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City Lights
(City Lights)

Charlie Chaplin was deep into the production of his silent film CITY LIGHTS when Hollywood was overwhelmed by the talkie revolution. After months of anguished contemplation, Chaplin decided to finish the film as it began – in silence, made for a musical score and an occasional sound effect. The melodramatic film is viewed as Chaplin’s greatest film, a combination of pathos, slapstick and comedy. It was a tribute to the art of body language and pantomime – a lone hold-out against the assault of the talking film. Chaplin’s decision to release the film three years into the talkie era was partially vindicated when more than one critic singled out this “comedy romance in pantomime” as the best picture of 1931.


Supported by Arthur Johnston (arranger) and Alfred Newman (musical director), Chaplin composed his first film score for City Lights. The various musical parts follow the episodic structure of the film so that each large scene has its own musical cue. Chaplin uses two principle designs: either the music captures the general mood of a scene or the composer uses mickey-mousing to describe the events precisely and to intensify the humor. Because of their simple, oscillating accompaniments, many of the underscoring pieces sound like circus music. By using waltz rhythms, the music does not only emphasize the pulse of the city, but also Chaplin’s dance-like performances. A striking feature of the musical design are the different tempos and expressive characteristics of the music which change just as quickly – from deep melancholy to joy – as the moods of the protagonists. Particularly noteworthy in Chaplin's film music are consciously placed musical breaks that highlight key moments to intensify emotions.  The closing music recalls Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly (1904) and simultaneously expresses joy and pain because the social differences between the the girl and the tramp seem to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Chaplin, cast as the famous ‘Little Tramp’, makes the acquaintance of a blind flower girl, who through a series of coincidences has gotten the impression that the shabby tramp is a millionaire. A second storyline begins when the tramp rescues a genuine millionaire from committing suicide. When drunk, the millionaire expansively treats the tramp as a friend and equal; when sober, he doesn't even recognize him. The two plots come together when the tramp attempts to raise enough money for the blind girl to have an eye operation. Highlights include an extended boxing sequence pitting scrawny Chaplin against muscle-bound Hank Mann and the poignant final scene in which the now-sighted flower girl sees her impoverished benefactor for the first time.


Timothy Brock

2004 arr. after the original score
  large orchestra (from 46 Musicians)    
1/Pic.1/EHr.2+1/BCl+SopSax/AltSaxI/BarSax+SopSax/AltSaxII+SopSax/TenSax.1 - - 2perc(incl.timp) - pno/cel - bjo/git - hp - strings
sync fps