As you may have noticed, “Deadwrite’s Dailies” has been something of a misnomer of late.
I’ve not taken a dirt nap or anything, it’s just that the summer got crazy busy. During the last couple of months, I got deluged finishing up my second book (with co-writer Marc Wanamaker), co-hosting a new local television show, as well as leading tours and teaching classes on film history in the Santa Clarita Valley. On top of it all, Kimi and I started back on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank doing “real jobs.”
That being said, I found myself with a day off today and wanted to use the time to say “hello” and to congratulate everyone for being alive to celebrate the palindromic date of 11/02/2011.
Today, I would like to update everyone on our efforts to memorialize the spot of the final scene from Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times.” This article was originally posted on August 30, 2010.
Seventy-five years ago today, the Silent Era ended.
The ending came with little fanfare on Sierra Highway near Agua Dulce, California. The only people on-site to witness the finale were the stars and crew of the film Modern Times, who were there to film the iconic final scene.
Silent films had been on life-support for nearly a decade by the time that Charlie Chaplin, one of the greatest of the Silent Era clowns, chose to make Modern Times – a film about the dehumanizing effects of big business on workers. Sound first appeared in a Hollywood feature in 1926’s Don Juan, which had a backing orchestra and sound effects synced to the film. Talkies debuted a year later with The Jazz Singer, and the days of the silent film were officially numbered.
The change was a traumatic one for Hollywood, and hundreds of careers ended abruptly. Chaplin had built a tremendously successful career with a pantomime character called The Little Tramp and was in no hurry to have him talk. By 1935, he was the last person in Hollywood with the resources to ignore the transition to sound, but he realized the time had at last come to have the character speak.
Modern Times is a transitional film in that almost all of the dialogue is silent, yet there are occasional spoken voices and sound effects. The Little Tramp remains silent for most of the film, but when it comes time for him to talk, Chaplin actually has him sing.
On August 30, 1935, when the cast and crew shot the final scene where Chaplin and his co-star Paulette Goddard walk off into the sunset, (figuratively at least, the scene was set at dawn) they must have sensed they were at the end of an era; it was unlikely that even the great Charlie Chaplin could pull off another silent film. What remained to be seen was whether or not the Little Tramp character would continue.
The answer was no. Chaplin felt the magic of the character disappeared once his voice was heard and chose to retire him.
(A similar character did appear in Chaplin’s next film, The Great Dictator, but the Tramp was transformed into a European Jewish barber for this film. After that, the character never again appeared on screen.)
Modern Times was Chaplin’s biggest gamble and turned out to be one of his greatest successes. Recently, the American Film Institute voted it onto its top 100 American Films list at #81.
I am currently working with Los Angeles County and Santa Clarita city officials to erect a commemorative plaque at the site of the final scene next February to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the film’s release.
Stay tuned for updates on our progress!
THIS JUST IN: In February 2011 Kimi and I helped create and host the first annual ChaplinFest in Newhall, California. During that festival, Tippi Hedren and Leonard Maltin helped us unveil a beautiful black marble monument commemorating the final scene of “Modern Times.” The monument was created by the wonderful couple of Charles and Maria Sotelo of High Desert Monuments in Hesperia, California. These kind and patient people believed so strongly in our project that they created the monument for us without asking for a dime up front. I am very happy to report that after several months of fundraising, the Sotelos are now paid in full! We thank everyone who contributed to this worthy cause. (We will still need to raise funds for the base and other associated costs.)
The next phase of the project calls for us to get the monument placed at the site of the final scene (which looks much the same today as it did in 1935). We are hoping to place it during the week of August 30, 2012, the 77th anniversary of the filming of the scene. We’ll keep you in the loop on how our plans progress.
August 31st, 2010 at 1:39 am
This is a good post and may be one to be followed up to see what the results are
A buddy e mailed this link the other day and I am desperately hoping for your next piece of writing. Keep on on the brilliant work.
September 1st, 2010 at 10:06 am
Spotted your blog via msn the other day and absolutely like it. Keep up this fantastic work.
September 21st, 2010 at 10:43 am
[…] wrote about our efforts to place a historic plaque at the filming site of the final scene of Modern Times (1936) next February on the 75th anniversary of the film’s release. I’ll keep you in the loop […]
November 15th, 2010 at 10:17 am
[…] Many of the iconic scenes from the silent era which still hold power in the minds of the general public are from the silent comics. Some that come to mind are Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock in Safety Last; Buster Keaton riding the cowcatcher in The General; and Charlie Chaplin maneuvering through the gears, and later walking off into the sunset at the closing of Modern Times. […]
November 17th, 2010 at 12:09 am
[…] Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, the Keystone Cops, and a young English music hall veteran named Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin arrived at Keystone in 1914 and by the end of that year he had made 35 films for Sennett, […]
November 29th, 2010 at 9:22 am
[…] Clarita Valley ChaplinFest to honor the 75th anniversary of the release of his epic silent feature, Modern Times. Chaplin came to the Santa Clarita Valley to capture the last scene of the film nearby. It was the […]
January 18th, 2011 at 8:29 am
[…] off alone down a winding dirt road. The situation was much different twenty-one years later in Modern Times when Chaplin retired the iconic […]
January 26th, 2011 at 9:05 am
[…] was done to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the release of Charlie’s final silent film Modern Times, which was partially shot near Santa […]