Sunday, 6 December 2015
Blind Spot: City Lights
I have three films to get through this month as I missed a few during the year so I needed to start early. I'm an admirerer of Charlie Chaplin, ever since my mum taped Modern Times off the TV when I was younger, still in school. She said it was a brilliant film but silent. The fact that it was black and white didn't bother me as my sister and I grew up on old movies. Silent film was new for me. With patience and curiosity I watched the film. A brilliant masterpiece. I continued to search for more Chaplin, watching his short films on DVD and as time went by and You Tube was born, I found his films on there too. It's odd to think that I didn't grow up with You Tube. Skipping to the end, I had wanted to see the film where The Tramp (Chaplin's film alter ego) fell in love with a blind girl and added City Lights to my list.
I've seen plenty of clips from the film from never the film in its entirety. Hailed as one of Chaplin's better films, with a memorable score and touching story. The humour in the film is all slapstick alongside a cleverly choreographed boxing match, which for me, was the best scene in the film. City Lights, released in 1931 was the first film where Chaplin, as well as director, composed the film score. The chase music at the start of the film is the music I've heard most often when Chaplin's films are talked about.
The Tramp, sleeping on a new statue unveiled in front of a crowd is chased away. While wandering the streets, he meets a young blind girl selling flowers. He buys one but as she is about to give him his change, a wealthy man gets into a fancy car, slamming the door. The girl, upon hearing the door, thinks The Tramp is a wealthy man.
The Tramp saves a millionaire from killing himself and start a strange friendship where the millionaire only recognises him when he's drunk. The Tramp, wanting to help the blind girl, gets job the loses it. Desparate to help the blind girl with rent, he takes part on a boxing match in the hope of winning the prize money, but loses. He then meets the drunk millionaire who gives him money but he is hit on the head and sobers up. The millionaire claims to not know The Tramp and says hes been robbed. Before he is arrested, The Tramp manages to get the money to the blind girl so she can have an operation to fix her eyes. The Tramp goes to jail for months and returns to find the blind girl. She has her own flower shop and can see. She recognises The Tramp from his hands, the two are reunited at last.
It is a very sweet story, a simple love story really with comedy added in around it. The comedy in the film is classic slapstick which is funny in places but I think what I found the most humerous were Chaplin's expressions, especially in the changing room of the boxing arena. He is strange behaviour forces another boxer to dress behind a curtain. Little touches such as this, set the film apart, but Chaplin was in a league of his own. I've haven't seen any Buster Keaton though, and I know everyone said he was the master. Many of the scenes, mostly with the drunk millionaire, centrered around silly jokes like being drunk, falling over, eating decorations thinking its food and are sometimes played a little too long. I can imagine a 1930s audience absolutely loving the comedy though. I hate to say it, but its all very tame compared to modern comedies. But silent movies are a completely different genre I suppose.
The boxing match, as I mentioned, is my favourite scene. I laughed the most during this part as well as cheering The Tramp on. With the added brilliant score, the tension and comedy are brought together to end in a unfortunate climactic end with The Tramp being dragged away. The little touch which I found hilarious is when The Tramp's opponent, on the way to the ring, punches a man, knocking him out. At the end of the match, the same man is seen running away when the opponent returns. It's all the bottom of the sceen so not in an obvious eyeline. Just on the edge of the frame, suggesting another storyline playing out.
Rooting for the underdog is what the films featuring The Tramp is all about. You want him to help the blind girl, you want him to win the match, you want him to get away from the police and you want him to find the blind girl again. The love story is beautifully framed each time, whether they are side by side, or he's leaning to look through her window or they are looking into each other's eyes. It's romantic with an ending that needed just a few more minutes to play out. But the hope throughout that the girl will accept The Tramp is fulfilled, she loves him for who he is not what he is. The silence added a sense of elegance, especially with only expressions and looks to interpret.
City Lights was added last minute and I'm glad I did include it in the list. It's spurred me on to find more of Chaplin's features, the ones I haven't seen, just o explore his storytelling as well as the comedy.
To see where it all started and for an excellent insight to film, have a look at The Matinee and have a look HERE for more Blind Spot posts from other bloggers.