Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Bright Lights, Big City

November 25, 2006

The final SF weekend this year started off with a screening of Chaplin’s film City Lights at Davies Symphony Hall. The SF Symphony accompanied the film with a performance of the score Chaplin himself wrote. The program makes much of the fact that as a silent film, this work arrived somewhat late to the ball in that by its premiere in 1931, audiences had already been exposed to several “talkies” such as The Jazz Singer, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Blue Angel. However, due to Chaplin’s concern about how his “little tramp” would translate into the speaking world, the film remained without dialogue except for some recorded music and sound effects.

Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill

David Robertson conducted the symphony in this nearly sold-out performance. Certainly while it was a lot of fun and there is no disputing that City Lights is a great film, I couldn’t help but wonder why the Symphony had chosen to sponsor such an event. The music is cliché and standard issue movie soundtrack for the period. Additionally, these sort of screenings in large halls are complicated by an inability to get the room dark enough to actually appreciate the film. In the end, this was the orchestral equivalent of comfort food – filling and reassuring but hardly very important or challenging. However, it was a great chance to see one of Chaplin's masterworks of comedy and motion.

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