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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

What would Sergio Leone’s films be without Ennio Morricone’s world-renowned scores? And what remains of Blade Runner without Vangelis’ unworldly synthesizers? Who doesn’t immediately think of Miles Davis’ languid nocturnal jazz in the case of Ascenseur pour l’échafaud? Music and sound are an essential part of the cinematic experience. In fact, they are vital to the experience of film.

Learn more
Eye on Sound: live music in Eye's arena
City lights still 04
Charlie chaplin city lights harry myers