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#76 - City Lights

We visit Charlie Chaplin's impressive body of work again with this 1931 production, featuring Chaplin's Little Tramp on a quest to raise money to pay for an operation to restore the sight of a poor flower girl, the object of his affection. Along the way befriends a drunken millionaire, who then doesn't recognize him when he's sober. Chaplin also co-wrote, produced, directed, scored and edited the film.

This review will echo much of what I said about Modern Times, the first Chaplin film we watched, so go read that first, if you haven't. Chaplin is the master of his craft, which is, of course, silent pictures (which aren't exactly silent, per se -- they have a full musical score and the occasional sound effect). Talkies were just coming into vogue at this time, but Chaplin held firm to his practice -- and produced what many critics believe is his finest film.

I have to agree, having seen three of his movies now (yeah, I'm a little behind on writing them up, so sue me). It's difficult to explain why these movies are so great. Let me try using an analogy. When people who are unfamiliar with the Beatles listen to them, they may hear things -- textures, arrangements, styles -- that they are familiar with, because they've heard today's bands use them, and they may think that it is old hat -- been there, done that, why are they so groundbreaking? But what they may not realize is that it is exactly the opposite -- the Beatles invented those sounds. Everyone else is just following in their footsteps. If anything is old hat, it's today's bands.

I think, in the same way, Chaplin's films had a pervasive effect on the themes and styles used in film and the forms of media that have followed: television, animation, online video, etc. So the slapstick, slightly absurd comedy and running gags that he does so well are tropes that I have much experience with and love, even before I knew he was the model for them. He sets them up and uses them to absolutely hilarious effect.

This is just the first thing I love about Chaplin. That's not all, of course. Chaplin is quite skilled at using satire to address universal themes -- in this film, it's the hypocrisy, prissiness, and arrogance of wealthy "polite society" and cruelty to society's less fortunate, lovable outcasts like The Little Tramp himself. His careful editing and directing is evident in the flawless construction of the 90 minute gem. And his acting is no trifle either -- the final scene is truly touching, in ways that tear-jerking dramas of the present day only aspire to be.

If you haven't seen any of Chaplin's films, fix that. This is the one I'd recommend. I don't really forcefully recommend many of the movies we've watched on this project, but I am doing so for this one. I guess that speaks as loudly as anything as to how good it was.

(See this post if you're confused why I'm reviewing movies.)


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Comments (1)

I liked Modern Times better. :)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 25, 2008 4:50 PM.

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