Posted by: kfugrip | August 20, 2007

Silent

Having seen only two of his movies, and rated them the same, it would seem that I thought City Lights, by Charlie Chaplin, and The Gold Rush were one neither better than the other.  However I would have to say that The Gold Rush would edge out City Lights if someone pressed me for a recommendation.  Does that mean that there is a separate ranking within a ranking?  I don’t think so.  I would recommend The Gold Rush over City Lights but they are equally good.  One wouldn’t be seeing a bad movie either way.

City Lights is the story of Chaplin’s Tramp as he falls for a blind girl and goes about getting money for her to cure her blindness.  She thinks the Tramp is a rich man, due to an odd coincidence when they first meet.  The movie is a variety of set pieces, some hilarious, that build to the final moment, which was moving and made the movie jump an entire star for me.

One of the more fascinating parts of this film was not actually the film itself.  I had seen a documentary  about Chaplin directing the scene in which the Tramp meets the blind girl.  It was an exercise in visual storytelling that doesn’t happen today.  Part of the reasoning being that we have sound now and the dialogue would have solved many of the problems that faced him but not nearly as beautifully.  You have to see the scene to see how simply and clearly a complex idea is executed without the aid of dialogue.  It increases my appreciation of the entire film, and silent films in general.  The ease with which complex and emotional ideas are expressed is a marvel.

The fact that films are shot today, with so many close ups, becomes more irritating when I watch a film like City Lights.  The silent films, with their extended full shots and long choreographed actions, makes the close ups so much more powerful.  The final shots of this film solidify my point.  Even with the broad style of acting, the final moments are emotional and well executed.  The film was an expert mix of comedy and emotional elements.  Thus the subtitle “a romance comedy” was apt.

4 stars

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Responses

  1. I’ve been getting into silent cinema more and more. Part of it has to do with a rejection of the increasing role of technology in today’s films. Everything is CGI
    and digital effects and the humanity of the stories being told and the characters affected is lost. Just picked up the definitive version of Griffith’s “Intolerance” and trying to lay my hands on a couple of classics of early German cinema (i love the weird shadows and ominous qualities of expressionism).

    I’ve written an article called “In Praise of Men in Rubber Suits” that talks about vintage SF movies, films from my childhood. Check it out some time…

    Good post, something to think about.


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