Movie Review: No 42. City Lights

Movie Review: No 42. City Lights

There are three Charlie Chaplin films in the imdb Top 100. It seems very unfair (and more than a little boring for me), but I can see how it happened.

It happened that way because voters like me find it almost impossible to rank the films based on any modern standard. It would be unfair, of course, to compare these silent films to something dripping with special effects. In many ways, I respect the early filmmakers more for their creativity in the face of many limitations (as opposed to now, where the possibilities are almost limitless). So, we rank these films high out of respect for their historical significance rather than out of genuine enjoyment, and so they continue to thrive.

Some things, however, never change and even now – all of 82 years later – I still laugh at his jokes. For example, the use of a kazoo to represent a mayor’s speech (political windbags are still a thriving species of course). Where ‘Modern Times‘ gave us the sped-up police chase scene, ‘City Lights’ gave us the seltzer bottle and boxing ring battle. Visual comedy is Chaplin’s forte and, while it may be quaint, the humour has survived.

Once again, Chaplin does not shy away from the tough themes, and alcoholism, home invasion, theft and suicide all get a (comical) look-in. Chaplin is as creepy a love interest as ever, only this time he falls in love with a blind flower seller. I found it quite ironic that a blind girl should feature as the love interest in a silent film. The fact that he can make this work is a testament to his skill in storytelling.

Most importantly, Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character is revealed as just that – a tramp – moreso than in ‘Modern Times‘. Vagrancy has never been quite so charming (and where else would you sleep than on a monument to the city? Why not, after all?)

So, with all of this in mind, there is nothing I can do to fairly rank this film than to give it the exact same ranking as ‘Modern Times‘. It doesn’t seem fair to rank it up there with far superior modern films and yet I must give credit where credit is due for such a timeless story.

8 pumpkins.

Have you seen ‘City Lights’? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments below.


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