Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times & Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility


Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on art in the age of technological reproducibility makes one of its strongest points with the suggestion that within reproduction there is a loss of the “here and now” inherent in the original, yet, by coupling this reasoning with the artform that is film, there are fascinating disagreements to be had.

While the machines in Chaplin’s Modern Times are all apparently created with the idea of assisting and forwarding human life in mind, they most often make things more difficult, or operate with very little concern to the user they have been designed to benefit. For Benjamin, the introduction of new forms of technology into the realm of art for the purpose of duplicating that art carries with it a similar kind of duality. Granted, reproduction presents art to a larger group of people, yet it is only the true original that holds the ultimate power of the piece.

When it comes to film, its reproducibility is part of its very foundational form, and the technological process of reproduction in film ensures that each print is of a similar quality (at the point of its origin, that is, for film degrades with additional showings). Fitting then to find a plane of comparison between ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility’ and Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ — in Chaplin’s film, we see Charlie stuck within the gears of a large machine, running through it like celluloid, and coming out the other end a changed and confused fellow. While the image has been repeated countless times, in this case, it’s just as effective each time we see it.


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