Zoom Salon - Modern Times (1936) – 88 minutes | Mechanics' Institute

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Zoom Salon - Modern Times (1936) – 88 minutes
January 2021 CinemaLit: Golden Silents

Friday, January 29, 2021 - 6:00pm


CinemaLit Film Series

January 2021 – Golden Silents

We start the CinemaLit 2021 season with a celebration of four great silent films. We've scheduled two highly consequential European dramas, Fritz Lang'sDr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) from Germany and Abel Gance's La Roue (1923) from France. Note: both films are over four hours long. We scheduled them at the beginning of the season so you could leisurely watch them over the winter break. Dr. Mabuse< is neatly segmented into parts and acts for serial watching, and La Roue is in two parts, each in the typical length range of a feature film.

The other two films on the docket are stunning American comedies, Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. (1924) and Charlie Chaplin'sModern Times (1936). They clock out at a relatively compact 46 and 88 minutes, respectively.

Short or long, funny or sad, domestic or imported, these are four very special titles from the distant film past.

January 29 - Modern Times (1936) – 88 minutes

Nobody but Charlie Chaplin could have made a major American silent film in 1936. Modern Times appeared nearly a decade after the advent of talking pictures, but Chaplin wanted one more outing with The Little Tramp before retiring the immortal character.

It's inaccurate to call Modern Times a purely silent film. It comes with a soundtrack. Chaplin employs a wealth of funny audio bits, taking full advantage of new technology alongside the archaic conventions of silent cinema. The minister's prudish wife hears Charlie's ill-timed digestive symphony. Bangs and thuds are heard as hard objects (including heads) make contact. The omnipotent factory boss, cast to resemble Henry Ford, speaks over a large wall-mounted flat screen closed circuit TV - prescient science fiction in 1936. Chaplin also neatly synchronizes a love song with The Gamin, played by the luminous Paulette Goddard. The tune was later given lyrics and popularized as "Smile." And when The Tramp vocalizes for the first and last time, out comes gibberish. In that one scene, Chaplin summarizes his feelings about sound, at least as it pertains to his career.

Modern Times is far more than a clever exercise in silence and sound. Chaplin's political consciousness was awakened on a trip around the world in 1933, as he witnessed poverty, labor strikes, the rise of fascism, and the tyranny of industrialization. The film's major set pieces, including a Sisyphean assembly line, multi-storied department store, and disassembling shack, comment on the social and economic inequities of capitalism as played out in the Depression. Chaplin's miracle artistry simultaneously gave us hysterical comedy, heartrending melodrama, and stinging social critique. It all came together in the dazzling Modern Times.


Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies. 

I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."

Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”



First watch the selected film on Kanopy. All you will need is either a Mechanics' Institute library card, or a San Francisco Public Library card, which will give you access to Kanopy and its treasure trove of movies. Make a reservation for our CinemaLit Salon as usual via Eventbrite and watch the film on Kanopy at your leisure. You will receive a link to the Friday night CinemaLit salon on Zoom one day in advance, and then an additional reminder roughly two hours in advance. On the night of the salon click the Zoom link and join us.

If you do not receive a Zoom Link by 4:00 PM on the day of the event, contact Pam Troy at [email protected]


Mechanics’ Institute members can now sign up for FREE access to Kanopy, a wonderful film streaming service. To sign up:

1. Click on  THIS LINK.

2. Click on the large orange login button that reads, “Log in to milibrary.”

3. Enter the 14-digit bar code from your MI Library card

4. Set up your account following Kanopy’s instructions, including your email and a password.

5. Kanopy will send verification to your email address.

You’ll be able to choose from a wonderful selection of films, including classics, pre-code, foreign films, and documentaries, including the films we’ve scheduled this month for CinemaLit.

If you are not a Mechanics’ Institute member, consider membership and click  HERE  to join online:

Or, you can check with your public library to see if they are Kanopy members. If so, you may use your public library card to set up a Kanopy account.


Register with Eventbrite below.

If the green TICKET button is not immediately visible, scroll down on the right in the Eventbrite window until it appears.


CinemaLit Films

Members Free
Public Sliding Scale Free to $10
Register now ›
4th Floor Meeting Room
Pam Troy - 415-393-0116
Register now by using the form below or calling .

Future CinemaLit Films

Jan 22 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - La Roue (1923) 268 min
January 2021 CinemaLit: Golden Silents

Feb 5 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Lorraine Hansberry Sighted Eyes / Feeling Heart (2017) – 117 minutes
February 2021 CinemaLit: In Celebration of Black History Month, Black Lives on Film 2

Feb 12 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Anita Speaking Truth to Power (2013) – 77 minutes
February 2021 CinemaLit: In Celebration of Black History Month, Black Lives on Film 2

Feb 19 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Moonlight (2016) – 111 minutes
February 2021 CinemaLit: In Celebration of Black History Month, Black Lives on Film 2

Feb 26 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Miss Juneteenth (2020) – 100 minutes
February 2021 CinemaLit: In Celebration of Black History Month, Black Lives on Film 2

Mar 5 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Heat and Dust (1983) – 130 minutes
March 2021 CinemaLit: Merchant Ivory from Page to Screen