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Bring 'WALL-E' fans to Chaplin's 'Modern Times' at Abell Summer Film Series

Update: Because of the heat and threats of thunderstorms, the screening has been rescheduled for Saturday night.

Charlie Chaplin, especially in his Tramp persona, never loses his ticklish-poignant appeal. Prove it to yourself -- and do your family a favor -- by bringing the youngest 'WALL-E' fans in your house to see Chaplin's "Modern Times" tonight at 8:30 at the Abell Open Space (330 block of E. 32nd Street). It's the kick-off film for the 2011 Abell Summer Film Series.

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Pixar devotees are sure to recognize the kinship between Chaplin's plucky factory worker and WALL-E, the never-say-die trash-collector who is left alone to clean up a garbage-devastated earth. WALL-E's creator, director Andrew Stanton, is a longtime fan of Buster Keaton. But Chaplin was the silent clown who hovered over "WALL-E." When I interviewed him in 2008, Stanton agreed that in addition to "hundreds of other films," WALL-E has a touch of Chaplin's "Modern Times." In content -- as "an indirect comment on one possibility of the automation of humanity and losing your soul." And in style, too -- "Modern Times" (1936) was a silent made in the sound era, with a music track, sound effects, gibberish and only a smattering of English.

Just as "Modern Times," despite its mordant view of modern industry, became Chaplin's cheeriest film because of the Tramp's romance with a "gamine" (Paulette Goddard), "WALL-E" became one of Pixar's most piquant and satisfying films because of WALL-E's courtship of EVE, the svelte Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator sent from the Buy N Large mother ship to see if plants have started growing again on Earth. EVE helped Stanton locate the core of the movie and also simply added to the pantomimed fun: "I already had one 'person" who spoke a different language than I did, and now he'd fall in love with someone of a different nationality who spoke another language."If "Modern Times" inspires new Chaplin fans in your circle -- or makes you a Chaplin fan all over again -- check out Richard Attenborough's sprawling (also gimmicky and damnably respectable) biopic, "Chaplin," if only to see the astonishingly talented Robert Downey, Jr., in the title role. Downey embodies the distinctive Chaplin blend of spunk, poetry, and enigmatic sensuality. In the film's most diverting patches, Downey reaches the same combination of balletic grace and robust iconoclastic farce that Chaplin did in a half-dozen classic features and scores of inspired silent shorts.

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