City Lights [1931]

City Lights is a film to pick for the time capsule, a film that best represents the many aspects of director-writer-star Charlie Chaplin at the peak of his powers: Chaplin the actor, the sentimentalist, the knockabout clown, the ballet dancer, the athlete, the lover, the tragedian, the fool. It's all contained in Chaplin's simple story of a tramp who falls in love with a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill). Chaplin elevates the Victorian contrivances of the plot to something glorious with his inventive use of pantomime and his sure grasp of how the Tramp relates to the audience. In 1931, it was a gamble for Chaplin to stick with silence after talking pictures had killed off the art form that had made him famous, but audiences flocked to City Lights anyway. (Chaplin would not make his first full talking picture until 1940's The Great Dictator.) After all the superb comic sequences, the film culminates with one of the most moving scenes in the history of cinema, a luminous and heartbreaking fade-out that lifts the picture onto another plane. (Woody Allen paid homage to the scene at the end of Manhattan.) This is why the term "Chaplinesque" became a part of the language. --Robert Horton

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