction, Billows is quick to attempt to fix it while leaving Chaplin defenseless against the force-feeder. The materialism depicted here suggests that corporations, symbolized by Billows, the other Sales Talk Transcription Company’s representatives, and the owner of the factory who does nothing to help his employee, care more about their products (the machine) than they do their workers.  Chaplin believed that “Machinery should benefit mankind. It should not spell tragedy and throw it out of work” (“Overview of His Life”). Taken in a different context, the audience can also interpret the Billows Feeding Machine as society itself trying to force-feed the population whatever it can and however much society will take. It is only when the machine breaks that people try to better it; while it is working properly, nobody questions the potential effects it may have. This is also true of society. Before the Great Depression, laissez-faire politics were used and went unchallenged by society. But once the Depression struck, people were up in arms about the government and how it was going to fix the recession.
            The satire displayed in the factory illuminates Chaplin’s fears of industrialization but also his desire to break free from the machine which society is becoming. Chaplin takes it another step further even when he satirizes the up-and-coming “talkie” movies when the Tramp is in the bathroom trying to catch a break before returning to work. The president of the company pops up onto the large screen in the bathroom and chastises Chaplin, ordering him to get back to work. This scene works on many levels. First, the intrusion of the president on the Tramp’s break suggests politically that it is nearly impossible to break away from society, or so it seems at this point in the film. Second, it emphasizes classicism in which the president is both literally and figuratively looking down on Chaplin, whom he regards with disdain. Chaplin is merely a gear in the president’s machine and can easily be replaced. Finally, on a cinematic level, the cacophonous intrusion of the president on Chaplin’s much desired and enjoyed break, his small release from the pressures of work, is symbolic of Chaplin’s emotions toward talking movies. Chaplin disliked the idea of talkies not only because he felt they held little artistry but also because silent films were where he made his magic.

Chaplin was well known as the most ardent reactionary of the silent film, enemy of that “progress" which he dreaded would drain the movies of their serene, emotive artistry, and in his first unabashed "talkie," this miniature documentary on the president's dictatorial voyeurism, his satiric genius has jumped forward to a glimpse of film (or TV) as an intrusive, bullying manipulation of the viewer – propaganda quite literally stripped of its aesthetic distance… (Stewart 308-9)

