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8. CITY LIGHTS, 1931

A cinematic masterpiece which just happens to be silent


Don’t be scared or turned off if you’ve never seen a silent film - you are in for a real treat. This is the first of many must-see silent films which will be featured on this blog.


“City Lights” is a just about a perfect film in every way. This unusual and poignant love story has heart, humor, drama, great performances, innovate directing, and an intriguing story. It was a daring film to make at the time as it was a silent film released just as “talking” sound pictures were in full swing.

Charles Chaplin

It was directed by arguably the greatest, most talented person in film history, the iconic Charles “Charlie” Chaplin. If you are not familiar with him you have probably at least seen an image of him as his “Tramp” character which was said to be the most famous character in the world at one time. An actor, writer, producer, director, and composer for what turned out to be many classic films, he was a true genius. He ranks number 10 of the men on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years...100 Stars” list of the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends”. He mostly worked in silent films which he considered the true art of film. In 1919 he co-created the “United Artists” distribution company with three other film giants, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith. It was revolutionary, giving all four artists the ability to personally fund their own films and thus have complete control over their work.

Charlies Chaplin made short comedic films from 1912 until his first feature “The Kid” in 1921. That classic film solidified his iconic “Tramp” character - a childlike, good-hearted, funny, usually vagrant man, who always had dignity and heart (and is the lead character in "City Lights"). When sound films became the norm “The Tramp” appeared in a couple of them but never with a speaking voice as Chaplin felt it would hurt the character.


“City Lights” is considered by many to be Charlies Chaplin’s masterpiece and the film is often very high on lists of the greatest films of all-time. He made several films that rival for space in the greatest films of all-time lists including “The Gold Rush”, “Modern Times”, and “The Great Dictator” - each of which will be on this blog in the future. Chaplin was reluctant to make sound films thinking they were just a craze, so he kept “City Lights” silent. If you are reading this blog in order, you already read brief information about silent films and the jump to sound when you viewed, “Singing in the Rain”. If not, you can read about that by clicking HERE. While “City Lights” is silent (in that no dialogue is spoken), it does contain sound effects along with a music score composed by Chaplin. In the film he brilliantly makes fun of “talkies” using “horn” like, incomprehensible voices, which show how irrelevant dialogue is in a visual medium.

Being a perfectionist and having complete control over his films Chaplin would take his time making films. “City Lights” is no exception and was in production for 21 months. He would often shoot with no script and keep filming while experimenting, creating, and rehearsing. He filmed over 300 takes just of the shot where the Tramp meets the female lead in the film - a record number of takes to this day. His brilliance is so evident in this film’s direction, story, comedy, and pathos, and as a result it is such a moving film. He is an amazing actor and this film showcases one of his best performances. Chaplin was married four times and had eleven children. His third wife was actress Paulette Goddard who is the female lead in two of Chaplin's masterpieces, "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator". Charles Chaplin died on Christmas Day in 1977 at the age of 88.

Virginia Cherrill

The female lead in "City Lights" is played by newcomer Virginia Cherrill in her film debut. She only made fourteen films (from 1931 to 1936), and this is her most remembered role. She and Chaplin famously did not get along and he even fired her once or twice during filming, only to hire her back. Virginia's second husband was actor Cary Grant (who you saw in “Bringing Up Baby” and “Notorious”), and they were married in 1934 for less than a year. She died in 1996.






A fun fact: Jean Harlow (who would appear in "Red Dust" the following year) was an extra in the nightclub scene in “City Lights”. She was cut from the final film but can be seen in some of the publicity photos (as in the photo above - she is on the left with her legs crossed)..


“City Lights” is funny, moving, amazing all around film made by a master storyteller. We will definitely revisit more of Chaplin’s work in the future. So sit back and get ready to laugh (and cry) and enjoy “City Lights”!


On each blog entry you will find links to stream, rent, or buy each film (whatever I can find available) as seen below. Amazon and Ebay just approved my site for monetization which means should you click on the Amazon or Ebay links provided and purchase (stream, rent, or buy) any of the films through my links I will receive a very small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. I hope to get approval for other sites in the future. Again there is no mark up and no cost to the consumer. Any money I receive will be used towards keeping this blog going. Thanks so much!



YOU CAN STREAM OR BUY THE FILM ON AMAZON:


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TO READ AFTER VIEWING (contains spoilers):


In case you were curious, the short bizarre dance between the man and woman at the nightclub is called an “Apache” (pronounced Ah-PAHSH). It was a highly dramatic Parisian dance (formed by the Parisian street underground) that became very popular in the 1920s during the Jazz Age. It usually showed a pimp and a prostitute “dancing” where he lifts, throws, whirls, pulls hair, drags, and sometimes fake punches or slaps the woman, all during a brutal rhythmic dance usually similar to a waltz or tango. The woman would struggle, sometimes pretend to be unconscious, fight back, or ask forgiveness and profess her love. Not politically correct, but it was popular in its day. In “City Lights”, the drunk Tramp hysterically thinks the female dancer is in danger and comes to her rescue.