Saturday, April 13, 2013

I Couldn't Believe My Eyes

If I was going to see my first Harold Lloyd movie, the Byrd was the place to do it.

We were seeing a new restoration of "Safety Last" in a digitized format, as so many vintage films are now, done so that they can be shown in theaters which no longer have projectors.

When that fact was mentioned, From the front row, the Byrd's manager Todd called out, "They'll take the 35 mm projector out of the Byrd over my dead body!"

The laughter and applause were immediate.

We were also told that this was the very first screening in the country of this restored print.

I'm not ashamed to say I like being first.

In the grand tradition of the Byrd, the screening began with the legendary litter promo, although without the sound, so the crowd provided it.

Somebody needs parental guidance.

The credits were a study in simplicity.

The boy, the girl, the pal, the law. Who needs names?

The love story concerned the boy going off to the big city to earn enough money to marry and support the girl (who would not doubt become the wife).

He finds a job selling fabric in a department store.

This was a guy devoted to his mission, or as the screen said, "He couldn't have given more to his job if it was a position."

I found it an interesting cultural commentary that in 1923 we were still making the distinction between jobs and positions.

Another cultural observation was when the boy got in trouble for having his jacket off and gets called into the big cheese's office.

He is rebuked for having been on the sales floor in his short sleeves, thereby offending the female customers sense of refinement.

Boy, that sense has been dead in the water for a while now, hasn't it?

Even the language came across as arcane, as when the boss lamented  that, "Something is very wrong with our exploitation," and wants to find a way to bring attention to the store.


I think we call that branding or image now.

The boy suggests a way to exploit the store by having his pal, a skilled climber, scale the department store facade.

As it turns out, the pal is trying to elude a cop bent on arresting him for punching him earlier, so the boy has to make the ascent himself, and he's no skilled climber.

Using recessed bricks to gain a foot and handhold, he begins to slowly climb the store while hundreds of customers watch.

Naturally there are comedic bits like the iconic shot of the boy hanging onto the hands of a giant clock on the building.

But there's also a scene of a mouse running up his pants leg, making him do a dance on the ledge to try to get it out.

With each floor up that he makes it, another obstacle meets him and he's hanging from a rope, or has his foot caught in a coil or gets hit in the head and gets dizzy.

And with each new problem, he teeters precariously close to the ledge and a fall to certain death.

It was scene after scene of suspense to see if he'd make it to the top, get the money for doing so and be able to marry the girl.

But what quickly became apparent to me was how poorly I was handling all these scenes of him leaning backwards over the streetscape below.

Really poorly, that's how.

My palms began to sweat.

I had to look away more than once.

Maybe it's my own phobias, but I couldn't keep watching the boy almost fall to his death.

Meanwhile, all around me , I heard adults and children giggling madly at the action.

I'd dry my hands on my shirt and by the next scene, they were moist again as I cringed at the angle of the boy this time.

Sure, my rational mind told me it was only a movie and a romantic comedy at that, but watching a man (whom we'd been told did his own stunts) hover on the edge of ledges, windows and a roof, was a little too close to some personal fears apparently.

On the plus side, I found the bespectacled Harold Lloyd far more handsome than Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

I'm just hoping the next Harold Lloyd film I see won't upset my women's sense of refinement quite as much.

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