Me or my lying eyes l Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Apr 04, 2018

In the fall of 2010, an Irish filmmaker named George Clarke was watching a DVD of “The Circus,” a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film, when he began to wander through some of the extra features on the disc and made an extraordinary discovery.

Let me back up a bit. He spotted something. Whether you think it’s important has a lot to do with you, I guess.

Clarke was watching one of the special DVD extras, a documentary about the film, when he noticed an artifact of sorts.

You’d see it, too. I wouldn’t need to secretly slip a note into your psychological suggestion box; I could show you the video without comment and you’d know immediately what it was.

The footage is from the Hollywood premiere of “The Circus” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The clip that Clarke eventually posted online shows the street in front of the theater, with various moviegoers and other pedestrians walking past. A woman of a certain age goes by, dressed elegantly and chatting amiably on her phone, maybe about the movie. Who knows?

This is when Clarke pushed “pause” and considered. It was just stray film footage, hardly remarkable, a little time capsule of a moment that normally wouldn’t linger. You’ve probably heard of Charlie Chaplin, but do you know “The Circus”?

It actually was a successful film, and it’s still considered one of the best “Little Tramp” performances in Chaplin’s career, although it’s not well known today. It made nearly $4 million when it was released, though, and those are 1928 dollars.

And this woman was apparently talking on a 1928 cellphone, so you can understand why Clarke suddenly got interested.

Again, you’d see it. It’s unmistakable, even though it’s a mistake. She’s onscreen for only a couple of seconds, walking briskly and talking like nobody’s business. It’s a common sight, one none of us would spend a second reflecting about in 2018. Ninety years after the premiere of “The Circus.” Thirty years after mobile phones started to become popular.

I’ve watched this clip several times in the past few minutes. The woman is obviously talking on a cellphone. She also obviously is not. But she is. And so on.

It feels like an optical illusion, a trick of light and shadow, and of course it is. That’s essentially the definition of photography, and a film is a photograph. It’s only a reflection of reality. Keep telling yourself that. This woman is talking on a cell phone.

Clarke was baffled, and suggested, possibly with his tongue in his cheek, that this was evidence of time travel, although there are some problems with that theory. The most obvious is that even if this were a time traveler from the future, disguised as a 1928 woman but for some reason using future technology in public, to whom was she talking? And did she bring a cellular network with her in the time tunnel? Did Verizon come along for the trip?

These are real questions. I know, because I watched them being asked, eight years ago. For about a week, the internet was buzzing in certain quarters with theories and explanations about the physics of time travel and the necessary infrastructure of imaginary journeys. People seemed very serious. I was fascinated.

The answer showed up fairly quickly, too. She was probably speaking to a man who was walking briskly several steps in front of her, as if trying to escape. She was probably holding an assistive device for the hearing impaired, a new technology at the time, something that advertisements of that era show looking remarkably like a cellphone. Case closed, or so you would think.

People want to believe, and they like variety. There are over 4,000 distinct religious faiths in the world, for example. There are surely many more conspiracy theories, from inside jobs to alien encounters, from false flags to the deep state, and people aren’t particularly picky when it comes to logic.

Rosie O’Donnell famously believed that fire will not melt steel, and so the attacks of 9-11 had to be planned by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Roseanne Barr apparently believes all sorts of wild things, as evidenced in the past week or so.

In fact, I was going to comment on Roseanne, and “Roseanne.” The reboot of her show along with her political philosophy has been in the news, and it made me wonder about celebrity opinions and our willingness (or lack of it) to separate art from the artist.

I wasn’t a particular fan of the original show, or Roseanne, so I feel pretty neutral. I just wonder why anyone cares what this clever, funny, talented woman thinks about the trade deficit, for example, and whether they should. I thought it was an interesting topic.

I still do. I thought about it a couple of months ago, when the #metoo movement took off. I thought about it when Bill Cosby’s alleged crimes were exposed. I thought about it when Mel Gibson got pulled over for drunk driving and went on a little anti-Semitic rampage.

Sometimes I don’t care. Some people I’ll never watch again this side of news video in which they’re wearing orange jumpsuits.

But I watched that 1928 video again, just to remind myself. That woman was talking on a cellphone. She wasn’t. But she was. I sort of forgot about Roseanne. I sort of understand her, too.

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