Sunday, July 25, 2010

City Lights

City Lights, 1931
Dir: Charlie Chaplin

If there's a Chaplin silent to show people, it's probably this. I don't think I can really add anything to the heaps of praise that have been thrown on this by innumerable acclaimed directors and critics except that this is the only Chaplin film that really moved me in anyway beyond his normal sentimentality. It is rightly called a masterpiece.

The part of this film that you could toss are all the repetitive physical gags, but people ate that stuff up (and I'm guessing they still do). The funniest bit is actually right at the very beginning where some politicians are giving speeches and Chaplin gives them the "wha-wah-wah" treatment. Seriously though, he is no Keaton when it comes to awesome, hilarious stunts. The Tramp as a character is a pantomime relic and kind of has to be taken with a grain of salt, but here I think Chaplin's emotional genius really overpowers the hokey comedy bits. While being trampish in a city, he meets a blind flower girl whom he immediately falls in love with but has no way of consummating the relationship. He then saves an eccentric millionaire from commiting suicide and "becomes" his best friend, but soon realizes that the friendship is only relevant when the millionaire is drunk. Some of the best stuff is when they are drunk together out on the town, not from a comedy standpoint but just a cinematic one. Using some of the millionaire's wasted patronage, The Tramp is able to ingratiate himself with the girl, which is just the sort of affection she has always wanted. But when the possibility of eye surgery comes up so she can "see," how will he keep up the ruse?

Scenes where The Tramp interacts with the girl, especially the last one, really show what everyone is talking about when they say he is the most "humane" director. There is a certain emotional weight that you just can't avoid. It gets to you, and at a certain point you realize that that is one of the main reasons why you keep watching film after film. To see those captured moments that say something to you personally, and then realize that it's saying something to everyone as well.

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