Chaplin worked far over what productions would have considered normal to achieve the film he had in mind. He was Stanley Kubrick BEFORE Stanley Kubrick and did not stop or move until he had precisely what he wanted. Chaplin wouldn't give an inch, leaving us with City Lights, one of the most beautiful films of all times. He may not have known what he was looking for (Chaplin hardly worked from finished scripts. Rather, he tried ideas upon ideas until it built into something cohesive), but after more than a year, City Lights was finished and loved by an audience already used at talkies. Nearly 85 years later, the film still strikes a sensitive chord with comedy and drama combined. Considered risqué at the time, it was endlessly duplicated, but NEVER surpassed. Criterion brings us a superb edition, although I doubt it will be the definitive edition.
Picture wise, there is much more clarity, detail and depth into this presentation. The 4K remastered elements deliver their timeless charms one after another as Chaplin wanders through the film. The audio is quite interesting but sounds a bit crunchy at times, showing a bit of its age. A re-orchestrated score could have boosted the sound, but then again, maybe the budget just wasn't there or no one thought it necessary to update the track. For whatever reason, it doesn't really matter since everything brings us back into 1931 full swing with beauty aplenty, superb images and the immortal Tramp character.
Criterion gives us a nice serving of special features such as a "Chaplin Today" which was previously on Warner's 2003 DVD of City Lights, a 16-minute documentary retracing the production, trailers, a few silent sketches from Chaplin, and some real gold: on set footage.
I'm already a fan of Chaplin, so anything and everything Chaplin Criterion dares to release will end up in my collection. This edition is still very much recommended and even though the special features aren't as plenty as I would have liked (it IS considered by many to be Chaplin's greatest achievement), it still deserves a neat spot in your collection.
on September 29, 2008
Right up to the 70's this was considered the best movie of all time. I'd heard of this movie but was never able to see it for ages.
One day it came on the French channel and as I love silent movies I recorded it in French (subtitles). ( it's one way to learn the language.) Even though it was in French, it still shone, and to this day it is still the only version I've seen. This is by far the best Chaplin, though some of his earlier works, had they been feature length films, might have come close. ( For example The "Pilgrim" is pretty good. Later works such as "Modern Times" and The Great Dictator are also top notch movies,. bur He never again matches this one, and his films after The Great Dictator(1940), are probably not even worth watching)
The scene when the sound of the siren and the tramp realizes he's in for trouble is a classic image. This is just a wonderful pic that just has to be seen. If you have a friend who's doesn't know how good a silent movie can be this is the one they have to see.
The scene at the end , no matter how many times I watch this masterpeice, never stops a tear from coming. This is a 7 star movie...none of this five star business. One chap, Jackie Coogan (The Kid: 1921) remembers this movies affect on the viewers when it was new. He said after the movie ended there was "not a dry eye in the house".
To give the uninitiated an understanding of just how fabulous this movie really is, understand it was released in 1931, a full two years after the silent era had supposedly ended, yet it was a number one box office smash for, if I'm not mistaken, 6 months!...and I think it played in theatres for two years!
If you've been subjected to some of Chaplin's earliest films where editing didn't exist as far as I'm concerned, you've been shown a bum steer. This one is the epitome of class.
One of the difficult things Chaplin tried to do was to somehow figure out how to accidently convince a blind flower girl he was rich. It took me a couple viewings to get it, and indeed it took Chaplin ages to figure it out himself, so this could be considered the one weak area. Clearly the coincedence of appearing rich and then finding a rich friend to facilitate and complete the illusioin for the blind girl is a bit contrived, but it was fun getting there just the same, and he had to get there somehow.
But these are the minutest flaws in a true cinema masterpeice, and it's well worth the price, and plays well time after time.
on June 6, 2004
"City Light's" is by far Chaplin's greatest film. Some may say "The Gold Rush", but myself, and I know a lot of others, will say this one. I think its maybe THE greatest movie ever made, just maybe. Chaplin was by far the greatest film maker of all time, and this is his most finest work. You have to see the movie for the end scene alone.
