City Lights (1931) shown with “Black & Tan” (1929)

Wednesday, March 16 at 7:00PM

1 hour 27 minutes


Maine Film Center

Railroad Square Cinema, 17 Railroad Square, Waterville, ME

Maine Film Center | Railroad Square Cinema presents


A series sponsored by the Colby Center for the Arts and Humanities, Colby Cinema Studies, and Colby Music.

Discussion of the film’s sound design led by Colby students in MU298B: Film Music and Sound. See the full series.

A beautiful, blind woman who sells flowers (Virginia Cherrill) falls in love with Chaplin’s famous recurring Tramp character after mistaking him for a wealthy man. Styled as a silent film amid the industry’s obsession with talking pictures, City Lights explores excess, the senses, and a love story through music and exquisite, hilarious pantomime. While in City Lights Chaplin avoided the “talking” aspect of talking pictures, lampooning spoken dialogue with sound-specific jokes, he took full advantage of the opportunity to synchronize onscreen movements to a musical soundtrack. Chaplin’s own score for the film reflects established stylistic traits of live film accompaniment, including musical themes attached to characters and ideas, borrowing existing music, and playing to action and mood. City Lights is Chaplin’s beautiful response to the film world being wired for sound.

Dudley Murphey’s musical short stars bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington and actress and activist Fredi Washington as a jazz musician and dancer, respectively. The couple secures a performance venue through the prestige of Washington’s character, who continues to dance despite the precarity of her heart condition. In addition to showcasing typical approaches to music and sound design in the very early period of sound film, this short features the Hall Johnson choir and one of the earliest film performances by a black jazz orchestra, showcasing jazz as dance music and a serious form of musical art. While this was his only lead acting role in a film, Ellington appeared in later films as a bandleader and wrote multiple film scores, most famously for Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959).

Wednesday, March 16


Free and open to the public!

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