Saturday, September 14, 2013

City Lights or How Chaplin made me Cry!

The first time ever I put a Top 100 list on this blog was sometime in March 2012, little less than a month after I got into LAMB. Since the start of this year, I have been meaning to update that list and I finally found an opportune time for it on the second anniversary of this blog in June 2013. A lot changed over the year. Countless many films jumped up or down in the list, many I saw last year made into it for the first time and as a result, some of the earlier entries had to make way for them. However the one that made the biggest lip was Chaplin’s City Lights(1931) which I only saw for the first time last year. It found its way straight into my Top 10 films of all time. I had not added an entry to my ‘Favourites’ feature since I updated the list and so when I thought about doing so, it only felt right talking about one that the biggest splash in that update.

Like all his other films, City Lights is about Chaplin’s tramp and two more people in his life – a wealthy man who tries to kill himself in his drunken stupor but tramp somehow manages to save him and a sweet but blind flower selling girl that mistakenly takes him as a wealthy man. After getting to know her a bit, he comes to know that an operation can save bring her eyesight back. The catch is if she gets her eyes back, she would know that he is not a wealthy man she thinks he is and that may change her feelings for him but on the other hand, she will remain blind. But off course, he sets out to get that money she will need for it and in a typical Chaplin fashion, his path is filled with many gigs. On the other hand, wealthy man he saves feels quite indebted to him for saving his life but seems to forget everything as he gets sober. His butler also seems very suspicious of tramp and his motives and keeps on trying to get him out of the house. This on-and-off nature of their relationship makes for some hilarious moments.

Starting from the very first scene of tramp sleeping on the statue to be publicly inaugurated in the city square to one of the most well-known endings in the history of cinema, City Lights is full of iconic moments that even those who haven’t seen the film might know about. I am sure we all also remember the boxing fight he gets himself into to get the money for girl’s operation or the restaurant scene during one of the drunken spells of his wealthy friend. Scenes like these are filled with many small gigs that he does to perfection and almost certainly, to hilarious results.

I have grown up watching Chaplin; though most of them were shorts or I only saw parts of them, so it felt like shorts. I only got to his feature length films in 2011 but unlike many other of his contemporary comedians, I was at least introduced to him and his work very early in my life. Laurel-Hardy are the only others I can say the same about. I still haven’t seen anything of Harold Lloyd’s or Jacques Tati’s work though films like Safety Last(1923) or Playtime(1967) and Mr. Hulot’s Holiday(1953) are pretty high up on my watch-list. And although I inducted myself to Keaton and Marx Brothers right around the time I got into Chaplin films, I didn’t even know about them until I started this blog. So as much as I love Keaton and others, Chaplin will always hold a dear place in my heart and the more of his films I watch, the more he cements that position.

Chaplin, even though relies heavily on the physical comedy aspect of his films, transcends further than that. There is always something more, something deeper in his films than the obvious comedy we see on the screen. In Modern Times(1936), he comments on the human life getting more and more dependent on machines which is even more relevant now than it was then. In The Great Dictator(1940), while making fun of Hitler and Nazism, he also gives a message about humanity. In The Kid(1921), there is this beautiful father-son relationship at its center. In City Lights, it is unadulterated and undemanding Love.

His tramp, even though almost always at the lowest pedestal of the food chain, is always about hope, about giving, about being more humane. I don’t think it is more apparent anywhere else than it is in City Lights where he gives pretty much everything he can; he gets into the boxing ring, he gets a job in garage, he even goes to jail; just to help out this blind, flower-seller that he loves but who doesn’t even recognize him when he stands in front of her after all this. And this is the prefect segway for me to break into something I love the most about this film.

I rarely cry at the movies. I don’t even remember the last time I did. I don’t mean to brag or flaunt my 'Man' Card but it assures that when I do, the film leaves its impression on me. Bicycle Thieves(1948) did and so did Grave of the Fireflies(1988). Result? Both are very high up in my Top 100. City Lights did too and it also makes the list but there is something even more beautiful about it which makes it even more special. I have always been sucker for the moments that can make you laugh and cry at the same time and this film offers one such moment.

There are moments that warm your heart but what makes some of them extra special is when one sneaky tear slips from the corner of your eye and rolls onto your chick. There is danger in them either being too cheesy or falling flat but when someone gets it right, it works wonders like that last scene when the dejected tramp slowly walks away from the girl. It gets everything Just right. But then she finally recognizes her benefactor and that tear manages to break off the boundaries and roll down. I have seen this film 3 times and it happened every. single. time. Even writing about this right now makes me go “Awwww”. That scene is everything good, nice, pure and innocent about this world personified in one moment. It could very well be my favourite onscreen moment ever. It will never, ever get old for me.

Until Vertigo(1958) took the top seed in the last year's Sight and Sound list displacing Citizen Kane(1941), City Lights was the only movie ever to top that list besides Kane. Over the years, it has gone down up to #50 but is till one of the best films made ever. Personally, with so many iconic scenes and favourite moments, it is not only my favourite Chaplin but also favourite silent film of all time.

Rating(out of 5):

Past Favorites:
Bicycle Thieves(1948)


  1. Yes I cry in this movie too. You can show me the last scene at any given point of time and there will be guaranteed waterworks.

    Great post! Great film!

  2. City Lights is a great movie indeed, charming, touching, and funny. I agree the ending is so special. I love the theme, the contrast of material and spiritual wealth, translating life during the Great Depression. I just put the film in my updated top 100 a few days ago :)

    Do see Safety Last (1923). That's another silent that I recently added to the sacred 100. It's often considered Harold Lloyd's best film, great scenes from start to finish.

    1. It is such a beautiful film. Glad it made your 100 too.

      I'll definitely watch Safety Last and soon.

  3. GREAT review. So happy to hear that you had such a strong reaction to this one. The first time I watched this movie remains one of the most memorable movie watching experiences I've ever had. I was simply floored by the ending.

    1. Thanks! It is definitely one of my memorable experiences as well.

  4. City Lights used to be in my top 10 as well, and it's easily my favorite Chaplin film. I cried as well. It's hard not to.

    1. Glad to know I am not the only one. :) But you are right. In this case, it is really difficult not to.


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