Tag Archives: modern times

Mon Oncle (1958) and other beloveds

19 Jul

Mon-Oncle-5Mon Oncle (airing on TCM Sunday, July 21 at 8:00 p.m. as part of Bill Hader’s thrillingly well-curated Essentials, Jr.) is my favorite Tati film.

It’s not the best one – that’s clearly Play Time, an architecture only lessened by dancing about it, beyond saying that even the mention of it makes me want to stop typing, call in sick to my rehearsal and watch it; and even Les Vacances de M. Hulot is technically “better,” I suppose – but it remains my favorite.

Is it because I’m naturally avuncular in all things, and was long before the nieces and nephews came along? Is it because my not-so-secret ideal birthday gift would be a LEGO set of the Villa Arpel (and yard)? Is it because it’s a sweet, delicate painted eggshell of a comedy that bears up under as many viewings as you’re willing to give it, and yet isn’t a, you know, Black Turtleneck-y Art Film, despite the French subtitles (which, if you’re dealing with children watching this, you should know are almost entirely unnecessary)?

I think it’s because its so very, very funny, but not in a merely entertaining way, which is to say it asks you not to lean back and laugh passively but to lean forward and pay attention and smile broadly.

Mon onclemon-oncle2







I know a smile sounds like less than a laugh. It is not. Laughter is wonderful, but a Tati-bred smile is a smile that affects the rest of your week. The world around you becomes the film you just watched, and even its ugliness, its sharp-metal fish fountains and its traffic and its dirty streets and its dull jobs take on a beauty. So much knowledge and so much innocence hand in hand, distracting the Grown-Ups (different than adults) so they’ll walk into poles.

a-nous-la-liberteModern Times (1936)







Revel in the beauty of Mon Oncle, and when you’re done, enjoy the brilliant and entirely intertwined block that follows: Tati’s clear inspiration, Chaplin’s Modern Times at 10:00 p.m. and Chaplin’s clear inspiration, René Clair’s À Nous La Liberté at 2:00 a.m. (with Mickey starring Mabel Normand sneaking in at midnight and Clair’s Le Million closing things down at 3:45 a.m.) Seriously – when am I supposed to sleep?

Quickie: Modern Times/The Great Dictator

2 Jun

I won’t recapitulate my feelings on the Chaplin/Keaton/Lloyd schisms beyond saying again that I love ‘em all.

I do think Lloyd made the most effective transition to talkies, though few mention his post-silent work (Movie Crazy, anyone?), but Chaplin got out of that argument altogether by not really doing it for a dozen or so years. (Yes, a few words are spoken in Modern Times, but it’s really a silent film.) And this option – which none but one with the popularity of a Chaplin could get by with – allowed him to mature in a form everyone else abandoned. Even The Great Dictator is silent in much of its logic, and its language use spends almost as much time on gibberish and double talk than English.

My way of saying that Modern Times is just a lovely thing, one of those films full of images people who haven’t seen it don’t even know they know.


Ditto The Great Dictator.


I’m going to remind my sister to tape these (Modern Times is on TCM Monday June 3 at 6:00 a.m., Dictator at 11:15 a.m.) for the nieces. The four-year-old’s response to The Gold Rush was surprising and vehement and she’s become a Charlie fan. While these two are trickier to comprehend, she doesn’t seem to care.

Nor should anyone. Both have aged superbly (Dictator surprisingly so – I’d even argue that its oft-derided final speech plays better now) and if you’ve missed them somehow, they’re must-sees.