Friday, March 25, 2016
CANON OF FILM: "CITY LIGHTS"
CITY LIGHTS (1931)
Director/Screenplay: Charles Chaplin
After much consideration, Charlie Chaplin decided that despite the emergence of the talkies film, in 1927, he went to work on a silent picture, probably realizing it might be his last, but to be sure he didn’t take sound for granted, he composed the entire score for the film and orchestrated all of the films sound effects. As a result, “City Lights,” may be the most treasured work in the Chaplin library. The movie story-wise is as simple as it gets. Charlie as the Tramp, befriends a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) who sells flowers on a street corner. But then, the woman mistakes Charlie for a rich millionaire, when she hears an expensive car door slam, and she assumes he has left. Later, Charlie saves a drunkard millionaire (Harry Myers) from killing himself, and the man is eternally grateful for him, but only when he’s drunk. When he’s sober, he has absolutely no recollection of Charlie. Charlie than learns that a doctor is Europe has a cure for blindness, but the woman is short on rent money, much less enough to go to Europe for an operation, but Charlie promises to get her the money anyway. The rest of the film is pretty much his attempts at getting her the money. He gets a job as a street cleaner, where he evades a pack of horses, only to be chased down by a herd of elephants. Arguably the most famous bit from the film, and the part I consider the funniest is the boxing scene where Charlie tries to earn money by winning a boxing match. As soon as the bell rings, he carefully continually positions himself between the referee and the other fighter, until finally both the fighter and referee are confused. Then he gets caught on the ring bell, and every time he gets knocked out, the bell rings. This goes on for a while. The opening sequence makes more sense back in ’31, as apparently a few politicians are giving speeches for a new statue unveiling, and as they begin to talk, they start sounding in gibberish. A light Chaplin dig on the talkie films that he was suddenly competing against. Chaplin still masterfully utilized sound though. During a formal dinner party at the millionaire’s, Chaplin accidentally shallows a tiny whistle, which suddenly gives him the hiccups, and the whistle becomes the first sound to ever come out of Chaplin’s/The Tramp mouth on screen. He tries to let it go, before eventually excusing himself and going outside, where he accidentally hails a cab, and then walks back into the house with all the neighborhood dogs around thinking he was calling him. The final scene in the movie, is the most famous. Chaplin has just come out of jail after getting the money for the girl, and is now even worse off than he originally was, and the flower girl, now able to see, now runs her own flower shop. The moment when she realizes her gentlemen millionaire suitor is none other than this Tramp is precious, and always makes me cry. Sometimes we think of Chaplin simply in terms of comedy and slapstick, but Chaplin was at his best when he was at his saddest. Inflicting pathos upon the screen like no one ever did up until that time. In these “City Lights,” there are disabilities, poverty, alcohol, corruption, and prison, not to mention total desperation. How Chaplin can inflict humor and ethos upon us is he gift to the world.