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Explaining the Cellphone User in the 1928 "Circus" Premiere Footage

by Christopher Campbell
October 26, 2010 7:07 AM
26 Comments
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In what seems to be the greatest potential real time-traveler mystery since John Titor, indie filmmaker George Clarke ("Battle of the Bone") has noticed a person seemingly talking on a cellphone at the 1928 premiere of Charlie Chaplin's "The Circus." Clark has shown the footage to hundreds of people and now shares it on YouTube with the strange shot in question zoomed in, slowed down and repeated over and over. The only thing missing is a narration saying something to the effect of "back and to the left."

Clarke's main explanation for the person's actions -- talking while holding something to his/her ear and mouth -- is that this is not only the use of a cellphone in 1928, but it must be a time traveler. Of course, it would almost make more sense for someone in 1928 to have invented an early sort of mobile phone than for a person to both travel through time and be able to get reception, whether in that year or through some trans-dimensional frequency a la the movie "Frequency."

Then again this could just be some crazy person talking to her dead husband via a magic piece of wood (as Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical suggests.) Similarly, Film Drunk's Vince Mancini says the person looks just like the crazy hobos in his neighborhood talking into imaginary phones). Clarke is clearly just using this crank-as-curiosity for personal and professional gain, right?

Brad Brevet at Rope of Silicon thinks it might just be an old-timey hearing aid and links to a possible device available at the time. Other more believable explanations read around the web include that this woman is shielding her eyes from the sun or the camera, and then there's the totally plausible reasoning that she was smacked in the face by her husband and is holding the pained area. We could be logical about this and come up with other possibilities, or we can have fun with it.

It's interesting that this is coming out (thanks in part to Roger Ebert) during the 25th anniversary festivities for "Back to the Future" and the release of that film's Blu-ray. Oh, and Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter were seen together last night! Perhaps this is all just viral promotion for the possible third "Bill and Ted" movie? Maybe in this installment the boys use a cellphone to dial into the circuits of history (or whatever it was they did with the phone booth).

As we saw with "Freaked" (what, you missed it? shame on you), Winter has some interest in circuses -- or at least freak shows. My guess is that that person in the old film clip is in fact Winters. There, mystery solved.

Also, if this story and the circulation of the video ends up benefiting anyone or anything, hopefully it's the film itself. "The Circus" is one of the best silent comedies of all time. Let's all take a minute and watch the classic funhouse scene once again:


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More: Home Video

26 Comments

  • Just a random kid... | August 9, 2012 4:51 PMReply

    her husband probaly works with nasa and the manager told a team of astronauts to fly through a mysterious hole in space (black hole,which comcerns time travel through space)and they succeeded bringing back a device(cell phone) to 1928.the husband probaly took it and gave it to the wife during the film at the time,and then she is seen using it when she walks past zebra.anyways this just my opinion idk wht she had^_^

  • Nicholas Schanen | May 27, 2012 10:35 PMReply

    I find this very interesting, with someone using a cellphone in 1928. This could rewrite history, where did the laser come from? I believe we have had the technology all along from probably from other worldly planets? I'm sick of being lied to from our government and think they should come out with the truth, I think we are almost ready?

  • sergio contreras | November 28, 2010 11:30 AMReply

    maybe the all the ghosts we see are time travellers

  • Harwell | January 4, 2012 6:31 PM

    If it was the 1928 premire was it then filmed before 1928. since the walkie talkie was patented in 1938 and cell phone 1973. So if it was a communication device used by a possible time traveler, the next question on logically is what happen that a time traveler would want to be there or what could have happen in that area at the time of filming. Knowing that may uncover another clue.

  • sergio contreras | November 28, 2010 11:27 AMReply

    maybe he can visit himself when he was younger , maybe he is charlie chaplin

  • sergio contreras | November 28, 2010 11:22 AMReply

    maybe he could change the stock exchange or win the superlotto

  • Megan | November 19, 2010 5:39 AMReply

    Why are we assuming it's a cell phone that can work "through" time? If it is a time traveler they would need some sort of commucation device to get around.
    Something that could take them back and forth through time as well as be monitored. There would need to be something in orbit in 1928. I highly doubt anyone would be looking up in the sky in and be able to detect a satellite or commication device at that time and if they did who would believe them?

