Saturday, 20 April 2013

City Lights (1931)

Charlie Chaplin Takes The Saying “Love Is Blind” Literally.

City Lights was the first Chaplin film I ever saw, and I owe all of my respect towards Chaplin to this very film. When I first watched it, I expected it to be filled with idiots falling over, however, there’s a fair bit more of kindness the fills up this film. Although City Lights doesn’t quite live up to the first viewing upon re-watch, it is still a very nice film that I will always treasure.

City Lights is simple in it’s plot. The film revolves around the beloved tramp, who one day falls in love with an innocent, blind flower girl. Upon realizing that she will soon be evicted should she be unable to raise twenty-two dollars in one day, the Tramp jumps to his feet in order to save the blind girl from her eviction.

People watch City Lights to get a good laugh. I must confess that upon re-watching City Lights, I didn’t get much chuckles. Sure, there’s a small chuckle in the boxing scene, there’s a small laugh and the image of the bubbles flying out of the man who eats the “soap sandwich”’s mouth. But overall, I really cannot see when not only I saw in the film but what millions of other people also saw in it. It does not have the laughs of Modern Times or the insightful commentary of The Great Dictator, ... so what does it have? After watching it - I realized City Lights is Chaplin’s most tender and sweet film he ever filmed. When I watched it, I was not smiling so much because of the jokes but because of the very kind aura the film managed to emit. It has something to do with how Chaplin manages the relationship between himself and the blind girl that makes City Lights deservable of it’s classic status.

What makes the relationship between the Tramp and the blind flower girl so fascinating, is the fact that she cannot look upon him to make any irrational judgements. He is a social pariah because of his lack of money. This is really a fantasy of Charlie Chaplin - a chance for him to find love with a woman who can’t judge him by his physical appearance. The Tramp dreams of a time when he can find love with someone who cannot judge him. In the beginning of the film - it seems as though The Tramp loves the idea of her. He loves the idea of someone who is blind and cannot see the real him. He becomes obsessed with such a concept (we see the peak of that when he grabs his friend’s wad of cash and runs), and he goes overboard. In the end of the film, SPOILER ALERT AHEAD, we realize just how sincere the Tramp really is about this romance. He no longer worships the idea of having a blind woman as a lover, because he pays for her eye treatment. That is a particularly strong moment in the film because it is that very moment that we see the Tramp is indeed in love. It is no longer a mere illusion - it is the real thing. Chaplin is very blunt with his message, “love is blind” is what he’s trying to tell us. However, in a message film - I think bluntness is what makes them work.

City Lights doesn’t have as much to it as some of Chaplin’s other great masterpieces - and for that, it fails to live up to some of Chaplin’s other great films. There is no complexity to this film whatsoever, although it does benefit from simplicity, there is no way to get any additional meaning from such a film. This was at a point in his career when Chaplin was on the verge of discovering the brilliance of what he could do with his camera. And so there is slightly more than a few laughs in City Lights, (unlike Chaplin’s older film, The Circus), but altogether, it equals less than I was hoping it would equal to.

Well, there you are. I have now reviewed every Chaplin film. So, where does the idea of City Lights stand among the other films of Chaplin? It combines the sense of humour we have seen in many of his other films. It combines the sweetness we see in many of his other films. It has a similar kind of love interest character we have seen in many of Chaplin’s other films. It even manages to squeeze in a parody of both the upper class and the new found love for talkies. That said, City Lights is filled with everything people love in Chaplin’s films. But that does not make it his best. Casino was filed with everything people loved in Martin Scorsese's film, but that did not make it his best. City Lights is Chaplin’s best film to watch first- but it’s not his best film overall.

City Lights,
Directed by Charlie Chaplin,
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Harry Myers and Virginia Cherril

★★★½ /★★★★★

3. City Lights
8. The Kid
10. A King in New York

1 comment: