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Our scheduled "First Wednesdays @ the Cathedral Greatest Films" was cancelled because of a snow storm. Our makeup was last night and we saw Chaplin's "City Lights" (1931); B&W, 83 min, no spoken dialogue but integrated sound effects, background music.

"City Lights" came out 3 years after "the talkies" had taken over films -- which Chaplin didn't like, he much preferred silent films and his style of physical, visual comedy (and no wonder, he was a genius at it). "CL" takes a few shots at the talkies, as in speeches by politicians in which -- instead of spoken words, the sounds that match their speaking are much like kazoos imitating speech intonations, inflections. "CL" was snubbed by the Oscars committee possibly for this attitude but, since then, "CL" is widely considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time. It's on Ebert's Great Films list; it's #70 on IMDb's list of alltime 250 greatest movies; AFI (American Film Institute) ranks it #1 among romantic comedies.

"CL" gives us the quintessential, iconic Little Tramp and a heaping of Chaplin's gifts for physical comedy -- scenes of him impaling his pants on a statue's sword, as a street sweeper trying to avoid picking up after a group of horses only to run into an elephant, his boxing episode, getting in and out of cars, dance parties, etc., as well as his intimate emotional reactions to the blind girl.

It also gives us the poignancy that Chaplin's Little Tramp specialized in, possibly more so than any other movie he ever made (well, maybe with the exception of his "Limelight"?).

The LT is attracted to a blind flower girl (roughly 20? 23? years old) and, after determining that she's blind, resolves to help her.

She thinks he's wealthy and the LT doesn't correct this misbelief.

The LT also runs into an alcoholic, suicidal millionaire and prevents him from committing suicide several times. Whenever he's drunk, this A$M calls the LT his best friend but, whenever he's sober, he has no memory of their relationship and orders him away from him.

So there are two central characters in this movie -- each person blind in their own ways to the LT -- the blind girl recognizes his true compassion but not his lack of wealth or low status. The A$M recognizes the LT's value and compassion only when he's drunk, never when sober. A couple young newspaper boys never recognize his value and try to torment him whenever they see him.

The LT reads a newspaper article about a surgeon in Europe who's able to restore sight to those with the blind girl's condition. The LT, after many failed attempts, is finally able to get and give her the money to have the operation that restores her sight.

The final scene in the movie -- in which she, the formerly blind girl, with her vision now restored, cannot recognize the LT by sight but is suddenly able to do so when feeling his hand -- has often been described as one of the most moving in all film history.

Our audience really liked this movie.

BTW, in addition to being the star, the director, and writer of the screenplay, Chaplin also composed all the music for the film including the song, "Who will buy my pretty violets?", the theme heard when the blind flower girl is onscreen. Chaplin couldn't read or write music but he was an accomplished amateur pianist and violinist. He employed musicians to listen to his playing and then transcribe it into musical notation.

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