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Posted at 9:26 AM ET, 10/28/2010

Was a time traveler captured in footage of a Charlie Chaplin movie premiere?

By Jen Chaney

Is it possible that other people besides Marty McFly and Doc Brown have made use of the flux capacitor?

A Belfast filmmaker named George Clarke thinks so, based on footage from the 1928 premiere of Charlie Chaplin's "The Circus," where a woman can be seen talking on what appears to be a cellphone. The only explanation, one he acknowledges sounds kind of ridiculous: she's a time traveler.

Clarke stumbled upon video of the woman -- who, for the record, he also suspects may be a man in drag -- while watching the DVD extras for "The Circus." In the YouTube video above, which has gone viral in recent days, he says he showed the clip at a film festival in Belfast and 100 people were also convinced that, yes, this mysterious lady in the hat must have come from the future and somehow cruised by Grauman's Chinese Theatre while cameras were capturing the scene.

As other commenters have pointed out, if this is true, I really want to know what cellphone network she uses. Because she must get killer reception if she can still chat in the 1920s, without the aid of satellites or towers.

But seriously, if she's not a time traveler, there must be some other explanation for this. Here are some potential theories.

1. She's using a hearing aid: Michael Sheridan of the New York Daily News points out that small aids would have been available during this time period, so it's likely that that's what she was holding up to her ear. Although that doesn't explain who she's speaking to, but maybe she's just jibber-jabbering to herself. I know, it's hard to believe that people walked along Hollywood Boulevard talking to themselves in the '20s, but it just might be possible.

2. She's using her hand to amplify hearing: In a twist on the hearing aid theory, one YouTube commenter suggests the woman is merely cupping her hand to amplify the sound around her and there isn't anything in her hand at all. Which is plausible.

3. She's just adjusting her hat or gesturing to her face: After watching the footage several times, this is the most logical conclusion I can draw. if you watch closely, she eventually starts to put her hand back down and -- to me, a non-Irish filmmaker who hasn't devoted hours to parsing this footage -- it looks like there isn't actually anything in her fist at all.

4. She's Marty McFly, in drag and with a bit of extra weight on him, calling Doc and asking him to help her get back in time: You know what, scratch what I just said about the empty hand being the most logical conclusion. This is the answer! What, you think it's coincidence that this video went viral the same week that "Back to the Future" got rereleased on DVD and Blu-ray? Not a chance.

5. This woman turned the frozen donkey wheel and somehow ended up at a Charlie Chaplin premiere: As anyone who has dug up every "Lost" DVD easter egg knows, there is an obscure deleted scene from the show in which Ben Linus turns the wheel and winds up at the 2002 premiere of "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." (And man, the look on Sandra Bullock's face -- classic!) So this is really not outside the realm either.

6. That woman is actually the Doctor from "Doctor Who": This covers us on the time travel thing as well as the whole question of why the lady appears somewhat masculine. Seriously, tell me the woman in that video doesn't dress an awful lot like this guy:


Got another theory? By all means, post a comment -- in the present, the past, the future, whatever's most convenient for you.

Or simply tweet your time traveler theories, using the hashtag #timetraveler.

By Jen Chaney  | October 28, 2010; 9:26 AM ET
Categories:  Movies, Pop Culture, Viral Video  
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People will believe what they want to believe, facts be darned.

it is not a cell phone. No towers to carry the signal. And if they have time travel capabilities, surely they have invented a better way to communicate than cell phones? I'm partial to the implant myself.

That said: Maybe it's a "star whacker" just doing prep work for her job?

Posted by: epjd | October 28, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

In the Dr. Who with Christopher Eccleston from 2005, he fixes Rose's cell phone to work across time, no cell towers required. So maybe it's Rose phoning her mum?

