City Lights marks a lot of first for my movie repertoire. It is the oldest movie I have ever seen, the only Pantomime I have ever seen, and the only Charlie Chaplin movie I have ever seen. So really, when I watched this movie, it wasn’t to appreciate it as some classic work of art. I considered it the same way I would watching any other movie, and wanted to know. Will it hold up.
First off, this is my first Charlie Chaplin movie. Sure I’ve heard his name and have some basic knowledge of the iconic man, but I really hadn’t seen any of his work. When the few slides of opening credits rolled, the first thing I realized is the man was not just an actor. He wrote, directed and even chose the musical scoring to City Lights. That latter is really impressive, as well without voices, the entire movie is scored with music, which communicates almost as much as the actors themselves.
|Don’t Worry Buddy, if I really thought you were going to do it, I wouln’d be smelling this flower.
The movies biggest obstacle of course when it comes to measuring up to modern movies, is that it has no voices. While, the music and those few quick squeaks at the beginning clearly indicate that the technology for recording voices must have existed, for some reason Chaplin chose to keep things simple and stick to pantomime. Considering this, the story must be kept relatively simple, and easy to communicate without any large dialogues or conversations. Because of this City Lights is a simple romantic comedy, which I think must have been one of the first kinds of movies. I mean, without the technology we have today, or the ability to have speaking characters, the story can’t really be a complex medieval tale of corruption and magic. But even with those limits, Chaplin knows what he is doing.
One of the reasons Chaplin’s work is still significant today, is because when it came to that era and style of filmmaking he was quite literally the master. While he keeps the story simple enough, you can tell that he realizes that it is threw body language and actions that everything must be communicated. While yes, he over-exaggerates many of his actions in order to max things humorous, he also communicates more subtly as well. I mean, Chaplin is the entire focus of the movie, and while you acknowledge the other characters are present, you never at any point want to remove your eyes from Chaplin, you never know what he is going to goof up next.
|That spaghetti looks rather plain even for black and white.
I thing that many people will describe City Lights, and other movies of its time and style as timeless and other such words. I wouldn’t really agree with that. While I agree that Chaplin’s work hasn’t really faded into memory to many, I wouldn’t say that modern films won’t be the same way as well. I mean, considering how long the film industry has been turning, I would say that a wonderful job is done at preserving the best works to grace the screen. But does that really mean that they hold up the same way today?
I will admit that watching City Lights was probably something I needed to do as a movie blogger. I pride myself in the variety of films I collect, and while I may not often venture into such long gone days of cinema, the work is still valid today. That being said, I wasn’t exactly astounded by City Lights. I mean, I have no real problem with any of it’s silence or black and white or age. The first twenty or so minutes are quite fun, mostly Chaplin himself and his goofy actions. However, when it comes down to it. The limit on how much can be communicated and how simple the story must be kept meant that things kind of dragged on. Today movies pack in so much knowledge and events in a small time that you can easily feel overwhelmed at times. City Lights however, is quite underwhelming in its way. It encompasses in the entire hour and twenty two minute length, the amount of story that is often covered today in a condensed twenty two minutes. I mean sure, maybe not overcrowding a movie is good, but considering the norms we are used to today, I found myself really waiting for the movie to wrap up.
|All I can think about while captioning this is how much I want to go to Pizza Hut.
The story is as I’ve said pretty simple. Chaplin’s lovable character, The Tramp, falls in love with this blind girl, who unfortunately believes he is wealthy. This is because of his on and off friendship with a millionaire, and The Tramp goes to great lengths to please the girl. While he gets into some interesting mishaps and scenarios trying to scrape together all the money he can, in the end things don’t work out for him. Then of course, true love conquers all and they apparently live happily ever after. Considering that no one slept with anyone else, that is one tame romantic comedy by today’s standards.
So, in the end I may not have overly enjoyed City Lights. Did I find it a waste of time? Not particularly. City Lights and Chaplin’s other works represent a past era in filmmaking that should not be forgotten. While it may be hard see the direct influences it had on today’s cinema, it is without a doubt there. When it comes to watching any movie of this era, Charlie Chaplin should be the first man on your list, for he was easily one of the best filmmakers and movie stars of his time. Let’s see what this game throws at me next.
By Dr. Richard Thornton
“City Lights” came out in 1931, and even though “talkies” have been around for a couple of years, Charles “Charlie” Chaplin decided to give one more silent film a go before calling it quits. And this would also be the final film in which Chaplin plays his trademark Tramp character, which is of course the character that made him a household name.
The story of “City Lights” is a bit depressing if you think about it using a modern mind. But if you were in 1931, you would most likely chuckle at the on screen antics of The Tramp. For instance, the film opens off with the unveiling of a statue but underneath the sheets is The Tramp, sleeping.
After being chased away by a large group, he roams around and comes across two boys selling newspapers. They make fun of him and cause him grief. This would upset anybody, especially in 1931 but thankfully The Tramp meets a Flower Girl, who is blind. During the exchange, she think he leaves her and instead of fixing the situation, The Tramp goes about his business.
Later on, The Tramp meets a drunk rich man who wants to kill himself. After talking him out of it, the rich guy befriends The Tramp and takes him home, where he showers him with gifts and money. The Tramp, wanting to win the affection of the blind flower girl, takes the money. But the next day, when the rich guy sobers up, he chases The Tramp away.
Thankfully, the rich guy gets drunk again and they go out and party. Unfortunately, the rich guy sobers up and kicks The Tramp out. The remainder of the film deals with The Tramp trying to win The Flower Girl over by finding out there’s a cure for her blindness. He takes a job to earn the money but while showing up late for work, he’s fired.
So naturally, he becomes a boxer and some more shenanagins ensue, which cause The Tramp to go to jail for awhile. The ending of the film is famous for having the most moving endings in film history, when The Tramp revisits the Flower Girl and she can see. But will she stay with The Tramp, or reject him and throw him back out to the streets?
Being one of Chaplins final silent films, it’s filmed beautifully and the use of music in the film is interesting to note. Most silent films just have an organ player playing throughout the film while the title cards are shown, but here this plays like a modern movie with different music cues and sound effects thrown in. Even at times the music sounds like speech, which is an interesting take on the whole film.
If you never seen a silent film before, I would highly suggest this film. It will surprise you, it will move you, and most importantly, it will make you chuckle. And if you never seen a Charlie Chaplin film before, this too would be a good start.