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Film Review - City Lights
In 1931, the cinema was a place of simple stories. Westerns with good guys staring down bad guys and slap stick comedy were big. It was also the early talker era. At this time Charles Chaplin was a huge star with his own production company. Chaplin could do whatever he wanted, and did. Chaplin built a story that was rather long for the time, about a tramp who freely gives of himself.
Chaplin's tramp meets a blind girl who sells flowers for a living. She's just barely making it. The tramp is so smitten with her, that he actually gets a job to pay her rent. Meanwhile, the tramp also meets a millionaire who is nice only when drunk. When sober, the millionaire is uncaring, and doesn't even realize that the tramp has saved his life. Clearly, Chaplin is pandering to the depression era audience. Rich people are cruel, poor people are nice.
City Lights is not a silent film, but it is not a talker either. Chaplin decided that pantomime was a better method for acting in motion pictures, and City Lights used a sycronized disk of sound with the film. These sounds would usually be only music, but there is an early scene where a politician's voice is portrayed similar to adult voices in the Charlie Brown animated cartoons of the 1960's. For the time, this was a big budget film at the end of the silent era.
City Lights, along with Birth of a Nation, is a milestone film in telling a narrative story. Up until this film, Chaplin's work was much shorter films, telling much simpler tales. City Lights has all of the basic elements we require in complex stories we have come to require in modern film. Although the story is not as complex as D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, City Lights did help push the form of film narrative.
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Released in 1931
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Reviewed by Mongo