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City Lights
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CITY LIGHTS: The Essentials

SYNOPSIS

The Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) who, through a misunderstanding, mistakes him for a millionaire. Seeing an opportunity to be close to her, The Tramp does not correct her mistake. Soon The Tramp meets a real millionaire (Harry Myers) when he saves him from a drunken suicide attempt. Grateful, the millionaire treats The Tramp like a long lost friend and gives him a taste of the high life. The only problem is that the only time the millionaire recognizes him is when he's dead drunk. Meanwhile, The Tramp sets out to raise money for an operation that will restore the blind girl's sight, but what will she think of him when she finds out he is not the millionaire gentleman she thinks he is?

Director: Charles Chaplin
Writer: Charles Chaplin
Cinematography: Rollie Totheroh, Mark Marlatt and Gordon Pollock
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall
Editing: Charles Chaplin
Music Composer: Charles Chaplin
Music Director: Alfred Newman
Music Arranger: Arthur Johnston
Cast: Charles Chaplin (A Tramp), Virginia Cherrill (A Blind Girl), Florence Lee (The Grandmother), Harry Myers (An Eccentric Millionaire), Allan Garcia (James, the butler), Hank Mann (A Prizefighter).
BW-87m.

Why CITY LIGHTS is Essential

When Chaplin made City Lights, sound had already been present in motion pictures for several years, and it was quickly becoming the norm. Chaplin was one of the last holdouts in making the transition to sound. He felt that The Little Tramp would simply not be the same if he were to talk. The art of pantomime, he feared, would be lost forever with the coming of sound. City Lights was a big risk for him. He wanted to prove that silent films still had relevance in the world when audiences only seemed to want more talkies. When City Lights succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, it was a major personal triumph. Even though he eventually did make the transition to sound, City Lights reminded everyone that a film could be just as funny and touching without spoken dialogue.

Charles Chaplin had been one of the top box office stars for years before City Lights. With the transition of the movies to sound, Chaplin worried not just about how audiences would respond to a silent film, but also how they would respond to him. The success of City Lights proved that Chaplin was still a relevant and beloved star that audiences were willing to line up around the block to see.

City Lights is considered by many to be Chaplin's masterpiece. Blending his trademark physical humor and pathos, the simplicity of the story has resonated with great poignancy over the years. City Lights, in turn, became a timeless classic that continues to find new audiences 80 years after its release.

The film contains one of Chaplin's most famous comic routines in which he is forced to get into the boxing ring with a brute twice his size. The routine, which has The Tramp darting around the ring gracefully hiding behind the referee for the majority of the match, kept audiences in stitches at the time of its release and has lost none of its brilliant comic timing over the years.

The last shot of City Lights that holds on The Tramp's face after he is recognized by the Blind Girl is hailed by many as one of the most heartbreaking, perfect shots in the history of cinema. Chaplin himself was quite proud of it, calling it in a 1966 interview "a beautiful sensation of not acting, of standing outside of myself. The key was exactly right -- slightly embarrassed, delighted about meeting her again -- apologetic without getting emotional about it. He was watching and wondering without any effort. It's one of the purest inserts--I call them inserts, close-ups--that I've ever done." Critic James Agee called the scene "the greatest piece of acting and the highest moment in movies."

by Andrea Passafiume

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