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Introducing... City Lights

We take a look at Charlie Chaplin's classic film, which will be screened at Glyndebourne with a live orchestra this autumn.

This autumn we’re delighted to be bringing you something a little different, Charlie Chaplin’s classic comedy City Lights accompanied by a live orchestra.

Read on as we explore this timeless classic from Hollywood’s Golden Age…

Need to know

City Lights is Chaplin’s masterpiece. He directed, starred and composed the music’ says our Artistic Director Stephen Langridge.

The film follows the exploits of Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, a true icon of film. Through a series of misunderstandings, he befriends a blind flower girl, who mistakes him for a rich benefactor. Besotted, he sets out to raise the money for an operation to restore her sight, with many mishaps along the way. City Lights features some of Chaplin’s most celebrated slapstick set-pieces, including the famous boxing match, and culminates in an unforgettably touching final scene.

In some ways, City Lights was a last hurrah for the silent movie. The film’s long gestation took place as ‘talkies’ established themselves as the industry standard, but Chaplin forged ahead without recorded dialogue, telling Motion Picture Magazine that ‘[the talkies] are spoiling the oldest art in the world, the art of pantomime’ in 1929.

Ultimately, the film was a kind of hybrid between a silent and sound film, it featured intertitles and no spoken dialogue but had a synchronized music soundtrack (as many cinemas had dispensed of their live orchestras by the time it was released) which was composed by Chaplin himself. A self-taught musician, Chaplin even conducted the orchestra. 

As Alexandra Coghlan says, ‘Chaplin’s films use music not just as a backdrop but a key element of storytelling, capable of subverting and wrong-footing the audience as much as amplifying the on-screen action and emotions.’ You can read more about Chaplin’s work as a composer here.

Why you shouldn't miss it

An undisputed masterpiece from the Golden Age of Hollywood, City Lights has featured in lists of the greatest films of all time ever since it premiered in 1931. With its heady blend of knockabout comedy and heartrending sincerity, it’s not hard to see why.

Accompanied by a live orchestra, this is a chance to enjoy the film anew and discover Chaplin the composer. ‘Having a full orchestra playing the score brings the experience into the present tense, and the film becomes a live musical performance as well as a classic celluloid moment’ says Stephen Langridge.

A great moment to watch out for

The classic boxing scene is a masterclass in physical comedy. Trying to make some quick cash to pay the flower girl’s rent, the Little Tramp accepts an offer to fight in a rigged boxing match. When his intended opponent skips town, our hero finds himself in a real match and has to use all of his wits to try and stay out of harm’s way.

Our screenings of City Lights with a live orchestra will take place on 19 and 20 November 2021

City Lights images © Roy Export S.A.S. All rights reserved

Music for City Lights Copyright © Roy Export Company Ltd. and Bourne Co. except “La Violetera” © José Padilla. All rights reserved

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