Despite the outstanding silence associated with this name I’ve heard the echoes of his works from halfway across the world. I’ve grown up laughing at and enjoying this man but it wasn’t until I studied this extraordinary being that I found out that the most comical feat Charlie Chaplin has achieved was not in his art. Masterfully, Mr. Chaplin fooled the world into loving a character which wasn’t meant for love. He made brilliance out of the most un-brilliant existence according to society and to me; that is pure comedy.
I was astounded by Mr. Chaplin’s intelligence but there was no denying I was also spellbound by his films. Where I fell in love with the character of the tramp itself in “The Kid “, I truly understood it when I watched “City Lights”. Mr. Chaplin had spent a decade perfecting this character, building this character and knowing that the world of sound had combined with the world of cinema “City Lights” felt as a final good bye to the silent era. I was made to feel this due to the opening scene in particular where the city is gathered for the unveiling of the monument. The execution of the opening along with the disrupted voice in the speeches, for me, translates that the Monument or figuratively the film is a final gift for the world that is diving into movies with dialogue, and after the tramp is revealed to be sleeping on the statue I truly feel that this is the beginning of the end. However, more importantly this scene also fully explains the theme of the story. When the tramp is discovered, He moves – seemingly confused- trying to leave the monument but is struggling. Which is the storyline of the film, a largely amused group of spectators watch the tramp trying to do the right thing but ending up in sticky situation until he finally figures it out. Another theme in the film is that of authority and wealth. In the series of shots that move from the spectators to a man who is giving a speech adds to the idea of power. The lady that follows holds a lush bouquet of flowers and that starkly contrasts with the single frail flower we see with the tramp multiple times in the film.
Another and the most prominent theme in “City lights” can be seen in the second scene of the movie. To some viewers it could pass by as an insignificant scene but this was undoubtedly my favorite in all of Chaplin’s works. The aspect I noticed first was that of the subtle difference between the tramp and the rest of the city I.e. the area in which he ‘casually strolled‘ was bustling otherwise. As if everyone but the tramp had a sense of purpose, immediately not only making us focus on him but understanding that he is different. The shift in the scenario brings us to a new scene and the main theme of ‘Mistaken identity ‘. In the City Lights, there is a helpless blind girl that thinks that the man who helped her and continues to do so is a millionaire but in reality he is a tramp who befriends a bipolar millionaire which is a friend and an enemy all in one. Now this second scene is an imagery of this exact idea. The tramp is observing a female statue which is tall looking up which could translate to the beautiful yet tragically blind woman who is dreaming or thinking high of the man helping her. In the shot, there is also a much smaller statue of a man and a horse which could signify a knight in shining armor which is essentially what the tramp is for people and the blind girl. However, the smaller size of the statue indicates that what the blind girl is thinking is only half true. The constant danger of falling into the hole in the ground can refer to the struggles and the emergence of a man from the very hole can signify the obstacle and the cure of his problems i.e. the mad man. The mostly single shot middle angle of the scene helps us notice all the aspects that help us realize the significance of the scene. Other scenes that were of immense value include when the tramp met with the blind girl, she too was more casual than the city around her which suggested that one outcast had found another. The scene of the robbery reiterates the theme of power of authority and mistaken identities. Lastly, the ending incorporates not only the simplicity of the entire film but that of the tramps character and Charlie Chaplin Himself.
Other than Chaplin’s humble and beloved tramp, I found myself fascinated with the character of the blind woman played by Virginia Cherrill. She effortlessly shows her complex blackened life through daily chores and somehow manages to convey her emotions effectively with the minimum use of eye movements. She shows her sense of resentment or envy of the Man and Lady outside her window. She shows her gratitude to the tramp with subtle smiles, and most importantly she shows her unbeaten resolve constantly giving hope to a pessimist like myself too.
In this film, each character brings forward a purpose which adds to the storyline cinematographically. This is companied by the speediness and roughness of some editing techniques which produce an engaging cognitive effect. The picture is very simplistic and linear which was the style of Mr. Chaplin however, using the characters reactions and the use of light help progress and keep the audience entertained. There was an instance of the dissolve in the boxing scene, there was over the shoulder shots between the alcoholic millionaire and the generous tramp but mostly the camera was focused in a long shot or middle shot to keep everything in focus especially the reactions of the people in the film which was required to add to the a comedic effect. Chaplin also used sound to achieve his cinematic goals, i.e. the whistle in party scene, or the bell in the boxing scene and the music to transition or elevate certain aspects of the acting.
To conclude, Charlie Chaplin is said to be the biggest star of Hollywood or a Cinematic genius. His films can be remembered for their story or their hilarity. But for me, Mr. Chaplin and his films will always be a bittersweet memory from my childhood. He is the reason behind the smiles millions of us, and millions before us.
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