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Eye on Sound: City Lights

Charles Chaplin / US, 1931 / 86 min.

Comedy and Tarkovsky: it may seem an unusual combination. The filmmaker-mystic with an ear for humanity’s lonely voice, however, turned out to be a great fan of Charlie Chaplin’s tragicomedies (‘classic and complete in himself’). In City Lights, ‘the Tramp’ navigates between emotion and slapstick with superior ease. Live piano accompaniment by Martin de Ruiter. ‘Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but comedy in long-shot’, Charles Chaplin famously said. In City Lights, his endearing little tramp appears to be stumbling through life helplessly. He falls in love with a blind flower girl, barely escapes with his life after having agreed to a boxing match, moving between emotion and slapstick with superior ease.

Poster city lights

City Lights was one of the favourite films of Andrei Tarkovsky, to whom Eye is devoting an exhibition. It may come as a surprise, but the earnest Russian filmmaker was a big fan.

weird logic

“And is Chaplin – comedy? No: he is Chaplin, pure and simple; a unique phenomenon, never to be repeated (...)”, Tarkovsky wrote in his volume of essays Sculpting in Time. “In the most absurd situation Chaplin is completely natural, and that is why he is funny. His hero seems not to notice the world in which he lives, nor its weird logic. Chaplin is such a classic, so complete in himself, that he might have died three hundred years ago.”



Charles Chaplin

Production year




Original title

Eye on Sound: City Lights


86 min.







Part of

Eye on Sound

With Eye on Sound, Eye focuses on the special relationship between image and sound. Expect live music to silent films, live bands from today to classics of yesteryear, brand new scores to films from the versatile Eye collection and special attention to the often neglected art of sound design.

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