Thursday, May 29, 2014

May Blind Spot: Safety Last

When I got to see Mark Harris’ epic documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey(2011) last year, like everyone else who has seen it I am sure, it opened a lot of new doors for me. I always knew a lot of areas that I lacked exposure, like silent films for example, but what this doc did brilliantly was gave me starting points to eradicate those anomalies in my film knowledge. I am still working on many of those areas but it is always good to know where to start than just grapple with all the options. One such area was classic comedians and it introduced me to Harold Lloyd, probably the last of classic comedians that I was introduced to. I checked off lot of names from my watch-list over the last year and inclusion of Safety Last(1923) in this year’s blind spot line-up was to get rid of that last dark spot around the corner as well.

It is convenient for us viewers too but it's rather convenient of director to name characters in this film as 'The Boy', 'The Girl' or 'The Pal' and 'The Law'. So 'The Boy' and 'The Girl' are in love with each other and want to get married but he wants to become responsible first. So he leaves his small town, goes to a big city to get a job and make sure he can provide for his girl. After being in the city, 'reality' strikes and he has to share a room with his 'pal' and can only get a job in De Vore Department store as a salesman. Off course, he can not tell this to his girl as this would mean he can not hold his part of bargain. So he lies that he has a great job that pays sumptuously and will be able to get married and bring her to the city pretty soon.

Keeping this illusion alive takes lot of work. And Money. And if they had that, it wouldn't be an illusion. So he has to pawn almost everything they own to buy gifts a manager of his fabricated stature could afford like lavaliere and almost his entire paycheck for a chain to wear it. Though such gifts convince his girl of his well-being, they also convince her mother that a young man should not be left alone in big city with so much money. And 'The Girl' decides to surprise him by visiting. This puts our boy in a rather precarious situation and presents us with a long but well done sequence even though we must have seen similar scene played out many times before. And during this sequence, his real manager declares that he will give $1000 to anyone who will come up with an original idea to promote their store. This culminates into that iconic scene which most of us watch Safety Last for(see picture above).

It is actually a very simple story of boy and girl. Nothing specifically wrong with that especially since it is rather enjoyable. It's just that it is too straight forward and set up in a way that the whole thing is leading towards one big gig at the end. It largely depends for all the laughs on talents and physical humour of Harold Lloyd and his roommate, Bill Strother. Again, nothing specifically wrong with it either since lot of comic films did that in the day and considering how well choreographed and performed that one last, big stunt is, it's also worth it but it's just too old school. 90 year old, to be precise. And we being The Dark Knight(2008) generation and all, might have been a bit too used to a fight or an explosion or to at least whip smart one liners every second of every minute. If you can curb that instinct of yours, you can lean back and certainly enjoy this one. I did!

If you thought that I was making fun of its simplicity, let me remind you again - I enjoyed this film! As for its simplicity, it was a reminder to watch films with their time frames in mind. I am sure many things it does, like that iconic climb of Tower in the end or sequence in which he juggles multiple roles during impromptu visit of his wife-to-be, were rather difficult to film and to stage in 1923. They may not be today with technology so far advanced but that's why you need to keep in mind that it was made in 1923 and it is still quite enjoyable, if not exactly novel. Standing the test of time for almost a century, that in itself is quite notable achievement. I fail to imagine how many of today's films would pass that test in 2100.

The other day, someone shared a quote from Man of Steel(2013). In the middle of General Zod giving a pounding to whole New York and Superman trying to save it from that, he finds time to get Lois Lane somewhere alone and kiss her. Now how he was able to do that in the middle of shitstorm is matter for another post but he IS Superman so... Anyways, I digress. After their kiss Lois i.e. Amy Adams says "You know, they say it's all downhill after the first kiss". I can apply that analogy to all classic comedians and my affairs so far with their films.

In all reality, that makes Chaplin nothing short of Superman. His reply to Lois above is something on the lines of 'I am pretty sure that only counts when you are talking about Human' and Chaplin has proved his super-human abilities with every film. I don't even remember the first time I saw a Chaplin film; I must have been single-digit old. We have had our ups and downs, mostly ups though, but it hasn't hit a rough patch yet and after all these years, there is still something to look forward to i.e. Limelight(1952). Buster Keaton, based on analogy above, turns out to be very human. The first kiss was The General(1926) and it has been by far the best one. I have taken it forward from that and I genuinely enjoy the company but it has certainly been downhill since that first kiss. 

The Marx Brothers, on the other hand, have been extremely unlucky. They haven't gone much further than second date and even that second date was to ensure I didn't brush them off with one false step. There are certain things you just can't do in affairs like these, you know! Jacques Tati, though not contemporary of others in these ranks and it is too soon yet to seal his fate but, is another one that might end up with fate similar to Marx Brothers. Second date I will soon arrange might do the trick for him. I don't know much about Harold Lloyd but based on all these encounters is it wrong if I expect him to be at least Captain Freaking America? I mean he is sort of lame but he is still a super hero. Or... am I having just too many affairs?


  1. Hi, this is a great blindspot. I always enjoy watching these movies from the early 20s. The actors in the silent films couldn't lazily rely on dialogue. They had to use facial expressions and raw emotion.

    1. That's a great approach to look at silent films. I think I will appreciate them a little more with that in mind. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Loved this movie from start to finish, an instant favorite. Agree was an impressive technical achievement for 1923. They often risked their life back then(Buster Keaton was a daredevil too)

    1. It certainly was. I remember you writing about it. I was happy to see your positive reaction to it. I know about Keaton too. Like Lloyd, he did most of his stunts on his own.


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