Chaplin plays the part of his world famous Tramp character. He meets this flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) who happens to be blind. She mistakes him for a rich "gentleman". The little Tramp immediately falls in love with her, and he throughout the film, tries to help her see again, by getting money to pay for this operation. The little Tramp saves this rich guy from committing suicide, and the man becomes his friend.....when hes drunk. When the man is sober, he does not want to see the tramp. When hes not, he is kind, giving him money, letting him borrow the car, etc. The Tramp goes through a number of jobs, to get the money for the blind girl, including amongst a few, a prizefighting boxer. He gets into a lot of different bits of trouble, but he gets th money to pay for the operation. He ends up late rin prison. When he is free, he sees the girl, and she can now see, and his true identity is revealed. The end part, is the greatest scene in movie history. There is nothing possibly better than it, except it would be teamed with the "Cheek to Cheek" scene in the Fred and Ginger movie "Top Hat", of course. Those are the two most wonderful scenes ever filmed.
The film was released in 1931. the "talkies" had been around a few years now, but Chaplin managed to stay silent. He composed the muisic for this film, and added a few sound effects. The film is though, really a silent, or as it says at the beginning of the movie: "A Comedy Romance in Pantomime". This is the perfect movie, and the cinematography is the best. But yes, this film even beats Chaplin's other masterpieces in my opinion, such as "The Kid" and "The Gold Rush", and the much underrated among Chaplin fans, although one of my personal favourites, "A Woman of Paris". "City Light's" is an essential movie to see. Although I enjoy Chaplin's talking pictures, they do not come close to his silents. As for people who prefer Keaton, well, he was brilliant too, but Chaplin was so much more.
This DVD Edition, is presented on 2-Discs. This DVD, along with the others in the Chaplin Collection box set, is by far one of the best ever produced. This comes with an endless amount of extras, including featurettes, a brief 10 minute look at a scene from "The Champion". The fight scene, that is. The DVD has a screen test with Georgia Hale, its full of great little things. Extras are what make a DVD great. Other than that, the restored print looks absolutely amazing. This is a must, must have for a DVD collection.
on April 14, 2004
City Lights is one of the shining achievements in the history of the movies, and it's been among my personal favorites for many years. So I was disappointed, after purchasing the new Warner Home Video DVD, to discover that the print they used is slightly dark and fuzzy, markedly inferior to its stunning laserdisc predecessor of some ten years ago.
In the early '90's I bought the CBS/Fox laserdisc of CL, which was transferred from a nearly flawless print (from "Chaplin's personal archives", as stated in the notes, and probably from the same negative as the one that was re-released to theaters for Chaplin's centennial in 1989). This LD version is so clean, sharp and vivid it looks as though it could have been filmed last week. In the boxing scene, for example, you can actually pick out a number of mannequins that were used among the live actors in the audience, and you can clearly see the wire that carries Charlie across the ring when he leaps at his opponent. On the DVD, however, not only can you not see the wire, the audience seems little more than a dark, murky mass rather than individual figures. Granted, maybe our disbelief is more happily suspended if we don't see what's suspending Charlie, but we certainly don't deserve murky masses where they aren't supposed to be.
Beyond using a superior print, CBS/Fox also went to the trouble of window boxing the transfer for their laserdisc release. That is, in order to preserve the nearly square aspect ratio of the original film, black bars were placed on the left and right sides of the screen to compensate for showing the top and bottom of the picture - the vertical counterpart of letterboxing. The DVD isn't window boxed, and while it may not seem like that big of a deal, it does affect the film - not only aesthetically, but effectually, as in the scene where Charlie is admiring the nude sculpture in the shop window. Key to the scene is the sidewalk elevator, which provides the gag - but it barely clears the bottom of the TV screen in the DVD version (in fact, it may bleed out of frame on some monitors). It's well within the frame on the window boxed version, as it should be. Also, with the top and bottom of the picture chopped off, the compositions as they appear on the DVD look cramped and less atmospheric than in the full image of the laser release.
