Film Flick Friday: City Lights

Friday, August 3, 2012

"All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl," Charlie Chaplin once said, and that is exactly what City Lights is- a comedy involving the police, a park, and a pretty girl- well, perhaps there's a bit more to it, but not much. Viewers watch the Tramp go through mishaps and reversals of fortune as he falls in love with a blind flower girl and attempts to help her. The simple story takes on a hint of the poetic as one watches. The Tramp, with Chaplin's impecable expressiveness, seems the eternal outsider. Shunned by general society, poked fun at and bodily thrown out more than one door, he only seems to make friends with those who miss who he truly is- a blind girl who mistakes him for a millionaire and a millionaire who only remembers him when he's drunk! One watches for the comedic timing, the delayed reaction and the penguin-walking misfit, only to come away surprised by the touching final scene.

Though not techinically a silent film- several scenes utilize sound cues for comedy- most notably the opening scenes with politicians, and a scene involving a whistle- there is no talking. Instead, Chaplin's Tramp communicates through body langauge, the art of the pratfall and, rarely, a dialogue card. Chaplin's clownish character The Tramp has been a pheomenon since first appearing on celliod. At one time it was supposedly the most famous image on Earth. What made Chaplin so well known then is what, arguably, is keeping audieces away today- that lack of sound that made his stories transcend any language. Modern viewers shouldn't let that deter them though. Stick with it and keep watching. There's an art, Chaplins proves, to being a clown.

Though Chaplin later went down as saying City Lights was his favorite film, it couldn't have been at the time of its making! Not only was it one of Chaplin's most expensive films, production spanned years and a revolution in film making. It was started in 1927, but, with the introduction of sound, within a year and half the silent films were on their way out. It was a daring, but by no means sure choice  to keep the talking out. On top of that, Chaplin's co star, Virginia Cherrill, was a divorced socialite with no interest in an acting career. Showing up late, and leaving earlier, Chaplin finally fired her after she prioritized a hair appointment over his film. He had to hire her back at double the original salary though when he realized they were too far along in production to justify reshooting so many scenes.

But the pain and worry , time and expense paid off. Chaplin may have needed 328 takes to shoot the scene where the Tramp and the Flower Girl meet (it took that long to come up with a way for the Flower Girl to mistake the Tramp for a wealthy man. Finally, they decided to have Chaplin walk through a limo to get across the street. A sound cue of the door shutting solved his problem!), but what resulted was one of Cinema's best. It was Chaplin's own top grossing film. The American Film Institute labelled City Lights as number 76 on their 1998 edition of the Top 100 American Films, and Roger Ebert has said its the single film that comes the closest to showing all that was great about Chaplin's genius. "It contains the slapstick, the pathos, the pantomime, the effortless physical coordination, the melodrama, the bawdiness, the grace, and, of course, the Little Tramp." As for myself, I definitely felt it was worth the watch. The quality- the fuzzy black and white images with no sound- may require a bit of an adjustment for some and certainly, as with all comedies, its better viewed with others. And arguably this film might be best enjoyed by young children. After all, they know only too well that sometimes words are just cluttering up the story somebody wanted to tell. But no matter your age, you will be young at heart seeing the Tramp open the eyes of his blind love.


  1. Sounds good.. I am ashamed to admit I've never watched any Chaplin movies. I definitely need to check this one out!

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  2. This sounds so great! I want to watch it!

    xoxo Sarah

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  3. I love Charlie Chaplin movies!...any old movies actually.


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  4. After reading what you said, it is ironic that you put together words which perfectly express the wordlessness of such an iconic movie!! You really wrote a wonderful review which propels me to see it!!

    Loving your blog,

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  5. This is a wonderful write up! It makes me want to see the movie. I'm so terrible at watching movies unless someone shoves it down my throat. Write more reviews!

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