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I watched the RNS perform Charlie Chaplin’s ‘City Lights’

On Friday evening, Wendy and I crossed the glassy Tyne to see Stefan Geiger conducting the Royal Northern Sinfonia. The occasion was a performance of Charlie Chaplin’s score to his 1931 silent film, City Lights. The film played out on a screen above the orchestra. This was our first time back to the Sage since the pandemic, and it was delightful to be back in a venue that holds so many happy memories for us.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen City Lights before. But, it is one of those films with such cultural relevance that perhaps I’ve just seen so many clips and references to it that I think I’ve seen it before. I’ve certainly never paid much attention to the score, and I wasn’t aware that Chaplin had ever written music. As Geiger pointed out in his opening remarks, Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in and scored the film, surely marking him out as a genius.

The experience of seeing the film with the score performed live obviously drew our attention to the music to a much greater degree than usual. The score is notable for its melancholy, which might not be expected in a comedy film. The Royal Northern Sinfonia performed it beautifully.

This was also, I think, my first experience of seeing a Charlie Chaplin film with an audience—and perhaps even my first time seeing a silent film with an audience. I was struck by how the laughter of the crowd—and especially the final “ahh”—became part of the soundtrack in itself, and made for a genuinely shared experience.

This was a lovely night out.

This post was filed under: Film, Music, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

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