City Lights: Review
City Lights is probably the sweetest story in all of silent pictures with the “Little Trap” endearing himself to audiences as he selflessly helps a blind woman in need when he can’t even help himself.
Suffice it to say, Charlie Chaplin was an amazing filmmaker. He was an actor who took complete control of his films, fulfilling the role of writer, director, producer, and later on even composer for most of his films. He was also an innovative comedian who helped to lift the art of silent film comedy far above the basic sight gag. His physical comedy alone was an engineering of utter brilliance. But what is perhaps even more impressive was Chaplin’s ability to maintain a complete and satisfying story line amidst the hilarity. Among all of his films, City Lights best exemplifies this quality, and then some.
In this misadventure the down trodden Little Tramp meets a beautiful and blind flower girl with whom he becomes instantly smitten. Of course, due to certain ill-timed misunderstandings the girl mistakes her admirer for an extremely wealthy man. Placed in the awkward position of carrying on the rouse the Tramp is compelled to conceal his identity even to his own detriment. After a series of comical attempts to earn the funds necessary to help the girl and her family the Tramp secures a large amount of money from his on again/off again millionaire friend. When the millionaire is drunk they’re the best of friends, however when he’s sober he can’t remember their friendship). So, naturally the Tramp is accused of stealing and spends some time in jail. Years later he emerges to find the girl has recovered her sight thanks to his personal contributions.
Chaplin achieves here what most filmmakers find to be virtually impossible, which is the successful combination of outrages comedy with solemn drama. The comical moments range from silly to hysterical, while the touching moments go from wholesome, to absolutely heart wrenching, without either extreme detracting from the other. Try as they have over the years I can think of no other filmmaker who has ever merged such polar opposites so successfully.
I live very near the old Chaplin Studios (now known as The Jim Henson Studio). I get a nice little thrill every time I walk by and see Kermit the Frog atop one of the Tudor style rooftops dressed as the Little Tramp. More often than not it reminds me of the end of Lights. Something about the way he’s tipping his hat and assuming a genial gait. It brings happiness to the heart just as Chaplin does at the bittersweet end of his “Comedy Romance in Pantomime”. Because, even though things do not end so well for him, he goes happily into the sunset, alone as ever, but with the knowledge that he has left a lasting and positive effect upon those he has touched. I think the same can be said of any audience watching this film.