City Lights – The Criterion Collection #680 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
November 17, 2013 by Dennis Amith
“City Lights” is a Chaplin masterpiece on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection. It is a must-own and definitely one of the must-see films that one should experience in their lifetime. Highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1931 Roy Export S.A.A. 2013 The Criterion Collection
TITLE: City Lights – The Criterion Collection #680
RELEASE OF FILM: 1931
DURATION: 86 Minutes
BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Colors, 1:19:1 Aspect Ratio, Black and White, Monaural
COMPANY: Janus Films/mk2/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: November 12, 2013
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Written by Charles Chaplin
Produced by Charles Chaplin
Music by Charles Chaplin
Cinematography by Gordon Pollock
Set Decoration by Charles D. Hall
Charles Chaplin as A Tramp
Virginia Cherrill as A Blind Girl
Florence Lee as Her Grandmother
Harry Myers as An Eccentric Millionaire
Al Ernest Garcia as His Butler
Hank Mann as A Prizefighter
City Lights, the most cherished film by Charlie Chaplin, is also his ultimate Little Tramp chronicle. The writer-director-star achieved new levels of grace, in both physical comedy and dramatic poignancy, with this silent tale of a lovable vagrant falling for a young blind woman who sells flowers on the street (a magical Virginia Cherrill) and mistakes him for a millionaire. Though this Depression-era smash was made after the advent of sound, Chaplin remained steadfast in his love for the expressive beauty of the pre-talkie form. The result was the epitome of his art and the crowning achievement of silent comedy.
With a successful silent film career, Charles Chaplin, knew he was taking a risk when he began working on “City Lights”, a romantic comedy but also a silent film during a time when Hollywood was moving towards talkies.
But as one of the most successful and powerful men in Hollywood, it was a calculated risk that proved to be successful as “City Lights” would become a critical success but also a box office success earning over $5 million which was a lot during that time. And it’s a film that Chaplin would consider his most favorite film that he made.
In 1992, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and various cinema publications have considered “City Lights” as one of the greatest American films, as well as Chaplin’s true masterpiece.
And now “City Lights” will be released by the Criterion Collection in Nov. 2013.
“City Lights” begins with the city unveiling their new statue with hundreds watching and awaiting for the unveiling. But once the statue is unveiled, sleeping inside on top of the statue is The Tramp (portrayed by Charles Chaplin).
The homeless man is told to leave after a few unintentional situations causing the event organizers some grief and as the homeless Tramp wanders the city streets, he is made fun of by two newspaper boys.
The homeless tramp walks to a woman selling flowers (portrayed by Virginia Cherrill) and finds out that she is blind. As he buys a flower, right when he is about to receive his change back from her, with the slam of a car door window featuring a wealthy man entering his car, she mistakes the man and thinks he has departed while in fact, the Tramp is standing right there. But he silently leaves her.
Meanwhile, as he goes to the waterfront, he sees a drunken millionaire (portrayed by Harry Myers) trying to kill himself as he ties a rope around a heavy rock and another around his body. But the Tramp ends up convincing the millionaire to not kill himself and in the process of falling into the water, the millionaire invites the Tramp to his home.
Despite his butler (portrayed by Al Ernest Garcia) not wanting the Tramp to be inside the home, the millionaire is too drunk and continues to drink more along with the Tramp. But we learn that the millionaire’s life has left him and that is why he is depressed. Wanting to go out and have fun, the millionaire and the Tramp go out on the town to be among the rich and wealthy and have fun, despite causing trouble for everyone else around them.
When they arrive back to the millionaire’s home in the morning, as the Tramp is about to leave, he sees the beautiful flower girl and the millionaire gives him money to purchase some flowers and also letting the Tramp drive his Rolls-Royce, which he gives the flower girl a ride back home.
When the Tramp returns back to the millionaire’s home, the millionaire who has since sobered up, doesn’t remember the Tramp and kicks him out of the house. Meanwhile, back at the home of the flower girl, she tells her grandmother (portrayed by Florence Lee) about the wealthy man she had met.
Meanwhile, the Tramp goes back to the flower girl’s apartment and overhears a conversation between her and her doctor, knowing she is not in a good financial place, he tries to take a job as a street sweeper to help earn money. Meanwhile, her grandmother receives a letter of how they will be evicted if they can’t pay back their rent by the next day.
As he visits her during his lunch break, he finds a newspaper with information about a Viennese doctor who can cure blindness with an operation. He then finds the eviction notice which he reads to her. Knowing that she is in trouble financially, the Tramp tells her that he will pay for her rent, the flower girl thinking that he is a wealthy man is grateful. But when the Tramp returns back to his job, he is fired for being late.
How will the Tramp raise enough money to help the flower girl?
“City Lights – The Criterion Collection #680” is presented in 1:19:1 aspect ratio. The film is well contrast as whites and grays look sharp, black levels look nice and deep and there appears to be no major damage to this 1931 film. I didn’t see any white specks, no warping, no damage on the sides or flickering. The biggest thing I also noticed aside from contrast and sharpness is greater clarity. No blurring, just magnificent picture quality.
According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from a 35 mm duplicate negative at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy; the final reel was taken from a 35 mm duplicate negative held by the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management and flicker”.
“City Lights – The Criterion Collection #680 is presented in English LPCM 1.0 with intertitles. There is no pops or hiss that I heard during my viewing of the film. Music and sound effects sound very good via the single channel.
According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a sound negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation”.
