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City Lights VHS
City Lights is a film to pick for the time capsule, a film that best represents the many aspects of director-writer-star Charlie Chaplin at the peak of his powers: Chaplin the actor, the sentimentalist, the knockabout clown, the ballet dancer, the athlete, the lover, the tragedian, the fool. It's all contained in Chaplin's simple story of a tramp who falls in love with a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill). Chaplin elevates the Victorian contrivances of the plot to something glorious with his inventive use of pantomime and his sure grasp of how the Tramp relates to the audience. In 1931, it was a gamble for Chaplin to stick with silence after talking pictures had killed off the art form that had made him famous, but audiences flocked to City Lights anyway. (Chaplin would not make his first full talking picture until 1940's The Great Dictator.) After all the superb comic sequences, the film culminates with one of the most moving scenes in the history of cinema, a luminous and heartbreaking fade-out that lifts the picture onto another plane. (Woody Allen paid homage to the scene at the end of Manhattan.) This is why the term "Chaplinesque" became a part of the language. --Robert Horton
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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.
What is remarkable about "City Lights" is its ability to render the viewer helpless and vulnerable in witnessing the meeting of The Tramp and The Flower Girl during the film's finale, possibly the most heart wrenching moment in film history. In creating this particular sequence, director Charles Chaplin served Charlie Chaplin the actor with his greatest moment on film. The iconic Tramp, the world famous, beloved character of early 20th Century film reached the pinnacle of craftsmanship and art with "City Lights", where comedy and drama effortlessly mingled with nary a misstep. The movie is by turns hilarious and deeply moving and the acting of Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill strikes viewers' hearts as much now as it must have done to movie audiences in 1931.
Criterion's Blu-ray/DVD combo release is the one to own. The movie has never looked or sounded better (Chaplin's music score is unforgettable and shows off another side of his genius). The supplements accompanying this release are fascinating particularly those scenes showing Chaplin directing his actors on the set, his many moods and his utmost dedication in bringing this unforgettable love story to life.
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