Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Sixteen, Part Two – ‘City Lights’ (1931)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. Only three of the thirty movies featured so far have been given the maximum ’10/10′ by the viewer, so both men will be hoping to add one or two more as the weeks go by

After Yasser scored well with a Bond movie, Fred’s choice features another icon of cinema, Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp. What did Yasser think? Read on to find out.

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
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Yasser: Your choice this week was ‘City Lights‘ starring Charlie Chaplin

Fred: Yes. I know you’ve seen ‘The Artist‘, but how many ‘genuine’ silent movies have you seen?

YA: I saw a lot of Laurel and Hardy as a kid. I did see Chaplin movies too, but they weren’t as prominent to me as Laurel and Hardy. I was very little, though, and it was something we grew out of

FS: Grew out of? Fuck me! Did you grow out of breathing too? Or walking?

YA: I knew you’d not be happy about that (laughs)

FS: Sorry. Any silent feature films, or just shorts?

YA: Probably only the shorts. I did enjoy them

‘City Lights’
1931 – USA
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Harry Myers, Florence Lee, Hank Mann

FS: Okay, so a bit of half-remembered Chaplin and L&H as a kid, but nothing silent since

YA: Other than ‘The Artist’, no

FS: What do you think when you watch a silent movie?

YA: I generally tend to smile. I find that the actors have to be much more expressive and exaggerate a lot to convey their emotions

FS: Yes, it’s a very stylised type of acting

YA: They’re very easy to follow, also, as the background music, which is meant to be noticeable, helps to set the mood

FS: This one especially. This was Chaplin’s first film since silent films had all-but disappeared, so he added a few effects, such as the kazoos in the opening scenes

FS: What did you think of ‘City Lights’?

YA: I like slapstick comedy if it’s done well and it’s not too much. I felt that ‘City Lights’ had just the right amount of comedy as it also had a story. I found myself feeling a smile on my face during many parts of the film. It was generally a pleasant experience

FS: Good, good! I think it’s a really sophisticated film as it blends the comedy and pathos quite brilliantly, and the slapstick is so much more than a pie in the face or a sped-up car chase which, unfortunately, is a brush a lot of silent comedians get tarred with

YA: I agree that it’s a sophisticated film. The story delved into the main character’s emotions. He wasn’t just a happy-go-lucky character

FS: No he’s not. He endures some terrible times

YA: I liked how The Tramp (Chaplin) met the Blind Girl (Virginia Cherrill). It had a very sincere quality to it. Seeing his charm and politeness when he came across her was engrossing. Though she was blind and you couldn’t hear their actual conversation, their facial expressions did all the talking. It was almost like watching a beautiful animation

FS: How many takes do you reckon that scene took to get ‘in the can’?

YA: Well, I’m going to say one right now, because obviously it’s one

FS: It was 342

YA: 342! Mr. Chaplin was a perfectionist I take it

FS: Yes he was. He couldn’t find a satisfactory way to make the Blind Girl think The Tramp was rich. You know what, though? It was worth all that as it is my favourite scene in the movie

YA: It’s very intricate and has a charm to it

FS: The thing I love about it, and the movie in general, is you’ve got this lovely, tender scene where he discovers she is blind and then he sneaks back to watch her, as he’s so besotted with her, and she throws water in his face. You are straight back to the comedy. You’re never far away from a laugh

YA: I know exactly what you mean

YA: There were times I didn’t like Virginia Cherrill

FS: What didn’t you like about her?

YA: Where Chaplin brought the charm into a scene, she’d take it away with her falseness

FS: She is a little stiff at times – not very mobile, emotive or expressive

YA: Yeah, there are moments where you wonder why The Tramp is so keen on her. She had a very shrouded personality

FS: I suppose she’s supposed to be a sheltered person whose naive with no self-esteem

YA: That wasn’t it. Sometimes she was overconfident

FS: That’s interesting. I don’t see that, but fair enough

YA: Not always, but when he visits her and see the bill for her rent, she seems either fake or overconfident

FS: So Virginia Cherrill was hit-and-miss?

YA: Yeah

FS: There is a sub-plot away from the main story where Chaplin meets a drunk millionaire (Harry Myers) who treats The Tramp like his best friend when he’s inebriated, but doesn’t remember him when he’s sober

YA: I was more interested in the sub-plot that I was in the love story

FS: Really? Ouch!

YA: It was interesting and funny to watch the on and off friendship. That initial scene where they meet and the fight in the restaurant are probably my two favourite scenes

FS: The scene by the river is fantastic. A real example of clever physical comedy

YA: The Tramp is just helping the guy, not knowing how wealthy he is, but there is some brilliant timing in their exchange

FS: Like the Blind Girl, there is an element of tragedy in The Millionaire’s background and how horrible he is when sober

FS: One’s reaction to ‘City Lights’ is going to depend almost exclusively on your reaction to Charlie Chaplin as actor, director and writer. What did you think of him in those three guises?