Posted by: themegnapkin | October 28, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Assuming the footage is not hoaxed either by the person who brought it to all of our attention or by the person who put the old film stock on to DVD format let us evaluate every potential possibility:
Cell phone... as has been pointed out no infrastructure... so not a cell phone.
Time traveler... even a time traveler would not be able to use a cell phone in 1928 without the infrastructure, and if a time traveler from beyond our current time then the communication device he/she is using could be made much smaller. Obviously this person, if time traveler using communication device must be communicating to someone else who has a similar device/technology, but would need to bring the infrastructure to operate the devices with them which may cause the devices to need to be larger than our blue tooth type devices... not eliminated as possibility.
Space traveler/ time traveler... if this individual is from a distant civilization they would likely need to travel through both space and time to arrive in Hollywood in 1928, and the ship they traveled in could be used to relay the communication signal if it remains in geosynchronous orbit over the users of the device... more likely than a time traveler from our future.
Insane person... in 1928 if this individual was seen by people in authority, time traveler or not, they would be escorted to the mental institution where they would likely need to be rescued by their fellow travelers because the doctors would declare them insane and treat them with crude methods used in that time... not likely at all.
As far as it being a 1922 model Beaver Baby Grand radio (the size of about 6 quarters touching each other in a six-pack formation)... the specks show that a headset or speaker is required so a person would not hold it up to their ear, they would hold the speaker or headset to their ear, and I don’t think it worked on batteries so it would need a power source connection... so not a Baby Grand radio or Baby Grand 2 (1925 and slightly larger).
Hearing aid… obviously she is moving quickly and is not accompanied, he/she is speaking but not yelling to a person outside of the camera shot that she is hearing with the hearing aid. The hearing aids of the time were small enough to be the device in the film however the part that was that size was not the part that went to your ear, a cord attached to it and an earpiece went to your ear… not likely a hearing aid.
Time traveler would know not to be in front of camera because before the traveler went back in time he/she would be told by someone to not go in front of that camera due to the current attention the footage is getting… however how else would you be able to test the first attempt at time travel with actual evidence.

Part one to be continued

Posted by: mpfyffe | October 28, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Part 2

Is this a normal lady shielding her face from the lights and apologizing to the camera crew, or maybe coursing them… well is it day or night during this film clip, look at the shadows, lights would cast multiple shadows and the sun cast one. So not shielding her self from bright lights. How about shielding self from camera, see the bottom link to other footage of the premier and is that the same woman? If so she is not camera shy…not likely talking to camera crew.
Conclusion this is either an irritated/embarrassed woman cursing the camera crew, a space traveler, a test run of a future time traveler or a hoax.
The film has been edited and cuts away right as the person comes in good view, I would like to see the full length of the original stock film before it was put on DVD to help validate my conclusion. The only way to narrow down these possible conclusions or expand the possibilities is to get the original stock film analyze it frame by frame with a Sears and Robuck catalog from each year from say 1918 to 1929. And take those frames to a deaf person to see if the lips could be read. Or find a rich old lady born prior to 1918 who could afford the expensive shoes this person is wearing and see what they think of the footage. Someone should research who put the stock film on DVD and see if they had something up their sleeve.
Also from same 1928 premier check out this footage: if you are real good and can advance and pause the video frame-by-frame from seconds 4 to 9 and from 24 to 29 you will notice that in the first section when the lady next to the column left of the microphone brings up her left hand to her face the film begins to distort and does so only in the frames where her hand and the thing she is holding is closest to her mouth. Right before she brings her hand down it looks as if she was simply biting her fingernail while holding a very small purse, however when advancing the frames in the second part it looks as if she is holding a brush yet the perfect opportunity to see it she is blocked by the announcer who moves in front of her.

Posted by: mpfyffe | October 28, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

What, they didn't have crazy people in the '20s? My dear, departed grandmother used to walk around talking to herself all the time. She was usually wearing pajamas while doing so, but still, despite this lady's better sartorial choices, she's got nothing over grandma.

Posted by: MStreet1 | October 28, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I know it sounds nuts, but it looks like a young J Edgar Hoover in drag. The date is right, and he may have been scoping out commies. He had a rep for dressing in drag, maybe this is where it started. It probably is some kind of two-way radio he is speaking on.

Posted by: jjlancey | October 28, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

If this is all true, I wonder who her carrier was? I'd like to sign up.

Posted by: kvs09 | October 28, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

She's Guy Pearce from "The Time Traveler" That movie was so awful, Guy Pearce probably wishes it was produced at about the time Charlie Chaplain made this film. Don't believe me? Check out how long his hair was in the production photos.

Posted by: kylevitasek | October 28, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

There doesn't appear to actually be anything in the person's hand. So, I'm going with non-time traveler.

Posted by: TroyL | October 28, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Time travel: there's an ap for that!

Posted by: reddragon1 | October 28, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I think it's all just a little bit of self promotion on Clarke's part.

Posted by: sarahabc | October 28, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I think it was Gertrude Stein calling Alice in Paris.

