Chaplin’s time traveller

Currently a short piece of silent film from the extras on a Charlie Chaplin DVD is a YouTube hit. At the time of typing, it has been viewed 1,569,512 times. The DVD is the MK2 boxed set of Chaplin feature films, specifically The Circus (1928). The extras footage shows a scene outside Graumann’s Chinese Theater where The Circus is being screened. There is a model of a zebra outside. A man walks past. Then a woman walks past, talking on a mobile phone.

Hang on, rewind – what was that? Graumann’s Chinese Theater, zebra, man, woman with … a mobile phone? Well that’s what it looks like, as she holds her hand to her ear as though clutching something, and she is clearly talking. It looks for all the world like someone using a mobile phone some sixty years before they were invented (and a small-sized one too, not like something Michael Douglas wielded in Wall Street).

So what’s going on? It’s fascinating to look all the theories proposed in the comments or by the person who spotted the clip and who introduces it on the video. His conclusion is that it’s an example of time travel. Since there is no such thing as time travel (I feel quite confident on this point), then we must look for other solutions. It could be digital trickery on the part of its discoverer – I don’t have the DVD to hand but presumably others would have checked this and discounted it. Some have said that she is holding a purse (and talking to it?). Some say that she has a hearing aid, of the bulky kind that then existed (but hearing aids don’t talk to you). Some say that she is simply shielding herself from the camera, or from the sun. Some say that she is not a she at all but a man in drag, though that just adds to the mystery. Perhaps she is just talking to herself.

The video is a bit long-winded, but he does shows us the clip repeatedly, slowed up and zooming in. The Bioscope has toyed with the theory that she’s a traditional folksinger with hand cupped to her ear, but maybe she is just shielding her face from the sun. And talking to herself.