Ergo the president, in this instance, is truly the talkie and his intrusion in a bathroom of all places emphasizes again Chaplin’s distaste for talkies. Bathrooms are primarily for expelling human waste, and this waste is what Chaplin is comparing talkies to.
            Chaplin later satirizes talkies when he is drinking tea with the minister’s wife in the jail. Both suffer from gaseous stomachs, and to tune out the noise of the grumbling, the Tramp turns on the radio, the disc jockey immediately proclaiming something about “gastritis.” Again, talking is reduced to a bodily function, and an odorous one at that. Chaplin dislikes the idea of the talkie because, to him, the “essential art of the movies…was the rendering of emotion through motion,” not speech (Stewart 305).
            Modern Times also highlights civil unrest of the times most prominently in the rioting scenes. In the first, men are picketing and marching with signs that proclaim “Libertad” and “Liberty or death.” They are trying to escape from the pressures and oppression they feel society is forcing onto them. The Tramp is then arrested and thrown into jail when accused of being a communist. Ironically enough, a decade or so later J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation would target Chaplin as a communist.
            The film presents the audience with the age-old question of whether or not a person would steal bread to feed his or her family. When do tough times become too tough? The gamin girl, played by Paulette Goddard, stole bananas to feed her two sisters and her father. Both she and Chaplin stole bread to eat. Chaplin stole a whole meal not only to feed himself but to put himself back in jail because it was better than life on the streets for him. These scenes are very reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Chaplin and the gamin sleep in the department store for which he works, and Chaplin goes so far as to let starving robbers take food from the store.
Society seems to have turned against these unfortunate people.  The gamin girl’s father is shot and killed during a riot. The gamin and her sisters are now orphans left to the daunting care of the state. Preferring to go it alone rather than to rely on society, the gamin runs away. Society again turns on the protagonists when the social workers attempt to take the gamin into their custody after her and Chaplin’s predicaments seem to be changing for the better.
When Chaplin tries to get arrested, the audience can clearly see the machine that is society is truly broken for what man in his right mind would want to go to jail? But for the Tramp, jail is a far better place than the streets are. Chaplin has gone through society’s machine, both figuratively and literally (when he was pushed through it in the factory), and it did not lead him to a good place. Chaplin inconspicuously seems to suggest that to return to a better society, people need to go backwards. When the Tramp was stuck in the cogs and gears of the machines, the other worker on his line had to physically turn the gears backward to free Chaplin. The gamin and Chaplin are happiest when they are on their own in their dilapidated shack and when they are walking away from society into the bright dawn of a new day. They are out of the city and away from the machines of society and the factory.
            The use of very limited dialogue is highly effective in Modern Times. Chaplin is able to emphasize his distaste for talkies by using dialogue in a dehumanized way. The audience only hears spoken dialogue that is transmitted through technology. The mechanical salesman speaks through the apparatus, the president when he is on the large screen, and the disc jockey speaks through the radio. Each of these voices can only be heard through some other medium and not directly to the human ear, thus separating them from the other characters and the audience. The musical numbers, however, are a different story. The audience is able to see and hear the beginnings of the waiters’ song until the shot changes to the dressing room in which they can only hear the song. The song is actually “In the Evening by the Moonlight,” which is quite derogatory towards people of color, though the waiters do not sing the original version (see Hammond and Hitchcock).
            When the Tramp heads to the center of the floor to perform his intended song, “Titina (Je Cherche apres Titine)” and loses his cuffs on which the lyrics are written, he resorts to his imagination to make up rhyming nonsensical and nonexistent words (Posner). Chaplin, as always, resorts to his body language and mannerisms to tell the story of Titina. Though in a way Chaplin cedes here to the advent of talkies by allowing spoken “words” in the film, he still emphasizes his point that the true art of storytelling lies in actions, not words. So though he may admit to the potential that talkies may have and the possible decline of his beloved silent films, he still proves to everyone that actions speak louder than words. The movie-going audience sees his entire performance, which is to be expected as it is a sort of finale for the silent film, at least in Chaplin’s eyes. In the movie, the restaurant clients find his performance wonderful, and the Tramp is offered a steady job by the manager thereafter.
            But society is not so kind again when the social workers come to take away the gamin. She and Chaplin escape and the audience sees them the next morning on a dusty road in seemingly the middle of nowhere. The gamin is losing hope and asks what the point in trying is. Chaplin, ever the optimist, replies, “Buck up – never say die. We’ll get along.” The two walk off together along the dirt road away from society and its machinery, leaving the audience with the feeling of hope that the two will make it despite all of their hardships because that is the theme of the entirety of Chaplin’s silent movies (Hurley 315). “No matter how often society dashes the ‘little tramp’s’ hopes to pieces, he shrugs his shoulders resignedly and wanders off to begin life anew” (Hurley 315).
            People love the story of an underdog, which is what Chaplin presents to them time and time again. But he does it not just in an entertaining way, but in a way that also reflects society and what needs to be fixed about it, like cogs and gears in a machine. Modern Times is an exceptional example of this machine and Chaplin is able to truly show the audience through his actions and satire the atrocities of the Depression-era society while still being able to make them laugh. Chaplin offers his audience a timeless message that is sure to be remembered, even if it goes unspoken.

Works Cited

Hammond, Johnny. "Lyrics For: In The Evening By The Moonlight." Johnny Hammond Productions., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2012. <>.

Hitchcock, B.W. "American Old Time Song Lyrics: 02 In De Evening By De Moonlight.” Traditional Music Library. Rod Smith, n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2012.             <>.

Hurley, Neil. "The Social Philosophy of Charlie Chaplin." Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 49.195 (1960): 313-20. JSTOR. Web. 01 Oct. 2012. <>.

Modern Times. Dir. Charles Chaplin. Perf. Charlie Chaplin. YouTube. YouTube, 17 June 2012.                 Web. 29 Sept. 2012. <>.

"Overview of His Life." Charlie Chaplin. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2012.                                                      <>.

Posner, Phil. "The Music of Modern Times." The Music of Modern Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 02                    Oct. 2012. <>.

Stewart, Garrett. "Modern Hard Times: Chaplin and the Cinema of Self-Reflection." Critical Inquiry 3.2 (1976): 295-314. JSTOR. Web. 1 Oct. 2012. <>.

Woall, Michael, and Linda Kowall Woall. "Charlie Chaplin and the Comedy of Melodrama.” Journal of Film and Video 46.3 (1994): 3-15. JSTOR. Web. 01 Oct. 20. <>.

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