Chaplin Boom: City Lights


The original poster for City Lights

Last week Sheffield was host to a celebration of everything Charlie Chaplin.  As part of this season’s concert series, dubbed the #ChaplinBoom, the University of Sheffield Concerts team have performed a number of concerts across various city venues to explore his work in film, comedy and music.  On Sunday evening The Showroom Cinema witnessed a spectacular fusion of one of Chaplin’s most revered works, City Lights, with the exciting talents of Sheffield Rep Orchestra performing a live concert featuring the original score alongside a projection of the film.

Rep Orchestra in rehearsal

The Sheffield Rep Orchestra in rehearsal. Photo: Gareth Widdowson

City Lights was released in 1931 to popular approval, and quickly became one of Chaplin’s most successful films.  Over 80 years later, the film is still considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, regularly featuring highly in critical polls and having attracted praise from some of the most famous directors including Orson Welles and Martin Scorcese. Most recently, the much respected Sight and Sound Critics Poll (2012) retained City Lights in the top 50 best films of all time, again reinforcing the respect many have in the industry for this eclectic comedy. Released at a time when the ‘Talkie’ had been established in the movies, and had pretty much been the mainstay for over 2 years, City Lights as a silent film, achieved both real commercial success, and endorsed Chaplin’s own wish to not see his character ‘The Tramp’speak dialogue on screen.

The famous ‘boxing scene’ from the film:

Sunday night was too great an opportunity to miss. As people began to file into the cinema and the seats began to fill, the orchestra was frantically looking to set up.  The anticipation was palpable, and there was a definite buzz to proceedings. It would be fair to say I attend very few, if any, orchestral performances.  Cinema in its many forms is my main appreciation; the worlds it opens and the stories told help stimulate my imagination, while musical performance is normally relegated to the latest Scottish indie act or producers of weird electronic noises in the darkened rooms of a grubby pub.  Listening to a full orchestra in such a small space was therefore both an exhilarating and satisfying experience. The performance was absolutely fantastic; the sound enveloped the room and drove the film on perfectly.

citylights still 2 boxingFilm purists could debate the authenticity of Sunday’s live performance in keeping with Chaplin’s original intent (Chaplin would have recorded his orchestral score beforehand and run the film alongside a synchronised soundtrack), however there would be no debate this evening whether the Sheffield Rep had succeeded in both celebrating the original score and entertaining everyone who attended. This was my first viewing, and it was certainly enhanced by the audience appreciation of such a classic. As the ending rolled, almost two whole minutes of audience ovation erupted around the room. Sheffield Rep clearly know how to put on a show and this has certainly whetted my appetite for an exciting line-up of great cinema and musical performances scheduled to take place in Sheffield over the next few weeks.

Written by Dave Marsh

2014-05-25 17.53.00

Dave Marsh

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