Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 44 - City Lights

City Lights (1931) directed by Charlie Chaplin

I feel truly fortunate to have been able to watch both Modern Times and City Lights so close together. (I feel fortunate to have watched a bunch of great movies during this run!) Both are so magnificent for their own reasons, but hold one constant that encapsulates what Chaplin did best, the ability to express unbound emotion and sentiment with just pictures. Modern Times is arguably a better movie. It's a bigger production, more ambitious, and more well crafted, but City Lights is just magical in its sentiment. If there was one thing Chaplin truly understood about filmmaking it was the universal appeal of his stories, anyone from China to Brazil would be able to understand the comedy and the romance. Emotion knows no language.

Chaplin's Little Tramp is an outcast in society, a vagrant with no home or friends. In Modern Times, his one companion is a fellow vagrant who accepts him for who he is as they both share the same story. However, in City Lights, the blind flower girl cannot see the Tramp's ragged clothing or his awkward demeanor, all she can see is his kindness and gentle heart. The Tramp, so used to being rejected by society, is too afraid to tell her the truth, he has nothing to offer her but his heart. If she could see with her eyes, would she turn him away like the millionaire who only recognizes him when he is drunk? The sober millionaire fails to see the Tramp for who he truly is, a kind hearted friend, and only sees the ragged exterior of a bum. This is why the Tramp's and the flower girl's romance is so sweet, she has been able to see him all along. If you don't feel anything during the final scene, you may want to check your pulse because it is one of the most touching and tender moments ever recorded on film.

This film is also funny in the same way Saturday morning cartoons are funny. You can just watch and laugh at the physical comedy. In my opinion, the very best of these scenes between both Modern Times and City Lights is the boxing match where Chaplin prances and dances around the ring with such effortless grace you wonder if he was the inspiration for many of the old Bugs Bunny routines. If there is one minor complaint I might have however is that he uses a variation of the same gag twice in the film. If you pay close attention, you will know what I mean.

I don't want to sound overly wistful or sappy, but there really is a magical quality to silent films. They share the same quality as those cartoons we remember so fondly as a child because they speak to us in a way anybody would understand. Chaplin in particular understood this and even as talkies were becoming the norm, he stuck to what he knew would capture our hearts, true then and even truer still eighty years later.

Grade: A

No comments:

Post a Comment