YA: From what you’ve said, Chaplin the director is meticulous at trying to bring his vision to screen. You can tell that he works hard. What he does is based on great timing in the physical comedy. I think it was important for him to have control

FS: I agree

YA: As a writer, Chaplin was incredibly evolved, able to switch from comedy to tragedy to romance and integrate them all together. That’s why he was such a revolution in cinema

FS: Absolutely. No comedian before him had included serious elements in his films

YA: I also love that the story has an arc. Even though certain elements seem isolated, he somehow manages to somehow tie them together

FS: There was a purpose to every ‘sketch’. It all tied in to the blind flower girl

YA: The ending was perfect, in many ways

FS: Do you mean that?

YA: (laughs) Why are you so shocked? I thoroughly enjoyed this movie

FS: I’m not shocked, I’m just very pleased. I think the ending IS perfect. I think it’s beautifully done, but I know it’s the kind of scene people sometimes beat Chaplin over the head with. They say it’s too sentimental or mawkish

YA: It’s the first proper romantic comedy. What do they expect?

FS: (laughs)

YA: As an actor, people may not expect Chaplin to be anything more than a physical comedian. However, having seen his character’s many layers and seeing how he executes his role, he is very versatile. He wrote, acted, directed, produced, edited and composed the music. I’m very impressed

FS: He was a genius. It’s as simple as that

YA: Those that aren’t impressed should stop watching movies altogether

YA: Tell me why it’s in your top 10?

FS: I’m actually finding it hard to put into words what makes me love this film, so I’ll just use a name – Charlie Chaplin. I grew up in a film-loving family, so I was aware of his reputation from an early age. However, it’s only by watching his films that I finally understood what was so special about him. ‘City Lights’ is his masterpiece. It’s the perfect combination of his twin skills of making me laugh and bringing a lump to my throat, and how he weaves those two together is superb. You don’t know from one minute to the next if you’ll be laughing or crying

YA: Anything else?

FS: You touched upon the fact he wrote a lot of the music, he directed, produced, wrote and edited it, as well as starring in it. He was like a one-man film crew. He even used to act out the other actor’s parts to show them what he wanted from them. Obsessive? Tyrannical? Maybe… but, God! Wasn’t the legacy worth it?

YA: Yes. Yes it was

FS: Quickly tell me what you didn’t like, then you can sum up and rate it for me

YA: Not much, really. It strayed a bit at times, but generally all tied back together. Other than the Blind Girl, the film was effortless in making me smile

FS: Did any of the comedy scenes fall flat?

YA: The opening scene had me scratching my head, but you found out he was a tramp so it made sense

FS: That’s a good point, actually. If you were a cinema-goer in 1931, you knew he was a tramp because that was the role Chaplin always played, but a new audience coming to this with no prior knowledge might not understand that

YA: Nothing else springs to mind

FS: Go for it, then

YA: Charlie Chaplin is one of the most iconic movie faces in history, and after seeing ‘City Lights’ I can see why he’s renowned as a film-making genius. The movie has a brilliant way of mixing comedy and tragedy and romance, and it leaves you with a smile on your face, even making you laugh out loud at times, which is why I found it so endearing. Through clever storytelling, Chaplin stitches together the main plot and the sub-plots that don’t seem to correlate, though Virginia Cherrill hinders the main plot somewhat. Their first meeting, though, is silent movie perfection. I loved the comedy timing of the sub-plot about the drunken millionaire. It was flawless. In fact, in the end, Chaplin’s charm makes you fall in love with the movie to the extent that I didn’t even see the faults by the end. I’m in your debt for introducing me to this movie, but the female lead’s cold demeanour leaves me wanting more from what is probably one of the most perfect movies I’ve ever seen. Really close to a 10, but it’s a 9/10

FS: I feel like crying

YA: The rest of your movies have a lot to live up to

FS: Wow! I hope they can do this justice

Next Week: A trip to Middle Earth for Fred, and Yasser takes in the most famous musical ever made

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6 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Sixteen, Part Two – ‘City Lights’ (1931)

    […] City Lights […]

    […] Yeah, I know. Like Chaplin last week, he was a bit of a perfectionist, and a tyrant if he was in a bad mood, but on screen… what a […]

    […] When we reviewed ‘City Lights‘ you told me that you had seen a bit of L&H as a child. Was this the best you’d […]

    […] ‘is this better than ‘Inherit the Wind‘ at 11? Probably. Is it better than ‘City Lights‘ at 10? I don’t think […]

    […] I think about it, it pulls together elements from other movies on my list. It has a bit of ‘City Lights‘, ‘Back to the Future Part II‘, ‘Wild Strawberries‘, ‘A Matter […]

    […] No lie. (laughs) That should be a 3/10. ‘City Lights‘ – Oh my gosh! If the girl was better that would’ve been a 10/10, but it’s […]

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