City Lights

Charles Chaplin

Tit. It.: “Luci Della Città”; Scen.: Charles Chaplin; F.: Roland Totheroh; M.: Charles Chaplin; Scgf.: Charles D. Hall; Mu.: Charles Chaplin; Int.: Charles Chaplin (Vagadondo), Virginia Cherrill (Ragazza Cieca), Florence Lee (Nonna), Harry Myers (Il Milionario), Hank Mann (Pugile), Eddie Baker (Arbitro), Tom Dempsey, Willie Keeler (Altri Pugili), Allan Garcia (Maggiordomo), Henry Bergman (Sindaco; Portiere), Albert Austin (Spazzino; Ladro), Joe Van Meter (Altro Ladro), Robert Parrish (Venditore Di Giornali), Jean Harlow (Ragazza Nel Night- Club); Prod.: Charles Chaplin; 35mm. L.: 2439 M. D.: 89’. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Everything I do is a dance. I think in terms of a dance. In City Lights, whit the blind girl, there is a beautiful dance. I call it a dance. Purely pantomime. The girl extends her hand whit a flower. And the Tramp doesn’t know she’s blind. And he says, “I’ll take this one”. “Which one?” He looks incredulous – what a stupid girl. Then the flower falls to the ground, and she goes to feel for where it is. I pick it up and hold it there for a moment. And then she says, “Have you found it, sir?” And then he looks, and realizes. He holds it in front of her eyes – just makes a gesture. Not much. That is completely dancing. […]

I had one close-up in City Lights, the last scene, and one could have gone overboard. The girl sees through her fingers and realizes, “My God, this is the man”. And it was nothing like what she had imagined in her mind. And he just looks curious. I was looking more at her and interested in her, and I detached myself in a way that gives a beautiful sensation. I’m not acting. Sort of standing outside of myself and looking, studying her reactions and being rather slightly embarassed about it. And it came off. I took several takes before that, but they were all overdone and overfelt. But this one, for some reason, was objective and apologetic. It’s a beautiful scene, beautiful; and because it isn’t overfelt.

Charlie Chaplin, interview by Richard Meryman, “Life”, 1966

The score

The Chaplin family and I decided to restore the City Lights score (from scratch) because we wanted to have the City Lights score as close as to how Chaplin conceived it. Score restoration is a very precise and exact science, and the City Lights score, we felt, needed some careful attention. For the 1989 Chaplin centennial, a live accompaniment edition was prepared that ended up being more of a symphonic arrangement of the available material, rather than a restoration of the original score. However impressive a large number of musicians can be, and with it the impact of sound that a symphonic orchestra can bring to a silent film, the score Chaplin wrote was written for no more than 34 players. In actuality it was written for an Abe Lyman-size “dance orchestra”, for whom Chaplin wrote a number of his previously compositions, which consists of a small group of strings and winds, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, banjo, harp, piano and drums. This is a line-up Chaplin knew, and knew how to write for. The film City Lights is very intimate and the music should reflect that. The first edition in 1989 was an arrangement made with a large orchestra in mind and subsequently we have a generally too large of a sound overall. Beyond that, unfortunately, there were a vast number of intricate and crucial passages omitted from the original score in nearly every take, originally written and recorded by Chaplin, yet was left out in the 1989 edition. Still further, I wanted to transcribe as much of the incredible delicacy in City Lights’ notational ornamentation and other general intricacies of the 1930’s Hollywood musician. The 1989 arrangement, most likely for the sake of clarity, omitted most of the nuances inherent to this style of period performing.

Timothy Brock, in “Cinegrafie”, 17, 2004

Original Score Restored And Conducted By Maestro Timothy Brock, Performed Live By Orchestra Del Teatro Comunale Di Bologna.