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Geek Discussion: Does Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 Film ‘The Circus’ Show Someone On A Cell Phone?
The Movie God   |  @   |  

Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

Many of you who have a strong love of films and what goes into making them probably watch a lot of the special features that come on DVDs and Blu-rays. For some of us, they can sometimes be just as good or even better than the movie we’ve just seen. There’s just something about seeing all of the many steps of creating a movie and seeing the cast and crew on the set doing their thing that’s simply fascinating to witness. Along with these great making of features, there’s often plenty of other features that concentrate on various parts of a movie’s journey to the big screen and our waiting eyes.

One such movie fan and filmmaker named George Clarke, while checking out some of the special features on Charlie Chaplin‘s 1928 film, The Circus, noticed something rather strange. The feature showcased the film’s premier at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and at one moment, it would appear that a woman walks by the camera while talking on a cell phone! Did we mention this was 1928?!

Be sure to head on over to the other side to check out the video in which Mr. Clarke talks about how he spotted this curious occurrence, and what he thinks could be going on…including the possibility that someone unlocked the secrets to time travel.

OK, so in all honesty we know that there’s just no possible way that this is a cell phone, nor did someone go Marty McFlying back to 1928 to compile the biggest set of roaming charges humankind could ever imagine. Who would you even call as the only cell phone-carrying person in the late ’20s?

All of that said, you can’t deny that it does really look like someone chatting away on a mobile phone. It’s not like people just walk around talking to themselves with their hand slapped against their own head, so what could this possibly be?

Perhaps this person was just recently mugged and was cursing their attacker out while holding a little ice to the cheek? You be the judge! Watch the video now and by all means, share what you think might be going on here.


[Source: George Clarke via Sun Times]


  1. It was Dr. Torque. testing out a new device with good friend Tesla.
    I swears it.

    Comment by ThinkBaker — October 25, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

  2. the way the woman is holding the item, using the whole hand to tightly grip (two on the side, two on the top for a firm grip) shows she is putting pressure onto her ear with it whatever the item may be.
    I nearly did not see the clip – waiting for George Clarke to shut up and show the clip already was difficult….

    Comment by Vulculan — October 25, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

  3. Could it be an early hearing aid? Simple electric hearing aids had been around in some form or another for 20 years at the time of the premiere of “The Circus”. Check out this ad art from 1903 for the Acousticon:

    If she’s talking (or is trying to talk) to the man who walked off camera ahead of her, she’d be pressing the hearing aid to her ear to continue the conversation or get his attention (if he’d gotten out of range.)

    Comment by Dr. Geek, Ph.D. — October 25, 2010 @ 8:57 pm

  4. Hearing aid.. holding their head with a headache.. scratching their head.. blocking out the sun while talking to themselves.. plenty of explanations and possibilities.

    the thin black thing IS A SHADOW.



    give me a break.

    Comment by Devon — October 25, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

  5. @Dr. Geek

    Nice! A friend of mine sent me a link from the same place —

    Hearing aids were like boom boxes back then.

    Seems to be the most likely of realistic choices.

    Comment by The Movie God — October 25, 2010 @ 10:26 pm

  6. probably a hearing aid like this:

    Comment by Ed Hands — October 25, 2010 @ 11:40 pm

  7. I think it was a walkie talkie!

    Comment by robertarizona — October 25, 2010 @ 11:45 pm

  8. The old fashioned hearing aids don’t seem like they were held up to one’s ear; those photos on that site show them clipped or strapped on to the body.

    When I first looked at this footage, I was like ‘oh wow, look at that, it does look like a cell phone.’ Then when the footage was slowed up, I’ll be honest, I got a bit spooked! That stuff always freaks me out, kind of like when you watch that scene in Wizard of Oz where the person supposedly hanged themselves in the background.

    Anyhow, it really does look like a cell phone. There’s no antenna to be a walkie-talkie.

    Comment by Empress Eve — October 26, 2010 @ 1:18 am

  9. I like how he dismisses it could be an am/fm radio, b/c it’s 1928, but he is convinced it’s a cell phone. I don’t know where they could get a cell signal as there were no cell networks/towers back then either.

    It is interesting though. What is that person holding?

    Comment by Fred — October 26, 2010 @ 2:22 am

  10. If they can travel through time, why are they using cell phones still?

    Comment by Donald — October 26, 2010 @ 10:15 am

  11. Could it just be the actress is pretending to talk on a phone as part of a joke? Like a regular phone of the time. I’m not familiar the movie so I don’t know the context of the scene.

    Comment by Fierste — October 26, 2010 @ 10:29 am

  12. “no cell phone towers, so it can’t be a cell phone”? are you kidding me? If indeed it is a time traveller i am certain they would have a technology that would negate the need of a cell tower… referenceing the “device” as a “cell phone” is only to codify “it” as somthing that should not exist at the time of filming… it is not a “cell phone”… but could it be a communication device (or recording devise) used by the time traveller?

