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  • Writer's pictureDomenic

City Lights| Review

Updated: May 31, 2022

Around the time City Lights released, 1931, sound in film had been widely used for at least three years. It started with 1927's The Jazz Singer and began to be used in many other musicals. Charlie Chaplin believed that silent film was the definitive version of cinema and that sound would slowly fall off. Other filmmakers felt the same way, like F. W. Murnau when he directed 1931's Tabu, which was a silent film. The film gained a large amount of money from the box office when it premiered and went on to inspire Chaplin to create silent films, like 1936's Modern Times. He eventually moved to sound with The Great Dictator in 1940 and would only direct "talkies" from then on. I personally feel that The Great Dictator isn't as great of a film it set out to become due to Chaplin's use of sound.

City Lights follows The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) as he falls in love with a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill). During which, he befriends a millionaire (Harry Myers) who parties with The Tramp and lends him money.

City Lights functions as an overall perfect film but, also one that manages to simultaneously revolutionize American filmmaking. The influence often rivals Citizen Kane, due to Chaplin's use of the camera and the screenplay. Filmmakers, like Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Welles, and Allen, have all referenced the film in some way or another and state that the film is one of their favorites. The ending was referenced and to some extent duplicated in the ending scene of 1979's Manhattan. It placed 11th on the AFI's Best Ameican Films of all time list and 2nd on a 1952 poll of the best films of all time, tied with Chaplin's other masterpiece, 1925's The Gold Rush. Orson Welles stated City Lights as his favorite film. City Lights's impact on filmmaking doesn't stand as the only factor in why it's a masterpiece but, of many others. Chaplin's framing and composition of every shot, direction, and just about every aspect of the film are done to its full extent. Chaplin gives a definitive performance and Virginia Cherrill gives the best of her entire career. The ending of the film showcases some of the best acting in all of cinema, without a single word spoken, the audience fully comprehends what each character feels at that very moment. While I sometimes hear the debate on Charlie Chaplin vs Buster Keaton, I always find that both of their careers are equally monumental and influential. Keaton definitely influenced more modern cinema, like Jackass. Chaplin's style has definitely faded away in cinema as time goes on. They both have equally important masterpieces of their entire careers, that being City Lights and Sherlock Jr, and should not be seen as lesser to one another. City Lights defines Chaplin as a filmmaker and actor and has influenced film far and wide, it truly is one of the best films of all time and one of my many favorites.

Time Stamp: July 2020

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