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“City Lights” by Charlie Chaplin

The movie City Lights (1931) was one of the best works of Chaplin devoted to a young man who falls in love with a blind flower girl. The young fellow does everything possible to find the money for the operation which can restore the girl’s sight. This movie is based on traditional techniques used in other silent films. Chaplin avoids talks and pays special attention to the pantomime and gestures of the main characters. “Chaplin boldly solved the problem by ignoring speech and making City Lights in the way he had always worked before, as a silent film” (City lights. Charlie Chaplin 2009). For Chaplin, romance is perceived as a strange mix of logic and fantasy in which the impossible was made to seem real. But Chaplin seems to have best understood how dreamlike and surreal is the process of the film itself. “Already with his silent features he had paid great attention to the music played by live orchestra for the first runs of his feature films” (City lights. Charlie Chaplin 2009).

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Using vivid gestures and body movements Chaplin develops a character into a model of “normalcy” and niceness. Like all citizens, the young man is eager to succeed and could become quite aggressive in competition, but beneath it all, there is a sound core of decency and innocence. Unlike the randomly organized shorts in other silent movies, City Lights has a kind of structural logic whereby a single misbegotten incident would be increasingly multiplied toward some catastrophic infinity. The heroes are simply overgrown whose naivety is mirrored in the middle-class world about them.

The contrast is achieved with the help of different genders and different appearance of the main characters. And the physical contrast they present on the screen is unquestionably funny. The young flower girl, the weak, whimpering, and barely coordinated little fool, and the young man, the inept, self-important, and inflated bully, offered a comic version of a worker which Chaplin might have admired. “Inexperience was never a disadvantage in Chaplin’s eyes – he just wanted actors who would obediently follow his instruction. He was impressed by her (Virginia Cherrill) ability to give the impression of blindness” (City lights. Charlie Chaplin 2009). Chaplin has shot close-ups, reverse angles, tilts, and pans on position to be intercut later with the rest of his footage, and Chaplin has assumed a third-person point of view toward his topic throughout the film. Chaplin has also directed the movie in enacting or re-enacting certain scenes before the camera to accord with an insecurely constructed. Chaplin has edited his film as a narrative and has reconstructed reality instead of simply recording it. City Lights is attacked as poetic romance rather than an accurate representation of love, and it is acclaimed by critics on precisely the same grounds.

In sum, the silent love story creates a unique blend of slapstick and pantomime, but purely visual comedy is necessarily destroyed by a romantic plot. Another important silent feature is music which supports the plot development and characters’ gestures and mimics.


City lights. Charlie Chaplin. 2009. Web.

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