City Lights: The Chaplin Collection
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Talkies were well entrenched when Charles Chaplin swam against the filmmaking tide with this forever classic that's silent except for music and sound effects. The story, involving the Tramp's attempts to get money for an operation that will restore sight to a blind flower girl, provides the star with an ideal framework for sentiment and laughs. The Tramp is variously a street sweeper, a boxer, a rich poseur, and a rescuer of a suicidal millionaire. His message is unspoken, but universally understood: love is blind
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BTW, if you've never seen City Lights, then you're missing a great film.
But this was also the era of Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin knew that the advent of new technology did not mean that old ways of telling a story were somehow automatically inferior. He set out to show that a silent film could still be relevant, and he succeeded with "City Lights."
It's the story of a vagrant, that lovable tramp played by Chaplin, who falls for a young blind girl who sells flowers. He learns that she might have her sight restored by a new medical technique and dedicates himself to obtaining the necessary money to pay for it. She assumes that her benefactor is a rich man, and he can't bring himself to tell her the truth.
The journey of the movie is comedic by nature, with one especially unforgettable boxing scene. But under the comedy lies the nervous uncertainty of the tramp -once the love of his life can see (literally) who he really is, will she reject him? The tension this question brings leads to the climax of the film, which is one of the sweetest and finest moments of film history, whether silent or "talkie."
"City Lights" is one for the ages, the very study in how to tell a good story.
Now finally Criterion is producing an edition worthy of the film. I've been waiting for this one a very long time!
Specifications: (copied from the Criterion website)
87 minutes, Black and White
Video ratio 1.19:1
-New, restored 4K digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
-New audio commentary by Charlie Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance
-Chaplin Today: "City Lights," a 2003 documentary on the film's production, featuring Aardman Animations cofounder Peter Lord
-Chaplin Studios: Creative Freedom by Design, a new interview program featuring visual effects expert Craig Barron
-Archival footage from the production of City Lights, including film from the set, with audio commentary by Chaplin historian Hooman Mehran; a costume test; a rehearsal; and a complete scene not used in the film
-Excerpt from Chaplin's short film The Champion (1915), along with footage of the director with boxing stars at Chaplin Studios in 1918
-PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Gary Giddins and a 1966 interview with Chaplin
This is, to my mind, the greatest film by one of the greatest filmmakers. I've held off, though, in picking it up on DVD because, until now, it didn't look all that great. I'd seen it in the theater projected from a somewhat damaged print, I'd seen it on VHS and I'd seen it on DVD. I was hoping that someone would restore it properly and release it on Blu-Ray. I can't say how excited I was when I heard that Janus Films was doing restorations of several Chaplin films, and this was one of them, because I knew that meant we'd get a DVD and Blu-Ray release from Criterion. I was even more excited when I heard it would be a Blu-Ray/DVD combo release, since that means I can watch it on my laptop from a DVD as well as screen it large using a Blu-Ray player.
Anyhow, I've seen this both ways now, and am not disappointed; I've projected it onto a wall, seen it on a large screen TV, and watched it on my Macbook Pro. It looks fantastic every way, and the perfect ending gets me every time.
The features here are good too. There's an appreciative response to the film by Nick Park, creator of the Wallace and Gromit animated films. What I really enjoyed seeing, though, was the very rare footage of Chaplin directing a scene, in which the Tramp meets the Blind Girl for the first time. It's a scene he worked and reworked several times throughout the making of the film, and to see all the things he tried to make it work perfectly, to communicate several things without words, provides a fascinating window into the process of this fascinating director.
An essential film, given a near-perfect release by Criterion. Highly recommended.