HIDDEN GEMS 12. CITY LIGHTS
Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, films were made in black and white and no one spoke. These were the famous black and white silent movies. No one knows why they were in black and white and without dialogue but I strongly suspect it was something to do with Europe and an innate sense of artistic superiority, but that is just my feeling. A young London man called Charlie Chaplin made a whole series of these films with very little success. His inability to gain an audience was widely seen as due to his tasteless decision to grow a Hitler mustache and later in life he would have the terrible luck to die on Christmas Day while everyone else were opening their presents.
Before that happened though, he made a film called “City Lights”. Nobody has seen it and very few copies exist today, but it is an absolute treasure and should be slapped to the top of your to watch list, if you should have one. It tells the story of ‘the Tramp’, a strange character dressed a bit like Alex from Clockwork Orange. The city has no place for one like he, he has no money and no apparent occupation, but he has a heart of gold and soon falls in love with a blind flower girl. At the same time he is also befriended by a suicidal millionaire whose life he saves. His new friend however is a terrible drunk and forgets who the tramp is whenever he sobers up.
I know what you’re thinking. “Why would I want to see that? It sounds so depressing!” Well, no it’s actually very, very funny. From the drunken rowdy with his pal to a dance like boxing match with a slugger to win the prize money to help cure the flower girl, there’s a laugh every minute. I don’t know why Chaplin never became more famous. Just watch the scene where he surreptitiously eyes a bronze nude in a shop window unaware of the open hole in the street right behind him. It’s genius and I’ll fight anyone who even tries to deny it. Or at least skip around the ring while you try to chase me.
And here’s the thing, the Tramp doesn’t win that fight. His comic heroism is in the fact that he loses repeatedly yet somehow manages to get up again. His rich friend accuses him of thievery and he is eventually carted off to prison – but not before he has given the girl the money for the operation. When he returns, he is even worse off than before. He was always a tramp but now he looks dreadful. The ending is a moment of glorious emotion, a triumph of sorts but also a defeat as the girl realizes her benefactor is not the rich man she presumed him to be and his love for her meets her pity rather than admiration.
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