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Monday, 23 May 2011

Silent Film Marathon: Film 15

Similarly to the previous film reviewed, L'Age D'Or, Charlie Chaplin's City Lights is not technically a Silent film either, but unlike Bunuel did with the previous film, Chaplin obviously consciously made the chose to make this silent even though it he had the choice not too.

If I remember correctly, this was the first Charlie Chaplin film I ever saw. I was greatly impressed and even after seeing more of his work I believe it to be one of the best of his films, alongside Modern Times.
However, this is by far his most charming film.

Charlie Chaplin obviously had a hard time adjusting to the rise of Sound in Cinema.
Both City Lights and Modern Times were made as traditional Silent films (with a few exceptions) whereas he could have made them to suit the changes in Cinema. His later film, The Great Dictator was different, it tried harder to keep up with these monumental changes, but in some ways it still remains very close to films of the Silent Era. 
He was obviously under a lot of pressure to keep up with the times and make the film in sound, yet he refused and thanks to his enormous popularity with the public and his extremely high status is Hollywood ultimately had his way.
Surprisingly it proved to be a great success, probably because it represented many aspects of life during the Depression, for although this film is primarily a comedy, it does touch upon some issues that were extremely relevant at the time and were far from being humorous, but thankfully Chaplin doesn't mock these aspects but elevates them through humour and raises some interesting points without descending into the preachiness that marred The Great Dictator.

City Lights is a romantic comedy, I know that term has gained a somewhat negative meaning over the years, with all the terrible"rom-coms" and such, but several of the greatest films ever made could be classified as romantic comedies, and City Lights is one of them.
Charlie Chaplin portrays his most famous character, The Tramp who has appeared in practically all of his work although in different forms, for example in The Gold Rush he is a prospector, in Modern Times he is originally a worker but becomes The Tramp eventually and even in The Great Dictator the character of the barber reminded me often of the tramp.
But it is in City Lights that this character was at it's most developed, he encompasses everything aspect of the character that he had set up through a multitude of short films and, to various degrees, his feature films.
This character is easily one of Cinema's greatest and most instantly recognisable icons in the history of Cinema.

Yet he is a character that is mainly remembered for his goofy mistakes, shuffling walk and way of dress than the other sides to his character, such as the incredibly romantic side. He practically worships the love interests in his films in a very innocent and wholly likeable fashion, sadly though Chaplin's real life relationship with women was apparently a bit more complex.
Another side to this character that I find interesting is the fact that although he gets into all these laughable  misunderstandings and gags, he is rather plucky and often resorts to violence which, despite being used in a humorous fashion, goes to show that although he is obviously a sweet and loveable character at heart, he nonetheless seems slightly jaded by life and hardened to it's adversities. He is a tramp after all and very much a man of his time, in constant search for work and just generally "down and out".

But as always, the Tramp is incredibly lucky, and the final film presents a warming message that shows that money isn't everything and love will always find a way. This may sound simplistic, cliched even, but sometimes the best stories are the simplest. I know for sure that I'm not always in the mood for an emotionally complex, intellectually challenging film with an ambiguous ending, sometime such films overreach themselves and end up being pretentious messes, this never really happened to Chaplin as he knew what his audiences liked and delivered just that, but in a manner that will be pleasing to just about anyone. Chaplin was one of the few directors to achieve this, such widespread admiration from public, critics and film buffs alike.

But I digress, I really should get on with the story of this film, although I'm sure most of you are familiar with it already.
The Tramp is as always down and out but luckily befriends a drunken millionaire who takes a great liking to him. The Tramp sees this as a great way of improving his fortunes in life. And his fortunes definitely are in need of improving, as he has recently met a young flower seller who he has fallen deeply in love with. Sadly though she is blind, and while the Tramp pretends to be wealthy to impress her with the help of his millionaire friend, he eventually discovers that his friend does not recognise him when sober.
Thus the Tramp has got himself into a predicament, for he must know gather money for his new love's operation to restore her sight, but his friend no longer recognises him. He takes up various jobs with hilarious but unrewarding outcomes, but will he ever get the sum together and when he does, what will his love think when she finally sees him and discovers he is a tramp, not the wealthy man he had pretended to be.

As I'm sure you noticed, much of the film revolves around money, but I believe the true focus is the love between the tramp and the flower vendor.
This romance was easily the most charming depicted in any Chaplin film in my opinion, and who could forget the iconic parting shot of an infinitely happy tramp:
I think that one of the greatest things about City Lights, is that despite the fact that it contains a host of memorable and hilarious scenes for which the film is mainly remembered for such as the boxing scene, the dancing scene and many more, it still manages to keep the narrative in the foreground never becoming of diverted with it's comedic sketches and losing sight of the main focus.
A fantastic achievement considering just how many amazing individual scenes are present in this film. 

The boxing scene is often cited as one of the best and I would say it's one of the finest examples of physical comedy ever put to film. It manages to avoid being repetitive even though it lasts a rather long time and manages to make the audience laugh without even thinking twice about the actual situation, which is basically a man being beaten up by a much stronger man.
Interesting enough, the scene in which he swallows the whistle uses sound as it's primary comedic tool. I found this most remarkable as this was probably the first instance of this in a Chaplin film. A whole scene is built around this and while it is far from being one of the funniest of the film, it is still a notable change in Chaplin's methods, showing that despite what it may seem, he wasn't entirely averse to change in Cinema.

City Lights remains to this day one of Chaplin's greatest acheivements and one of Cinema's most iconic films. And I think it fully deserves that status. 
I find it most interesting that two of Chaplin's best films, City Lights and Modern Times were Silent style films made after the rise of sound. It's amazing how despite the public's love of the new talkies, they would still flock to the cinema to see Chaplin despite his out of date methods, that really was a devoted public, who were true fans unlike today public which will proclaim you a master of your craft one day and forget about you the next.

And with that review, which wasn't so much a review as a loosely structured series of thoughts on this film, I near the end of this Marathon. 
Up next is a surprise, I still haven't revealed which film will close this marathon but you will see sometime tomorrow. All I'll say is that due to the lack of Silent films after 1930, I'll be taking a step back in time with eh next review!

As always comments are appreciated, as is criticism, don't hesitate to post your thoughts on this film or on this review below!

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