Okay, I just saw this on the WGN News and it’s pretty freaky. It’s a very short segment associated with Charlie Chaplin‘s 1928 silent film The Circus in which a peculiar old woman is caught on film — apparently talking on a cell phone as she walks by.
The sequence was discovered by filmmaker George Clarke, of Yellow Fever Productions in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
In the YouTube video above, “Chaplins Time Traveler,” which has received 1,525,855 views at this writing, Clarke says he believes he is the first person to find this unusual moment in the 1920s footage. He bought the film as part of a DVD box set (The Chaplin Collection, Vol. 2) because he’s a Charlie Chaplin (and Jackie Chan) fan, and as a filmmaker, he tends to pay attention to the details, such as movie extras.
The footage showing the “time traveler” (Clarke is not jumping to any conclusions on that, but he does declare the object a mobile phone) does not come from Chaplin’s actual movie, but from one of the DVD extras, “The Hollywood premiere ,” which is also included on The Circus (2 Disc Special Edition). It is shot in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Clarke has screened it to at least 100 people over the past year or year and a half, and still has no satisfactory explanation.
The mobile phone is actually older than I realized. According to Wikipedia, the “first mobile telephone call made from a car occurred in St. Louis, Missouri, USA on June 17, 1946, but the system was impractical from what is considered a portable handset today.”
If the time traveler in the Chaplin footage is using a cell phone, it’s a fairly thin and modern model.
Writing in a Washington Post item titled “Charlie Chaplin Cell Phone Woman is the worst time traveler ever,” Alexandra Petri reasons that a true time traveler could have chosen so many cooler destinations. She figures the old woman “just likes walking with her hand on her face, because she doesn’t want the camera to capture that side of her soul.”
George Clarke urges you to study the DVD for yourself, then send him your comments.
As for myself, I think Clarke is right about the mysterious person being a man. Look very closely, and you’ll recognize him as Steve Jobs’ secret beta tester — Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright!