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Archive for October 2nd, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, a meme made its way around Twitter, in which film fans were tagged and asked to post a movie still that they considered a “perfect” shot. I didn’t participate at the time, but I’d like to go ahead and post my choice here today: the final image from Charlie Chaplin’s magnificent City Lights (1931).

city lights

by Brandie Ashe

This, to me, is one of the most transcendent images from all of cinema: the whole of the human experience etched on a most unexpected face. Chaplin’s expression here–to borrow an expression from Walt Whitman–contains multitudes: there is love commingled with joy, warring with the fear of rejection and tinged with nervous energy. The Tramp’s face is vital, alive with feeling. It is not exactly an attractive face, ravaged as it is by the itinerant lifestyle he’s led and the months he has recently spent in prison, but for all that it has been through, it is still an innocent face, and a lovable one. It is the face of a man who has loved purely and well, while expecting absolutely nothing in return, and there are few things more heartrendingly beautiful than that.

There are ostensibly two romances at work in City Lights–both of which admittedly play backseat to the comedic elements that dominate the majority of the film (the movie is not subtitled “A Comedy Romance in Pantomime” for nothing)–and neither exactly promises a happy ending for our two main characters. There is the adoration that the Tramp feels for the Flower Girl (Virginia Cherrill), defined by a sincere desire to help her in any way he can, be it taking an undesirable job or subjected himself to a boxing match in hopes of winning a big payday. The Tramp’s love for the Flower Girl is based in large part on his sympathy for her, for he cannot help but identify with her on some level; like him, she clings to the bottom rungs of a heartless society, subjected to the whims of a cruel fate, though her disability makes her far less resourceful than he at the mere act of survival. But even as he strives to find a way to get the money to restore her sight, he does so with the full knowledge that the cure will also mean the end of the budding relationship between them, and so there’s a decided heaviness that underlies the Tramp’s infatuation. (more…)

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