  • doug | November 16, 2010 3:07 AMReply

    If she's traveling in time, why did she change her garb to that era, and if it's because she would stand out and look odd if wearing updated clothing from her own era, didn't she assume also that holding a device 60 years b4 its time may appear unusual.
    Who says she's talking, did they not have food or gum back then.
    Why can't she be listening and singing to her music box that she just wound up to hear.
    She's also evidently wearing clothing for winter, as is the man in front of her.
    How would she get a weather report for that time.
    An intelligent person would be more prone to believe that the old hag was chewin' her cusp, has TMJ and this in turn causes ear pain,and discomfort.
    BE INTELLIGENT
    JUST THE FACT THAT SOME SCHMO IS ASKING FOR PEOPLE TO RESPOND TO VIDEO THAT HE'S A FAN OF AND TOWARDS THE END HE WANTS YOU TO GO OUT AND BUY WHAT HE'S INVOLVED IN, TELLS ME THAT HE RECEIVES KICKBACKS OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT. I call it criminal and offensive. Anyone who believes the mumbo/jumbo is probably a plant to get others to believe, or it's the original LIAR that discovered an idea to steal cash from pockets. He should travel back in time where people were more gullible. The problem there is NOT ENOUGH CASH
    By Doug on November 16, 2010 Reality Time

  • BlueCollarCritic | November 11, 2010 6:33 AMReply

    Its amazing how many people will say and believe anything just so they don’t have to embrace the idea that their preconceived notions about our world may have to be altered. It wasn’t that long ago that you could get publicly executed for saying the world wasn’t flat and not too long before that for saying that the Earth was NOT the center of the universe. At those points in time the so called “Experts” along with the wiling masses believed they were always right and any possible alternative idea or answer to something was not only impossible but possible cause for violent retribution like public execution.

    Maybe this is a time traveler and maybe not. Who knows. But to simply dismiss the idea this could be a time travel just because you don’t believe that is possible is just as ignorant and foolish as those who said the same thing about the idea that the Earth was round (not FLAT) and that it was not the center of our universe.

    Thank God the smartest of us, the scientists are not so closed minded else we’d probably still be learning in skool (btw I deliberately misspelled that to make a point) about how our flat Earth is the center of all creation.

    The fact is a hearing aid if the right shape and size (which has yet to be shown) might partly explain this mystery but it does not address it as a whole. If the lady was using some kind of hearing aid then what was she listening to while walking and who would she have been talking to and walking and hold herself like she was?

    As an easy test do the following. Get a cell phone (pretend it’s a hearing aid) and then hold it your ear and walk like this person was and try to listen and talk to someone nearby but who is far enough away that they would not appear close enough to show in the frame of the area that the camera shows. Don’t think about trying to imitate this person just focus on using an hearing aid while walking and talking and listening to someone far away and afterward think about how you held yourself and moved your body and see if it matches the posture and movements of this lady.

    BTW – If some idiot replies that it’s not a cell phone like device because there were no cell towers back then so its impossible, be careful of anything they say for this kind of person is truly the most ignorant of us all.

  • Mauro | November 3, 2010 8:10 AMReply

    What if it was was a time traveler and (s)he was hit with an expensive cell phone bill?

    "Charlie Chaplin Time Traveler Stuck With Expensive Cell Phone Bill"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUfKMflFvUI

  • Nana (not Visitor) | November 2, 2010 12:53 PMReply

    Of course a time traveller could have technology that gets round the lack of a network back then, but you have to ask why they'd dress contemporarily (to remain inconspicuous, presumably) and yet use such technology conspicuously thus drawing attention to themselves.

  • Mark | November 2, 2010 8:48 AMReply

    I think if it is a time traveller, to have worked out time travel than it would be safe to say they could work out how to get a mobile phone to work. Mauber the Time Traveling vehicle they used was a cell site also.
    I am not saying that the video is of a time traveller but just to say those who are dismissing it as false purely on the basis that they could not get "service" are naive

  • Benjamin | October 29, 2010 7:28 AMReply

    Which cellular service was installed in 1928?? AT&T , Sprint???. Its impossible that a cellphone can even get signal in 1928.
    http://peacecraft.tripod.com/infomining/cellphon.htm

  • Josiegirl | October 28, 2010 12:29 PMReply

    Wow, Skeptic, real intelligent comments...we all know there were no cell phones and radios in 1928...thanks for your superb insight...genius

