Film 23: City Lights

City Lights (1931) dir. Charlie Chaplin. USA.

If only one of Charles Chaplin’s films could be preserved, “City Lights” (1931) would come the closest to representing all the different notes of his genius. It contains the slapstick, the pathos, the pantomime, the effortless physical coordination, the melodrama, the bawdiness, the grace, and, of course, the Little Tramp–the character said, at one time, to be the most famous image on earth.

— Roger Ebert

Abigail:  There are some funny moments in this movie, but overall, it didn’t hang together.  The funny bits didn’t add up to anything, or lead to each other.  This felt more akin to the messy Gold Rush than the actual story of The Circus.  The iconic boxing match  and even funnier swallowing of the whistle feels an awful lot like the dancing bread — genius and hilarious, but totally separate from the plot.  It also felt outdated to revert to silence, especially when there is a main character who cannot see.  It felt like language was missing which became even more obvious when the well placed sound effects happened.  This doesn’t feel like a fully fleshed film, but rather a series of bits crammed into a sort of story to make Charlie Chaplin look good.

Forrest:  My thoughts on Chaplin are largely unchanged.  He is sometimes brilliant and always enjoyable to watch — but it’s a moment-to-moment brilliance.  He doesn’t seem to have the full sweep of Keaton’s genius.  His movies feel like scenes strung together by the merest threads.  Each set-piece is excellent, but they don’t add up to anything more.  Of the three Chaplins we’ve watched so far, “The Circus” is head and shoulders above the other two.  “City Lights” was good, but I’d put it about on par with “The Gold Rush.”  That said, the boxing match alone is worth the price of admission.

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