Chaplin Fest

Charlie Chaplin's 1931 silent comedy City Lights begins SIFF's week-long retrospective of his films (not all of them silents; a package of shorts is also included). Of the 10 features, City Lights is perhaps the most delicate and sentimental. Who today would write, direct, and star in the tale of a blind flower girl and the lovestruck little tramp who hopes to restore her sight? Not even Mel Gibson. The silent-film era was already over at the time of City Lights' release, giving the melodrama a backward-looking, almost Victorian quality that Chaplin wouldn't dispute. Though then the greatest artist of a brand-new technology (which made him a rich man who wore rags to work), the clown-turned-auteur was profoundly ambivalent about modernity. The Little Tramp and his flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) are the penurious cast-offs of a system that has no use for dreamers or the disabled. Forget about unemployment benefits or health care; this the height of the Great Depression, when no one seems willing to lend a hand to the down and out. (See Modern Times, 6:30 p.m. Sunday, for a fuller critique of capitalism.) Before the welfare state, in Chaplin's world, people could only depend on one another. (NR) BRIAN MILLER

Fri., April 15, 7:30 p.m.; April 16-21, 2011

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