Chaplin previews a world beyond the factory and unionism where one’s identity is as fragile as one’s last pay check and where even a walk into the sunset leads to nowhere in particular.
Live recording held at the café at AS220 on Empire Street, Providence at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 17, 2012.
Public Rights and Private Fights: With an expanded eight-week season and a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, this year Action Speaks looks at moments when the rights of the individual have clashed with the needs or beliefs of the public—and where the line between private and public has been defined or blurred.
Don’t forget to check out Monday Night pre-panel documentaries at 9 p.m. on RIPBS.
In our discussion, we will look at the many ways that for Chaplin, Modern Times was a film living “in the between,” with its meanings similarly situated. Debuting in 1936, almost ten years after the advent of sound, this film marked the first time Chaplin reluctantly left the pantomime style of the silent film and drifted hesitantly into allowing the public to hear the sound of his voice. From a political point of view, shot in the midst of the Great Depression, Modern Times was a skeptical look at the depersonalization of the industrial world and an unclear vision of the alternative. At once terrified of the inhumane qualities of the assembly line and modern surveillance techniques, Chaplin in this film seems to also view unionism with reluctance. The Tramp, showing his wear and age, fits nowhere. He lives in an imagined past without strong connection to a realized future.
Charles Musser, Professor of American Studies, Film Studies, and Theater Studies at Yale University where he teaches courses on silent cinema and documentary. His books include The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (1990). He recently completed the documentary Errol Morris: A Lightning Sketch (2012) with Carina Tautu.
Dr. Philip Rosen is a Professor Modern Culture and Media at Brown University and studies film theory and history, media, theories of culture and ideology and theories of history. His most recent book Change Mummified: Cinema, Historicity, Theory, relates problems in contemporary film and cultural theory to theories of history, arguing for a special relationship between conceptions of film and conceptions of history. He has compiled the standard anthology on structuralist and poststructuralist film theory, Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology.
Maureen Reddy, professor and chair of the English Department at Rhode Island College. Her books include “Crossing the Color Line: Race, Parenting, and Culture,” “Everyday Acts Against Racism,” and “Traces, Codes, and Clues: Reading Race in Crime Fiction.” Her current project focuses on race in Irish popular culture, 1988-present.
- Chaplin and American Culture by Charles J. Maland; Princeton University Press (1989)
- Chaplin, A life by Stephen Wessman MD; Arcase (2008)
- Chaplin, A Tramp’s Odyssey St. Martin’s Press (2009)
Now in its seventeenth year, Action Speaks is made possible by generous financial and in-kind support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, AS220, Robinson & Cole, LLP, WGBH 89.7 Boston, RIPBS, and the Providence Phoenix. Action Speaks has been heard on over 175 radio stations across the United States, and is presented by WGBH 89.7 in Boston. If you can’t be at our live taping, you can listen and download each show free from our website ten days following each panel.