Quick recap: Charlie Chaplin plays the Tramp, a guy just trying to get by. As he bounces along the city, he falls in love with a blind woman and becomes friends with a millionaire who only seems to like him after he has been drinking.
Fun (?) fact: The gibberish heard at the beginning of the film as the statue is being revealed was done by Chaplin. It is the first time his voice can be heard on film.
My thoughts: I was lucky enough to get to enjoy City Lights on the big screen at the Alamo Drafthouse. I almost went insane at the beginning of this project, sitting through all of those silent films. Many of them were good, but it still wore on me after awhile. It’s the very reason I decided to change things up and watch the movies in a random order, rather than chronologically. My love for the silent film almost returned with Metropolis and now I can fully embrace it again with this film. These early films were created for the big screen and I doubt I would’ve enjoyed Chaplin as much if I had been sitting at home. One of the best parts of the experience was not the movie itself, but being able to participate as an audience member. We collectively swooned when the Tramp was courting the Blind Woman and laughed when he got himself into another situation. I don’t use the word often but it was delightful, being a part of this. I felt like I had been transported back in time, watching it as if it had just come out.
I admit to not knowing much about Chaplin before watching City Lights. I knew him as a silent film star and to me that meant a lot of slapstick. At the time this film was made, ‘talkies’ had started creeping into the moviegoer’s experience. Despite the trend, Chaplin firmly believed that he could make a successful silent film, and he was proven correct tenfold, seeing as how this movie is considered as one of the greatest of all time. From the very first scene, when the Tramp is napping on a statue that has just been revealed to the public, I was hooked. Chaplin had a way to convey emotions so eloquently without saying a word. He is charming, to the point of being adorable. He is a good person, just trying to get by. And when bad things do happen to him, he takes it all lightly and pushes forward. One of my favorite scenes that show what a genius Chaplin is, occurs right after he and the Millionaire have fallen into the water. The Millionaire invites the Tramp back to his house, and as they ascend up the steps, he turns around and grabs the flower he had bought from the Blind Woman. It was such a simple gesture, but the way he does it conveys all of the love that he has for this woman.
I was a little apprehensive about seeing all the slapstick comedy because it’s not really my thing. I was worried that the outdated form would distract me from the movie, but it did the opposite. Instead, it showed me the beauty of a perfectly timed bit. The scene where the Tramp becomes a boxer in order to earn money for the Blind Woman is like watching ballet. It was very funny, but also beautifully done. I think I laughed hardest during the scene when the Tramp swallows a whistle and makes a sound every time he breathes. Once again, Chaplin has no need to say anything because his face is so full of expression.
And of course, the ending. The ending to City Lights is considered one of the greatest ever done. Not because there is anything spectacular, but because of its simplicity and once again, beauty. Throughout the film, the Tramp does what he can to become closer to the Blind Woman. He cares for her daily after she falls ill and does what he can to find money so that she can continue to live in her apartment. Somehow, the Tramp is able to get enough money to also help the Blind Woman see. The final scene happens when the two meet for the first time and she can finally see. The Blind Woman had been convinced the Tramp was actually a millionaire and the expressions she conveys as she realizes it is really this man in tattered clothing, is perfect. But the real beauty of it all is watching Chaplin as he is so excited to be seen and so, so hopeful. I am not a very emotional person when it comes to movies, but this one really got to me. It was also comforting to hear other audience members sniffling as the lights went back on.
Up next: Cleo from 5 to 7.