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.


4 responses

  1. Quite an interesting discovery — I have checked my copy of the DVD and the scene does appear to be there.

    But I think there may well be another explanation (other than time travel). The Western Electric Ortho-tronic hearing aid looks a bit like the device in this image; it was (for its day) a fairly sophisticated device, using active filtering to take away noise and amplify the range of the human voice. I haven’t been able to find an advert from 1928, but it was certainly widely advertised in the 1930’s — see here for one such image I grabbed from Popular Mechanics …

  2. As one who frequently talks to himself, I vote for a lady either shielding her eyes from the sun or holding a hearing aid, but definitely talking to herself.

  3. So we have it then – A time travelling, hard of hearing folk singer talking to herself about shielding her eyes from the sun! Excellent, I always knew we could rely on The Bioscope to clear things up.

  4. The Western Electric Ortho-tronic hearing aid looks uncannily like a mobile phone. Could she be using it to be able to hear what she is saying to herself? There’s a sort of logic to it. But I still like the folksinging / sunshading theory.

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