Posted by: artemisfurie | October 28, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse


OK, first things first!!! That isn't just some "guy" pictured above, that's the LEGENDARY TOM BAKER, the greatest of all known as "The Doctor". Think Sean Connery and 007. That's Tom Baker to Doctor Who. But I do agree, the resemblance occurred to me as well and it would explain the video, case closed. "Jelly?"

OK, now onto my role as a 'skeptic' . . .

1) I'm not sure that's a woman.

2) This was "found" previously unreleased footage right? Well lot's of 'fun with film editing' could have occurred between the find and the release.

3) Chaplin was an observational comedic genius. Radio existed. Telephone existed. Who is to say he didn't forsee and find humorous a future in which people couldn't leave their phones home. A woman gabbing into such a device while walking about town would seem to be high comedy in those days at least to Chaplin (perhaps?)

4) I believe in Einstein and Relativity. Therefore I believe that, particularly with the exponentially increasing power of technology, time travel of some form will occur, someday, but . . .

4a) Let's say a viable method of time travel is discovered 20 years from now. We know how big cell phones were in 1990 (enormous and heavy). The alleged 'cell phone' in the film looks on the large side by even today's standards. Isn't it likely that the 'cell phone' of 2030 will look far different than that of the Android's, iPhones and flip-style phones of today? Perhaps by 2030 it's just a hidden earpiece, powered by current and heat from the body.

4b) Let's say that is a 'cell phone' in the film. Who is she/he calling in via cell in 1928 with NO CELL TOWERS of any kind to route the call through? I believe the first analog based cell tower went live in Japan in 1969.

4b Part Deux) Again let's assume that is a cell phone from the future in the lost film . . . maybe the size of it isn't reflective of standard digital nano-based terrestrial cell phone technology of the time traveler's year of origin. Perhaps it's a larger "extra-stellular" model. That's right, remember you were here reading this when that term was coined. Unless I'm from the future, which I may well be.

4c) Back to semi-seriousness now. Why, of ALL the places in time to choose from, would this portly woman (whom I think is a man dressed as a woman) choose a Chaplin movie lot in 1928? I suppose if it were a time travel viability test, landing on a movie backlot in 1928 would be benign compared to, say, standing behind Woodrow Wilson in 1919 at Versailles.

Conclusions: Definitely NOT a cell phone. And just as certainly not a time traveler.

Posted by: BigLeagues | October 28, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Could not simply be that the "lady" is not a lady but a guy so he is simply trying to hide the face and the hand so that it will be not so evident that was a man; and talking could get many simple esplanations, like no audio in the movie so could be talking with the people there to know if he was well hiding the hand and the face in a way to be exchanged for a woman instead or he could be so upset to get that part that he was starting to complaining alone for that etc. etc.
Open hand could be even more clear to see that was a man not a woman, don't you agree with that?

Posted by: fabri43 | October 28, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I have an explanation: it is a film of a person in a dark coat and hat walking with his hand near the side of his face.

Posted by: dushaneblaqman | October 28, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Anyone here remember when the "Post" was a serious newspaper? Time travel stories? Give us all a break.
Someone please put this rag out of its misery.

Posted by: willowglen | October 28, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

my question is: why doesnt McCoy stop her from that horrific traffic accident if he really loves her...

besides, if it were rose wouldn't BAD WOLF be scrawled across the theater marquee?

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | October 28, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

This "Hollywood Premiere 1928" footage is from the Bonus disk of the Charlie Chaplin "The Circus" DVD released in 2003 by Warner Home Video and M2K Editions. The original footage is owned by Douris Corporation. The woman is walking into the Grauman's forecourt to buy a movie ticket. Just this morning, I re-watched this "Hollywood Premiere 1928" footage directly off the DVD and the footage is identical. Not a fake. However, although the woman is holding her hand up next to her cheek, in my opinion there is no cellphone in her hand.

Posted by: MelaniC | October 28, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: kabuki3 | October 28, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I LOVE how many posters are really into the whole "time travel" thing, expounding in detail!! Awesome!! I guess it speaks to our own desires; namely, to travel back in history to witness specific events.

That being said, would someone really use their time travel opportunity just for a movie premiere? I think there are better choices - I, for example, want some answers: Was there a second shooter on the grassy knoll? Where did Amelia Earhart end up? Who was Jack the Ripper? What happened to Richard III's nephews? etc., etc., etc.