The liner notes on the DVD boast of an "All new digital transfer from Chaplin family vault picture and sound elements" - which sounds great, but why wasn't the best print extant used, as it was on the now long out-of-print laserdisc? This film is a bona fide masterpiece, and it should be shown in its absolute best possible form. Instead we've been given what amounts to a professionally printed copy of a poorly lit Polaroid of the Mona Lisa.
on April 11, 2004
thousands of word have probabaly been written about this ending, which compares to the thousand plus word written on the ending of mahler's ninth.
both are works which startled us with the power that human expression can take in the form of art.
one is visual, one is music.
chaplin was nearly the sole survivor of the silent cinema
(if chaney had lived he too would have triumphantly made the transititon).
chaplin survived because he realized that silent film was an altogether different art form than sound film.
silent film is the quintessential example of expressionism in film because silent film was and remains visual storytelling.
the ending of city lights still brings a lump to your throat, regardless of how many times you have seen it.
only dreyer's passion of joan of arc posseses a comparable power.
those last few moments in lights when the once blind flower girl realizes that her benefactor is actually a tramp evoke a plethora of emotions and senses.
this, along with chaplin's the kid and easy street, remains his most timeless work.
on April 4, 2004
City Lights is widely recognized as Charles Chaplin's masterwork, and for good reason. It epitomizes Chaplin's blend of pathos and slapstick, grounding his physical comedy in real human feelings, taking the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster.
Though the setup may be considered overtly sentimental -- the Tramp's budding relationship with a blind flower girl -- the film's treatment of the relationship is heartfelt but never corny. Smart character details and interactions are the key: The scene where she mistakes a stray thread from his vest for a ball of twine, for example, or the beautifully orchestrated chain of events which leads to the incomparable ending, the greatest in the Chaplin canon. He never forgets the laughs as he takes you along, and it pays off handsomely in City Lights.
There are plenty of great gags in this film, my hands-down favourite being the centerpiece boxing match, an outrageous piece of slapstick with a great rhythm. Watch this after Raging Bull, for good measure. The botched suicide attempt by the drunk millionaire is also priceless.
Like the other releases in this series, the City Lights DVD is filled with extras, the best being an extended scene, edited out of the film, that features the Tramp locked in a battle of the wills against a wood shim lodged in a metal grille! The sequence features a hilarious turn by an actor playing a clothing-store employee exasperated by the Tramp's efforts. There's also remarkable screen-test footage of Georgia Hale, the luminous actress who had been in The Gold Rush, shot because Chaplin had been unsure of City Lights star Virginia Cherrill's abilities. Longtime fans of the film like myself probably can't see the point -- Cherrill's sweet face, expressive and disarming physical actions, and convincingly vacant eyes (according to the Chaplin biography, she was seriously nearsighted, a trait which had won her the role) were perfect for the role. Still, the shock to me was to see that Hale, when out of film makeup, looked very contemporary. It's amazing to see a Chaplin actress out of character like that.
A classic film in a package with all the trimmings. While this series has made some gaffes (the sound work on The Gold Rush, for example, and the Chaplin Revue disc actually mislabels the two discs!), it's obviously the work of people who are trying very hard to do justice to these films, and for the most part, they're succeeding in a way I haven't seen outside of the prestigious Criterion Collection. Congratulations and respect are in order.
on March 2, 2004
Charlie Chaplin is a genius: there's just no getting around the fact. That the U.S. government - in his later years, branded him a communist, forcing the most incredible film artist of the 20th century into exile is a travesty and an embarrassment; one of many during the McCarthy era. In "City Lights" the little tramp becomes smitten with a blind flower girl. His devotion to restoring her sight is both touching and comedic, instilling a sense of not acting, but living the part. Truly, this is one of the greatest movies of all time - not just of Chaplin's career, but of American cinema in general.
