This story was first published on 1st November 2010
Footage from a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film appears to show a woman using a mobile (cell) phone decades before they were invented. Commentators have suggested that the Chaplin film may have inadvertently captured a time traveller.
While the footage has certainly generated a great deal of debate, the most likely explanation is that the woman is using an early model hearing aid.
Subject: Cell phones in 1928?
Cell phones in 1928?
A Charlie Chaplin film from 1928 showing a woman using a mobile phone has left viewers stumped. Is the scene real or doctored?
Footage allegedly depicting a time-travelling mobile phone user in a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film has generated a great deal of buzz.
The footage, which circulates “virally” via a number of YouTube videos, shows an elderly woman walking with what looks like a mobile phone up to her ear. The woman appears to be speaking on the phone. The footage reportedly comes from extra, behind-the-scenes material included with DVD versions of Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 film, The Circus.
Since mobile phones did not exist in 1928, it has been suggested that the woman was actually a time-traveller from the future who was inadvertently caught on film making a mobile phone call.
In October 2010, Irish filmmaker George Clarke published a YouTube video discussing the “unusual” footage. Clarke claims that after repeated viewing of the footage, which he discovered in some behind-the-scenes material showing the film’s Hollywood Premiere, he was unable to come up with an explanation for the apparent anomaly. Nor, he claims, were the 100 other people to which he subsequently showed the film.
The footage is certainly intriguing. It does appear that the woman is not only holding a mobile phone to her ear but also speaking periodically as one would during a normal phone conversation. Thus, it is not surprising that the footage has generated so much debate and commentary.
The time-travelling explanation is certainly an interesting one, and as something of an SF fan, I almost wish it were true.
However, sadly, a much more mundane explanation seems vastly more likely. Many have suggested that the woman is, in fact, using a hearing aid device which would have been held to the user’s ear as seen in the footage.
The device may well be an early hearing aid created by hearing instrument company, Siemens. A hearing aid of some description does seem to be the most likely explanation. A photograph of a woman using one such hearing device available on the Siemens website is quite reminiscent of the “mobile phone using” woman in the Chaplin footage.
Of course, many commentators have asked why the woman would actually be talking if the device was a hearing aid rather than a mobile phone. But perhaps she was simply talking to herself or the man in front of her, testing the functionality of the hearing device, or even just cursing the device’s inadequacies.
And, in any case, if a time traveller went to all of the trouble of going back in time and carefully donning period costume in order to blend in, you would hardly expect her to whip out a mobile phone and start chatting openly in such a public place.
Moreover, given that there were obviously no mobile phone towers or other necessary infrastructure back in 1928, one wonders how she got service at all! And who would she be talking to? Perhaps other time travellers, or was this “phone” a Dr Who type instrument that could work through both space and time?
Either way, I’d really like to find out which phone company she users, as she is certainly getting better coverage and service than I’m currently getting from my provider!
A more cynical observer might also point out that George Clarke’s film about his “discovery” – which prominently features posters and other promotional material for the filmmaker’s productions – has provided him with a great deal of valuable exposure.