The visual relationship between the laborer and the outside

The moviemaker associates collage and montage overlaying a low
angle shot of the camera with another one of Vertov preparing his camera on it.
Later, a master shot of the city from a high angle shows Vertov standing up on
a building positioning his camera. His unexpected position creates a feeling of
astonishment among the spectators as he innovates new editing techniques. Camera
plays a key role all along the film and represents an extension of the human
eye. In his manifesto he developed the concept of “Kino-Glaz” which
means “Cine-truth”. Through the lens of the camera, he reveals to his audience
the reality of life that surround them every day creating a visual relationship
between the laborer and the outside world. Shots of windows refers to men
observing the city behind the window as Vertov is observing life behind the eye
of his camera. He erased his own identity and appropriated the motion of the camera.
The Kino-eye exposes the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie in the
society. During a cross-cutting shot, Vertovs shows a woman from the labor
class working and throwing stones with a shot of a woman enjoying a relaxing
moment and dyeing her eyebrows. Compared to Chaplin, the film doesn’t have professional
characters but only “life unaware” which lead to the concept of “Kinov-Pravda”
or “Cine-truth”. As Vertov’s goal wasn’t ideological but aesthetic the most
important element is the camera capturing the motion of a reflexive
documentary. He makes the nation aware of the reality of life and the process
of a movie making which it illustrates with a high angle close-up of the hands
of a man organizing film reels. Vertov invented fundamental editing techniques
which are still in use nowadays. He made a portrayal of the city including
Dutch angles, showing two trains running in opposite direction, but also
tracking shots in which the spectator can see him following a family in a car. Stop
motion showing athlete performing shot put, reverse motion in a shot were the
motion of hands playing chess is time-reversed and so on. The editing tricks
take the audience back to a universe of continuous thought, where sound and
language give way to series of emotions and revelations.


Capitalist environment:

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In 1939, Modern times has been released during the Great
Depression when millions of Americans suffered from the economic crisis, indeed
industrial needs and poverty emerged following the World War II.  Few years ago, USA fell victim to the 1929
Wall Street Cash and the number of unemployed rise until 14 million making
Americans to live in precarious conditions. Chaplin used several shots forging
links between his movie and the sociopolitical context which makes of Modern
times a politically-motivated movie. Following a nervous breakdown because
of the difficult working conditions Tramp was another victim of the Great
Depression. He appears in streets and became against his will the leader of an anti-capitalist
demonstration, Chaplin made a portrayal of the city in huge rebellion against
the political system while Vertov advocates the perfect symbiosis of it. A high
angle shot of laborers waiting outside the factories also denounced the
millions of people in hope of finding a job. Chaplin used graphic match shots
juxtaposing a high angle shot of herd of sheep with another one showing a crowd
of man exiting the subway. The black sheep represents the inept Tramp failing
every single job he tried. Vertov’s opening sequence was similar. However, Chaplin’s
transition produced a synergy. It invites us to associate sheep and workers as
mechanical machines removing their own identity while Vertov’s portray of city shows
workers enjoy their life, receiving facial cares or watching sportive
activities. Chaplin illustrates the citizens duty to get a job for the only
purpose of meeting financial needs rather than improving their individual

Human-machine relationship

Conversely to Vertov, Chaplin revealed the absurd working conditions of
the workers. The portrayal of the machines is oversized, overtaken by the
inhuman pace of the production line Tramp get stuck within the machine, this
shot juxtaposed with a high angle one of a huge engine shows the power of
industrialization. The capitalist ideology refers to the rise of the
manufacturing system in the aim of maximizing profits, and especially, at the
expense of workers happiness. “Modern Times” denounced this injustice during
the lunch time shot. Tramp needed a break for lunch and wanted to light a cigarette,
but he didn’t have the time to do it as the voice of the director sounded in
the bathroom. His voice is only diegetic -when workers hear it through screens
or mikes- otherwise the audience don’t hear dialogues such as the conversation about
the feeding machine. The director represents an all-seeing eye over the
factory, he controls every action of his laborers and doesn’t hesitate to
disturb them during their breaks to get them back to work. While Vertov used
the Kino-eye as an extension of the human perception, Chaplin used a negative
form of the vision to expose the negative effect of industrialization. The optimization
of profits is illustrated with the feeding-machine, it removes the lunch break
and substitutes human gesture for mechanical ones which shows the injustice of
exploited workers. Sounds is used when the director orders to accelerate the
production and emphasizes the importance of it. Therefore, Chaplin’s portrayal
of industrialization denounces the negative effect of capitalism on the factory
workers. Both movies have opposite approaches of industrialization, one describes
it as ideal and the second one as psychologically destructive for the workers.



Costumes play a major role in the movie and allow the spectator to make
the distinction between the different social classes coexisting in the city and
within the factory. Workers are dressed in dirty clothes while the high
hierarchy is dressed in smart suit. A high angle shot shows the director with jigsaw,
it suggests the exploitation of laborer working harder while he increases the
speed on the production line from his office. Costume also demonstrates the character’s
ability to climb from the bottom to the top of the social ladder. The Gamin is
dressed in a black dress and her dirty make-up claims her belonging to the
underclass, but getting a new job, costumes changed and illustrate her
financial evolution. Tramp also had a new suit, hat and stick but they didn’t
fit him as they didn’t reflect his lack of working skills. Besides, Tramp’s
small stature opposing the muscled shirtless worker’s one creates a comic
effects. The slapstick is also expressed with women clothes. Indeed, Tramp
doesn’t distinct anymore bolts of the factory from the studs of the secretary’s
skirt or those of a woman’s jacket he pursued in streets. It confirms the destructive
effect of industrialization on the laborer, however the absurd positioning of
studs on chest and bottom emphasizes the comic of the scene. During the late
1940’s, the style of acting granted importance to the actor’s ability to
express and transmit emotion so deeply than the gap between man and characters don’t
exist. Champlin’s social critique appears when Tramp plays with work tools with
an exaggerated gesture which makes it funny but also exposes the absurdity of
the crazy production line and living conditions. Furthermore, the audience has
the only opportunity to hear the real voice of Tramp when he starts singing. Even
though he forgot the lyrics Tramp gives the best of him and starts singing in
Italian gibberish. It demonstrates Chaplin’s intention to keep the song understandable
in a universal way and tells the story with his hands. Conversely to Vertov’s
total silent film, Chaplin used extra-dietetics sounds to highlight different
impacts such as the gun shots scene, or diegetic sounds with the noise of the
corn running in Tramp’s mouth faster and faster which emphasize the effect of
the scene.



Through a slapstick comedy Chaplin made a social critique and exposed
the chaos of the society during the Great Depression. The portrayal of the city
is made of demonstrations, violence, and poverty while Vertov’s one highlights
the symbiosis a modernist city. During a period of avant-garde growth of the
film industry, Vertov challenged all the rules with a total silent piece of art
and developed his own perception of reality called “Kino-Pravda”. Although in
reality, this mis-en-abyme is only manipulating the audience. While Modern
time’s vision of industrialization reflects the destructive effect of
technology and loss of individuality within the society, Vertov’s one defines
the human-machine relationship as a harmonious marriage. According to their
respective historical contexts, both films came to opposite conclusion, thanks
to his mis-en-scene Chaplin’s portrayal is dystopian whereas Vertov’s used his
proper editing techniques to illustrate the ideal of a utopian society. 


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