Posted by: pfallsgirl | October 28, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

the man in front of her is her husband. they're having an argument. he's walking quickly to avoid the argument and she's yelling at him to slow down. she has her hand to her head because she has a migraine. or she's scratching her temple. (watch her left index finger just before the shot cuts away.) the "phone" is just a shadow.

Posted by: basil9ab | October 28, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse


On this blog, you are surprised that we would use our time travel device to go to a movie premiere?

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | October 28, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

1. BigLeagues, I wonder if your reaction to the photo was similar to mine: "Hey, Tom Baker! Cool. But, man, he looks a lot like Buster Keaton in that picture."

2. Of course it's time travel. That's how the star whackers get around.

3. willowglen, [redacted]. And the horse you rode in on.

Posted by: byoolin1 | October 28, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I think we can officially say that Celebritology 2.0 has reached the point of too many posts per day. Clearly you are running out of celeb news to talk about if this totally absurd and made up nonsense is worth posting. Please go back to important news like Charlie Sheen's naked freak out with the porn actress.

Posted by: buffysummers | October 28, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Well, we know it's not the new iPhone - because the call would be dropped & the person would be shaking her fist.

Posted by: prfirm | October 28, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Imagine the roaming charges!

Posted by: GaryG1 | October 28, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

It's not a cell phone. It's a time phone! They are common place in the 24th centu... er, never mind. Forget what I said!

Posted by: WoodleyParker | October 28, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

A person walking with a hand near the face. That's all we see.

But so many people are immediately willing to see this as proof of a time traveler?! That's as stupid as seeing ripples on a Scotish lake and assuming there is a monster secretly lurking just under the surface. Or seeing circular patterns in fields of grain and assuming an alien ship made them upon landing.

What the world needs now is a double dose of critical thinking and a shot of healthy skepticism.

Posted by: dushaneblaqman | October 28, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Star Whacker on her mission to hit the Little Tramp with the Quivering Palm, which finally took him out 49 years later.

Posted by: HardyW | October 28, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

DorkusMaximus1 -
Good point . . . but The Circus wasn't the only choice in 1928. Personally, I would have chosen the first true "talkie" - Lights of New York - or even Steamboat Willie - the first animated cartoon with a completely-post-production added soundtrack.

Posted by: pfallsgirl | October 28, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

It's Meg Whitman. She used her billions to build a time machine. She went back in time to hunt down Jerry Brown's grandfather.

Posted by: dushaneblaqman | October 28, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I've had some of the scientists in my network review the film and their comments are as follows:

1) 25% She has a toothache and is holding something to her face to address the pain; and then reacts to the camera.

2) 75% say she is talking into a device that she is trying to conceal. In the close-up, it appears as if she says- "I Have Been" also, one pointed out that the hat ornament seems quite unusual.

3) Comments: Time Travel Debate: If you are a time traveler, and you want to give a message to someone from the past; you must arrange so that you arrive at a time and place where you know that person would be in attendance. So who was at the premiere? Nikola Tesla?

Posted by: Paumanok1 | October 28, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Fun, but bogus. The footage was manipulated so as to create a viral phenomenon online (in which we're all participating). The people behind it and the objective will be forthcoming.

Posted by: newsman71 | October 28, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I believe more likely an alien than time traveler. That's a crazy statement you say? How much crazier than people actually considering this could be a time traveler?
I believe aliens have been with us since the dawn of time and probably co-exist among us. Whose to say it wasn't an alien phoning home saying it's seen enough and for Scotty to beam him up?

While I do believe the US Government and most assuredly Russia have been working on time travel since WW2 and it's possible may have perfected it (one never knows), there is more likely a better explanation for this anomaly or Zed from planet Rastafarius in the Zeta quadrant.

Posted by: BubbaT | October 28, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Mr. Clarke! and my apologies to all of you. I didn't mean to step in front of the camera. I was in the middle of a nice date with Christine O'Donnell, sacrificing a chicken on the old altar and talking on the iPhone, when FLASH!...

Posted by: dricks | October 28, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Were I a time traveler, 1928 Hollywood would be as good a place as any to visit. With the talkie revolution underway, a writer could make major money from the studios (think of Ben Hecht's famed wire to a writer friend which more or less went, "Millions to be made out here and your only competition in idiots").

Of course, you'd want to reflect the sensibilities of the time; I doubt a late-twenties version of "Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman" would be very successful, even if Clara Bow or Marion Davies played the giantess in question. (William Randolph Hearst might have provided funds for the latter option, though.)