TRANSFER: Warner/MK2 gives us a pretty smart looking transfer. While age related artifacts are present throughout, the image has been considerably cleaned up for this DVD and the restoration efforts are welcomed. The black and white picture exhibits a nicely balanced image with rich blacks, a nicely balanced gray scale and minimal film grain. There is some minor aliasing and edge enhancement throughout but neither distract. The audio has been remastered in 5.1 and is nicely spread across all five channels.
EXTRAS: a documentary by Serge Bromberg, the Georgia Hale screen test, outtakes, on-set footage, photo galleries, films posters and trailers.
BOTTOM LINE: Add this one to your collection today!
on July 28, 2002
Orson Welles once cited as his favorite movie Charlie Chaplin's tribute to the art of body language and pantomime, "City Lights."
"I was determined to continue making silent films," Chaplin recalls in "My Life in Pictures" of his decision to make a silent four years into the talkie era, "for I believed there was room for all types of entertainment." "City Lights" contains Chaplin's musical composition and various sound effects, but no dialogue. Chaplin opens the film with a lampoon of talkies: at the unveiling of a Greco-Roman stone statue, the dignitaries' speeches are heard only as unintelligible squawks.
Smitten by a flower-selling Blind Girl (Virginia Sherrill) who has mistaken him for a dapper gentleman, the Little Tramp takes on odd jobs (including a prizefight, shown in a masterfully choreographed sequence) to raise money for an operation to restore her vision. After the Tramp intervenes to prevent the suicide of an alcoholic tycoon, the tycoon befriends him; but it is an on and off friendship, as when sober the tycoon doesn't even recognize the Tramp. Despite a series of mishaps, the Tramp pays for the operation. But in the process he lands in prison. On the Tramp's release, the Blind Girl learns the true identity of her benefactor in one of the most rarified scenes in cinema.
on November 12, 2001
As a challenge to the talkies, it wasn't very important. There is a bit at the beginning that burlesques the kind of sound that used to come from the screen while the mechanism of sound reproduction was in its earliest state of imperfection. This is a delightful film, not Chaplin's very best; but in its day, considered far ahead of any other funny man's best - and for that very reason, I give it 5 stars. There is nothing in it that quite approaches the gorgeous pantomime of the sermon in the THE PILGRIM nor does it evoke such yells of laughter as some of THE GOLD RUSH. It's almost too carefully done, and some of the gags have lost their old element of surprise. There is the Chaplin touch, of course, but it takes a pretty loyal Chaplin fan not to complain when two years of more of production yielded so many worn-out incidents. From the production standpoint, this picture was one of Chaplin's smoothest and handsomest, but it lost something of the old-time dash for that very reason. The acting of the subsidiary roles is excellent, but unfortunately, the pathos in CITY LIGHTS is frequently sentimental and mawkish. Harry Myers and Hank Mann give comic performances that would steal scene after scene from almost anyone but Chaplin. The delicate and lovely Virginia Cherrill, who plays the blind girl who wins the little tramp's heart was once briefly married to Cary Grant in the early thirties.
on March 8, 2001
I'm talking about Chaplain of course. In City Lights, it's easy to see why the man is revered as one of the greats. Chaplain had the master's touch and it comes across wonderfully here.
The moving thing about Chaplain's films is that he made them for real people, people with problems. He didn't ask us to ignore our problems or pretend we didn't have them, he asked us to laugh through them, look past them. This is evident in the people of this movie: a blind girl forced to sell flowers for a living, the love sick homeless little tramp, and a suicidal millionaire who's money doesn't give him happiness. Through it all, Charlie pulls hilarity out of the sad situations.
The most outstanding sequences in the film include the rich man's various suicide attempts and the scene in the locker room just prior to the fight. And oh that fight!! The boxing match ranks right up there as one of the funniest routines ever put on film. It had me literally, rolling on the floor, holding my stomach with tears pouring from my eyes. All in all, highly recommended. This is one of the best ever.