« Coffee Break | Main | Erotic Blackmail »

January 21, 2014

City Lights

Charles Chaplin - 1931
Janus Films

My work, as such, as on online film critic suffered an interruption on Monday, January 6. A pipe burst in the apartment above mine. I was the one with the more severe damage. It was the water on the floor that splashed high enough to toast my surge protector. When I got home from work that evening, my place was hot and humid. The moisture was enough to finally push off the Macbook that had traveled around the world with me over the brink. I am in the process of replacing my television and Blu-ray player. It took five days to dry out my apartment, and another couple of days to have the walls that were mottled with heat bubbles repainted. I ended up spending a couple of nights at a hotel while the dehumidifiers did their work overnight. I now have a new, rebuilt Macbook, one that will be able to take a couple more years of upgrades. After almost two weeks, my home internet has been restored. And silly me, no renter's insurance.

I had to stay out of my place last Tuesday night. The paint fumes were overwhelming. I was sort of planning to go anyways, but it seemed like a perfect time to take advantage of some vouchers I had for Alamo Drafthouse theater a couple miles away from me. I got the vouchers as a result of my previous and also, first, visit, to the theater. I wanted to take advantage of seeing Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? on the big screen. As it turned out, I was watching a Japanese movie without subtitles. From my point of view, the Alamo staff should have either made sure that this digital copy had a setting for subtitles, or warned viewers that there were no subtitles. I’ve seen non-English language movies without subtitles before, but I think it only fair to give advance notice is such a situation. Anyways, the management sent me vouchers for a couple of movies, plus a voucher for free food.


I normally do not make a habit of eating while watching movies at a theater because, frankly, it gets a bit messy. But I maxed out my voucher with a burger, San Pelligrino water, and some warm cookies. This would be one of my only times going, er, whole hog, on the Alamo Drafthouse experience. For those concerned, yes, I did tip my waitperson.

Prior to seeing City Lights, the audience was “treated” to excerpts from The Great Dictator and The Gold Rush, a trailer to Modern Times, and television commercials for IBM computers featuring a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. The commercials were about thirty years old, I would guess, as the screens displays amber colored letters and digits.

This was my second time seeing City Lights. The first time was in New York City about thirty years ago. There was a retrospective at a theater, and I made a point of seeing everything I could, which in this case included A King in New York, Chaplin's last starring feature. The Alamo version was, as things are nowadays, digital. The film looked OK from a technical standpoint. As beloved as City Lights is for some people, it just doesn’t hold up very well for me.

There were a few isolated moments I enjoyed - the opening scene with Chaplin on the statue with the shot that makes him appear as if he is thumbing his nose at the world with an outsized hand, the nightclub scene where the less than worldly tramp mistakenly assumes that the "Apache" dancers are a quarreling couple, and the boxing match where a sudden change of opponents leaves the tramp knocked out.

But the basic story of the tramp and the blind girl is too sentimental, as well as simply hokey. That the tramp would find a newspaper story about a surgeon who had a cure for blindness, and was offering free operations to those who couldn’t afford it otherwise, was an overload of plot convenience.

I could sort of accept that the tramp might have such altruistic feelings towards the blind girl that he'd give every penny to her. I might even overlook that the tramp got the money as a gift from a millionaire whose judgment was temporarily impaired by alcohol, as the guy was so rich he might not miss the dough. Still, it seem like the most honest moment was ruined when the blind girl learned the identity of her benefactor. In the last scene, the tramp, the worse for wear after a stint in the pokey, is laughed at by people in the street for his torn clothes and odd appearance. The blind girl now has sight, and instead of selling a few flowers on a street corner, now has a shop that seems to be doing good business. She laughs at the tramp, just like the others. There is the suggestion that now that the tramp's object of affection is normal, as it were, she is now as insensitive towards those less fortunate as anyone else. The now sighted young woman stops laughing long enough to give the tramp a coin. Touching his hand, she realizes that this vagabond in torn and ill-fitting clothes was the millionaire of her dreams. The tramp acknowledges his identity to the woman. The film ends with the barest hint of a happy ending that I just can't accept. To me, it would have made more sense for the tramp to have simply walked away, knowing that he would never personally benefit from his good deeds. I just couldn't, er, see these two characters having a future together. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for this film at this time. It just seems that after forty years, these Lights have dimmed.

Posted by peter at January 21, 2014 08:25 AM