Posted by: VPaterno | October 28, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

"Assuming the footage is not hoaxed either by the person who brought it to all of our attention or by the person who put the old film stock on to DVD format"

Why are we assuming the MOST obvious explanation to not be true?

Posted by: mg5075 | October 28, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the sun was bothering his or her eyes.

Posted by: bobbo2 | October 28, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Time travel would explain how Obama got his birth announcement in the newspaper even though he was secretly born in Kenya...
kidding :)

Posted by: bmp246 | October 28, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Hey, if Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock can go back in time so that Kirk can knock boots with Joan Collins and change the history iof WW2, surely some lady can go back to 1928 and call in an order for pizza.

But if she'd been REALLY smart, she'd have gone to November of '29 and bought up a thousand shares of GE for a song.

Posted by: byoolin1 | October 28, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

There is something black in her hand, definitely. Looks like a phone to me!

Posted by: itsme1 | October 28, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

There is something black in her hand, definitely. Looks like a phone to me!

Posted by: itsme1 | October 28, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone viewed the movie? I downloaded and viewed the movie twice @FF and I never saw that scene in the movie. HOAX.

Posted by: samsscia | October 28, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone viewed the movie? I downloaded and viewed the movie twice @FF and I never saw that scene in the movie. HOAX.

Posted by: samsscia | October 28, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

First off, that's definitely a woman... just a woman with big feet. Judging by the shadows facing away from the camera, that black "cell phone" in her hand is continuous with her black scarf that goes down her front on both sides of her neck. My conclusion, its a black scarf in her hand. She's a crazy homeless woman rubbing her new-found scarf against her face and talking about how soft it is. I saw someone doing it last weekend.

Posted by: funkadelic | October 28, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

I can’t believe the attention George Clarke is getting because of the allegations of time travel in the Chaplin film. The movie is a hoax. It is either a double or triple exposure and the hand and phone have been drawn in. I've restored old photos where I had to draw in fingers and hands and, if I say so myself, I've drawn better hands. If you view it full screen and pause it, then, clicking on the button that shows the progress of the video and sliding it just a little a few times, you will see that the zebra turns into an elephant and a sign appears to the left of the elephant and the tree disappears. The sign appears to say, "Show Entrance". When he double exposed the zebra over the elephant a ghost picture of the elephant remained. You can't see it if the video is moving. Note also that the Zebra appears a bit sharper than the rest of the scene, indicating it is not part of the original.

Posted by: johnspires1 | October 28, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Commenters on Roger Ebert's blog seem to think it's Tesla, with a hearing aid device he'd invented.

Posted by: Blurgle | October 28, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

themegnapkin said
"Hearing aid… obviously she is moving quickly and is not accompanied, he/she is speaking but not yelling to a person outside of the camera shot that she is hearing with the hearing aid. The hearing aids of the time were small enough to be the device in the film however the part that was that size was not the part that went to your ear, a cord attached to it and an earpiece went to your ear… not likely a hearing aid."
darryl brambilla posted the following link on george clarke's site(which is now frozen for excessive success)

this is a picture of a 1928 hearing aid from a ny mfg that is cellphone size hand held and cordless and earpiece-less.

i think darryl brambilla has solved this mystery and provided the proof in pictures
so well done to both george clarke for presenting the world with this wonderful enigma and to darryl brambilla for offering us pictorial proof of a possible non-temporal displacement solution

Posted by: lovelee1 | October 28, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

My guess is that this video is a hoax. New film CAN be developed so that it looks 'old'. Numerous movie producers & directors have done it.

Get a film expert to examine the footage for 'cut-ins'. Kind of like what was done in the movie "Forrest Gump" where FG 'appears' in several historical events.

Posted by: momof20yo | October 29, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

Go read this article, then decide for yourself whether George Clarke's story is real or not. Don't forget to pay attention to the fact that George Clarke is himself a producer, promoting himself as well as this "Charlie Chaplin" mystery.

Posted by: momof20yo | October 29, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

The woman is holding her hand to her face to block the camera from filming her. She is holding a cigarette case in her hand -- 1920s ladies' cigarette cases looked very much like cellphones. See some representative samples at:

She *is* talking as she walks -- to the cameraman, saying something like "Oh no, don't take my picture. I look like a man in drag." He says something flattering and she lowers the hand from her face briefly. That explains the sheepish smile at the end.

I'd love it if time traveler *were* the correct answer, but I think this is a much more plausible explanation.

Posted by: cwalniuk | October 31, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

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