    Comment by IronRhino — October 26, 2010 @ 11:40 am

  13. They definately act as if they are speaking to someone.
    Wasn’t chaplin targeted by the govt for being a commie ? Or something like that .
    I know that japan gets technology we do NOT see in the usa,for sometimes almost 10yrs.
    Who knows what the CIA had technology wise back then.
    Radio appeared formally in about 1930.
    The govt cld have had it for years.
    We can assume any technology Japan has,our govt has…but its not revealed to the public for years.
    Same here.
    Walkie talkies weren’t far off…..and that does look like a man.
    I think its walks so oddly because the shoes are uncomfotable. And is that a glove on the hand?
    The hand is weird looking.
    But it absolutely looks like its yappin into its hand for reasons unknown.and it looks EXACTLY like anyone on the st today. Comfortable with it .
    Its something,but I don’t think time traveler is it.

    Comment by Missy — October 26, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

  14. And don’t anyone say there was no CIA then. We always have a secret,and a secret secret organization overlording everything in this country.

    Comment by Missy — October 26, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  15. Yes.
    Nicola Tesla transmitted the first radio waves in 1895:
    Chaplin was targeted by J Edgar Hoover and the FBI in the early 1920s.
    By 1950,he was blackballed from re entering the usa.
    His political involvement and support of FDR etc,pissed off a lot of people.
    He was targeted,and if you read more abt it,it was all quite vicious,but hoover was insane.

    All this tells us is,a device similiar to a cell phone,was in use ,about 80 years before the govt deemed the public cool enough to know about it.
    This wld be obvious to anyone that lives here and knows just how much propaganda is used against the public here.

    Commerical cell phones first appeared in about early 1992-93.

    I don’t think its a time traveler.
    Its some govt guy watching Chaplin for Hoover,and they had very cool toys.
    Its just a testament to how much is kept from the public.
    Imagine how much they hide from us now.

    Comment by Missy — October 26, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

  16. It is also possible that this is a hoax perpetrated by someone at the DVD house that put this collection together…just like the Topps employee that added something that looked like genetailia to C3PO in the original Star Wars card set…still pretty interesting.

    Comment by SGeabhart — October 26, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  17. Occam’s Razor people. As a few people already pointed out and provided evidence for, hearing aids during the time this film was made were large, clunky devices that people had to strap to their bodies or hold up to their ear with their hands, as show in the picture Dr. Geek posted. All we see here is a person walking while holding a device up to their ear. A hearing aid such as the Portable Acousticon explanation fits. It’s not very exciting, but it fits. No time travelers or government conspiracies necessary.

    The ‘suicide munchkin’ in the Wizard of Oz is just a bird
    The ‘ghost’ in Three Men and a Baby is just a cutout of Ted Danson

    Comment by WordSlinger — October 26, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

  18. you’d think anybody with the technology to time travel woulda brought a blue tooth with them….

    Comment by Dax — October 26, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

  19. how stupid! this person was merely trying to hide their face fromt he cameras and was basically talking to themselves! or maybe singing! people that are camera shy will attempt to hide their face while walking thru the view! if this was a person on a cell phone chatting it up in 1928 then where is the other person and the cell towers? stupid stupid stupid!! if a person discovered time travel, i promise you they wouldn’t show up on a charlie chaplin set, they would go where history was made or could be changed. seriously! i annoys me how people can actually be swayed to believe this!!!

    Comment by bonnie — October 26, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

  20. @Fierste

    There was no scene for you to need to know the context.

    This was filmed during the movie’s premiere — no actors or scenes, just regular folk going about their business.

    Comment by The Movie God — October 27, 2010 @ 12:38 am

  21. Although the video intro went on ridiculously long, that’s about the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s one of those things that’ll probably never be explained — unless, of course, that person hasn’t gone back in time yet. Improbable, but stranger things have happened.

    @Bonnie – If I could time travel, I know I would ABSOLUTELY go to the premiere of a movie. I don’t give a flip about Charlie Chaplin myself, but I’d kill to go back and see the original cut of “The Wizard of Oz” and the legendary premiere of the now-horribly truncated 1932 classic “Freaks.” Or just to see how audiences first reacted to “Dracula,” “Psycho,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” etc., etc. So there.

    Comment by Vince — October 27, 2010 @ 1:55 am

  22. She is talking to her make believe friends on her make believe cell phone. Next question…

    Comment by Dalton — October 27, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

  23. What would you think about this clip if you saw it 30 years ago, before the cultural norm of cell phones? I would say she just came from the dentist (pre novocaine days) and is holding a compress to her cheek.

    Forget about the “cell phone,” did anyone get a look at her shoes??!!

    Comment by Quillian — October 27, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

  24. @Empress Eve:

    As Wordslinger points out, a hearing aid like the Acousticon has an earpiece on the end of a stick-like handle (which the picture I link to clearly shows.) It also has a couple other parts that are strapped to the body, but there is also a phone-like earpiece.

    Not sexy, or scary, but pretty rational.

    Comment by Dr. Geek, Ph.D. — October 28, 2010 @ 1:35 am

  25. It’s a wind up music box. Here is a link to where you can buy one. Made prior to 1928, fits in the palm of your hand, you cold certainly hold it up to your ear and she is probably not talking, but is singing along with the tune that the box played.

    Comment by David Holt — October 29, 2010 @ 10:05 am

  26. I think it was a walkie talkie!

    Comment by Financial Times — October 29, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

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