“City Lights – The Criterion Collection #680″ comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Charlie Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance.
- Chaplin Today: “City Lights” – (26:47) A documentary from 2003 by Serge Bromberg which examines “City Lights” as a high point of Charlie Chaplin’s artistry and observations by film producer and Aardman Animations co-founder Peter Lord.
- Chaplin Studios: Creative Freedom By Design – (16:13) Visual effects expert Craig Barron takes a look at the set designs created by Charlie Chaplin and his team of artists and technicians.
- From the Set of City Lights – Featuring a clip captured by Charlie Chaplin’s friend Ralph Barton from the set of “City Lights” with commentary by Chaplin historian Hooman Mehran titled “The Tramp Meets the Flower Girl” (8:34), featuring an outtake from the film – “Stick Stuck in the Grate” (7:25), a rehearsal of Chaplin practicing the window shopping scene – “Window-Shopping Rehearsal” (1:24) and a costume test featuring Charlie Chaplin as “The Duke” (1:14).
- Chaplin the Boxer – Featuring an excerpt from “The Champion” (directed by Charlie Chaplin back in 1915 for the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, duration: 9:21) and “Boxing Stars Visit the Studio” (4:39) which features footage captured at Chaplin Studios in 1918 featuring British Bantamweight Boxer Harry Mansell, Asst. Director Chuck Reisner and American Leightweight boxer Benny Leonard being introduced to Chaplin by his half brother Sydney.
- Trailers – The theatrical trailers for “City Lights” from U.S., France and Germany.
“City Lights – The Criterion Collection #680″ comes with both a Blu-ray and DVD version of the film and a 42-page booklet featuring the essays “The Immortal Tramp” by Gary Giddins and an excerpt from the March 10, 1967 issue of “Life” Magazine – “Chaplin’s Anatomy of Comedy” by Richard Meryman.
A film that has been beloved by many Chaplin fans, “City Lights” has been a long awaited title that fans have hoped to see release by the Criterion Collection, even before Criterion had the rights to release Chaplin titles.
It was also a title that was difficult to obtain unless you wanted to pay a lot for the Warner Brothers DVD that was released back in 2004 or purchased the box set “The Chaplin Collection”.
But “City Lights” is a film that one can easily look as a true Chaplin masterpiece. He was not dogged by any scandal or controversy, he was one of the most powerful men in America and he was a man that could call the shots, push for perfection and no longer how many takes it would take to shoot a certain scene, there was no pressure of how much film was used, this was Chaplin’s film with his own creative voice.
Which is very important because he was a man who was best known for his comedy playing the character the Tramp in many silent films and while many people were saying goodbye to silents, Charles Chaplin was not ready to say goodbye. In fact, he would dare all naysayers that silent films were dead with the release of “City Lights”.
Focusing on the characters and a love story about a homeless, poor Tramp who has fallen for the beautiful, blind flower girl. Hearing her woes and the fact that her blindness has not made her judge him, he wants to save her from whichever troubles that ail her. Eviction from her apartment and to cure her blindness by paying for an operation. But where can the poor Tramp obtain that much money and what lengths would he go to help her? That is the journey that people will be captivated throughout one’s viewing of “City Lights”.
Viewers are one again captivated by the Tramp and Chaplin’s physical comedy and as always with a Chaplin film, one can easily fall for the leading actress, in this case, the beautiful Virginia Cherrill (who would one day marry and divorce actor Cary Grant). While the chemistry looked great on film, the truth as the two had a strained relationship. Chaplin the perfectionist (one scene with the Tramp and the flower girl took over 350 retakes) and Cherrill, who was fired for leaving the set for a hairdressing appointment, yet from the advice of actress Marion Davies, returned to the film by holding out for more money.
The other important chemistry in the film revolves around the drunk millionaire played by Harry Myers. When drunk, the millionaire and the tramp are the best of friends. When sober, he doesn’t remember his friendship with the tramp nor does he want someone poor anywhere near him. But these two have to be well-synced in order for the comedy to work.
One scene shows the millionaire pouring more alcohol into the glass of the tramp but in reality, he is pouring it into the front of the tramp’s trousers. These small jokes manage to hold up well after all these years. But for silent film fans, you can’t help but praise Chaplin for casting the silent film star in “City Lights”.
Like many silent film stars who lost their career due to the talkies, the actor had struggled after the end of the silent film era, but before the final nail in the coffin, he was able to become part of this film before his death of pneumonia seven years later.
And as Chaplin was a perfectionist when it came to how everything came together on screen, Chaplin was also a perfectionist when it came to the music for the film. Aside from the directorial, writing, producing, editing, acting (and sometimes acting out the various roles for the actors to get what he wanted on screen), he also wrote the music as well. Once again, showing how diverse his talents was and how perfection came to play in all areas of the film that he was responsible for.
But alas, the film that cost over a million dollars to make would go on to make five million in the box office. And it was once again vindication that a silent film could still be loved by viewers and that the Little Tramp has not lost favor to the talkies. In fact, the film was so loved that Albert Einstein stood up to applaud the film and was seen wiping his eyes during the final scene.
The Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection look amazing on Blu-ray as picture quality is well-contrast, sharp and the clarity is fantastic. The monaural soundtrack is clear with no sign of hiss or pops and special features featuring audio commentary, a documentary, archived footage and more!
Overall, “City Lights” is a Chaplin masterpiece on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection. It is a must-own and definitely one of the must-see films that one should experience in their lifetime.
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