Monday, April 14, 2014

Through Rose Colored, Horned Rimmed Glasses

On Friday night, I had the opportunity to see Harold Lloyd's film Why Worry? at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood as a part of the TCM Film Festival. Me being fairly broke, I couldn't afford an actual festival pass so I was escorted down a cement ramp, around a corner, through a back parking lot onto a deserted street against an iron fence... to the "Standby Line". You would think TCM was embarrassed by us as far away as we were. I was an hour early so naturally I was the only one in line. As I stood there calculating my chances for not getting robbed, I couldn't help but feel excited. Harold Lloyd! At the historic Egyptian with live orchestra accompaniment. I moved to Los Angeles for things like this. Because when everything else around me goes wrong... nobody makes me smile quite like Lloyd.

I stood there and remembered the 'love at first sight' moment when Harold Lloyd stole into my life...

It happened at 2 am. Per my normal behavior, I had fallen asleep on my mom's couch while watching TCM. I used to retreat to the living room when sleep was obviously elusive. Robert Osbourne tells much better bedtime stories than I could ever dream up. I remember floating back into my body and finding a handsome little man on my television screen. I had never seen him before. He had the funniest looking glasses, a goofy sweet grin and was leaping all over the place. I reached for the remote to turn it off, silent movies weren't really my thing. I had always found them to be a bit creepy and didn't want that to impact whatever my unconscious mind might conjure up when I went back to sleep...

But... I kept watching. There was something about that face, those eyes. I hadn't ever seen a silent star look so endearing... especially in such an adorable sailor suit. I left it on and drifted back to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I had to think if what I had seen had actually happened. It felt rather surreal. I hadn't noticed the title of the movie or who the actor was. (This was before DVR info listings, back when cable was a bit more snatch-n-grab). I turned on the computer and started reviewing the TCM schedule from earlier that morning. Apparently I had slept through a few silents before waking to that one. However, I came across a title that looked promising: A Sailor Made Man. Well, the cute little guy was in a sailor suit...

That's the night I fell in love with Harold Lloyd. I think it had to happen that way. Silent movies have a mystical quality, something alien and foreign hanging around the fuzzy edges. For me to be open to them at all, I needed to be introduced to them off handed... And it started me down a glorious path.

Intellectuals flock to Charlie Chaplin and hipsters claim Buster Keaton but us romantics... we champion Harold Lloyd. He's the guy that always gets the girl. He has a singular determination once he finds a purpose and pursues it to an undeniably beautiful end. He wasn't a 'tramp' character, there wasn't anything grotesque in his appearance and his athleticism on screen is jaw dropping. The guy could shimmy up a pole like it was nothing, he scaled walls, hung from cable cars... and always kissed the girl.

In Lloyd's own words:
The glasses would serve as my trademark and at the same time suggest the character-quiet, normal, boyish, clean, sympathetic, not impossible to romance. I would need no eccentric make-up, "mo" or funny clothes. I would be an average American youth and let the situation take care of the comedy. The comedy should be better for not depending upon a putty nose or its equivalent and the situations should be better for not being tied to low comedy coattails; funnier things happen in life to an ordinary boy than to a Lonesome Luke. Exaggeration is the breath of picture comedies, and obviously they cannot be true to life, but they can be recognizably related to life. -Lloyd-An American Comedy

I think Lloyd is the perfect way to introduce silent film to new audiences because he is relate-able. He's a character we all know, we've all been. He holds an undeniable fascination as was apparent by the audience's reactions and laughter the other night.

 Sitting in that theater, watching that film as it was meant to be seen, filled me with such elation. I might have cried just a little. That's the power of film. That crafted inspiration from nearly 100 years ago can still have the same effect on audiences today as it did then... perhaps even more so. The house was packed, Leonard Maltin and Harold's granddaughter Suzanna opened the film and I was the happiest girl on Hollywood Blvd.

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