  • Carlos L Sutter | October 27, 2010 10:17 AMReply

    Well, whatever it is the lady was holding in her hand, it can not be a cell phone, even assuming Time Traveling, because a "cell" phone requires a nearby cell station in order to receive the signal from that cell phone and transfer it back to another nearby cell phone or other cell station, or phone central station (equipped to receive cell phone signals) in order to connect to a "regular" land phone (cell phones don't communicate directly to one another, walkie-talkies do however). So, assuming Time Traveling, she could be using an advanced walkie-Talkie with a short, encapsulated antenna (as most cell phones nowadays have). Then again, once you assume Time Traveling, of course anything is possible, isn't it? I mean, why assume she is coming from our times, using a cell phone with all the above cumbersome and necessary set-up of cell stations in order for her cell phone to work, and if that was the case, wouldn't have been smarter to use a bluetooth ear piece instead hidden behind her hair? Why not assume also she came from "our" future, and thus have no need to use a cell phone to communicate with another Time Traveler in the area because she already had the device implanted in her inner ear?

    Nah, no Time Traveling, No cell Phone, no Walkie-Talkie. She was just holding her check book while talking to herself about what she was going to say to the bank teller. My grandmother used to do that all the time. :-)

  • whaaa? | October 27, 2010 8:35 AMReply

    Oh My GOD!!! That's bizarre... That horse looks like a ZEBRA!

    Seriously though, that's just a crazy lady. I mean, think of the roaming charges. Geez!

  • Iceni | January 13, 2014 3:18 PM

    Surely some society advanced enough to Time Travel would not have such an archaic device? And if it is a time Traveller, then perhaps it's not a cell phone but a communicator, ( A La Star Trek) to keep in touch with other Travellers . We today have have more sophisticated devices for our ears etc. So where did this traveller come from...the 1980s.
    Or maybe it is a Time traveller, not just from the future but from another planet or universe altogether, where perhaps they would have old cell phones etc, but still able to Time skip.
    And why would anyone be talking into a hearing aid?

  • JR | October 27, 2010 8:22 AMReply

    Early electronic hearing aid. See this page for details: http://www.hearingcenteronline.com/museum.shtml

    Really, a 5 minute search turned this up.

  • Rene | October 27, 2010 8:21 AMReply

    Let's pretend for a second here that this IS a time traveler and that she was able to carry a cell phone back to 1928. Now which bloody antennas would she be able to use ? Unless the 3G signal is powerful enough to be carried through times as well :). Unless there's a time travel app for my Android, I will have to check-out the Market.

  • Mike | October 27, 2010 7:34 AMReply

    I confess.
    It was I.
    I built a time machine, went back to record the movie on my cell phone to sell pirated copies.
    Yeah, I know.
    I didn't say it was a good plan.

  • eddie | October 27, 2010 5:38 AMReply

    Sorry, Skeptic, but the first poertable am/fm radio was in 1922. This wasn't one tho, cos they were as big as a household radio is today.

    More likely it's an early dictaphone thingy. The lady is maybe an actor, using it to memorise lines, or a journalost, using it to dictate copy.

  • WTF | October 27, 2010 5:28 AMReply

    I also saw this picture in a dream around a month ago.
    Nothing to do with the actual dream but remember sitting in a hydofoil and stopping at a red light. I saw this image then.

  • NHAnimator | October 27, 2010 4:20 AMReply

    If you download and frame-step through the video around the :52 second mark (and just as the image is cross-fading), you see the shadow of something which clearly has a square corner. Make what you will of that.

  • Skeptic | October 27, 2010 2:38 AMReply

    "It is not an AM/FM radio because, obviously, it's 1928." REALLY? Then it isn't a cell phone either because, obviously, it's 1928, genius.

  • Mark | October 27, 2010 2:30 AMReply

    Okay, okay, I admit it. It is my dear aunt Ruthy and she did travel back in time using the flux capacitor. I told that old hag not call anyone while going back in time and now I have proof she did. She was probably calling my uncle ronny to tell him he was going to grow up to be a dead beat drunk and he better change his ways now. The poor guy was only 4 1/2 when he got that call on his landline.

  • Allan | October 27, 2010 1:11 AMReply

    Omg i swear in my life i saw this picture in dream a month

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