Auteur theory? What’s that?
I’m sure it was going around at the time in Europe, but probably hadn’t washed up on these shores yet.
As for me, I chose movies by the criteria of who was in them or what it was about. I liked what I liked and didn’t hold to any other requirements. Very rarely was I aware of who “made” them. And when I was, I was pretty much stuck in the middle part of the alphabet, where the stand outs were: first – Lean, followed by Kubrick, and now back to “L” and the inimitable Harold Lloyd.
All this is preface to say, one day I wound up on the campus of Harvard University for of all things, a film festival. Whether it was my idea, or my dad’s who took me, the answer is lost to history. (Sidebar – One thing not lost to history, or more specifically family history – is the fact that pre-WW1 my grandmother (dad’s mom) had been an usherette at the Orpheum in downtown Boston and often had troublesome Harvard students on her aisle). It was my first encounter with feature length silent films. I was familiar with the silent Our Gang comedies and the Laurel and Hardy shorts, broadcast on Saturday morning kid programs, but they were just that – shorts. Unbeknowst to me more oft than not they had been butchered, cut up into TV sized chunks. And run at 24 frames per second, which was the standard for sound films, and almost never the speed at which they were originally shot or projected.
Here all that would be different. Harold Lloyd had kept his films out of circulation over the years, waiting for the right venue that would meet his demand that they be projected at the proper speed and accompanied by piano or organ music. The UK and Europe gave him the first break for a revival of his works, and the acclaim that followed led to an “in” at the colleges in the US. Hence the reason I was now at Harvard.
And viewing for the first time Lloyd’s film The Freshman. The film didn’t come off as old-fashioned, as the fashionable snobbery of the modern age (in this instance the sixties) would judge silent films. It was fresh and funny, and a pure joy to see with an audience. The experience put me on the lookout for more of his work, and I was not disappointed. Especially when that “next” work was Safety Last.
Safety Last is best described by juxtaposing two words “thriller” and “comedy.” For it delivers in both categories. Lloyd could keep you on the edge of your seat as his character in eyeglasses scaled the outside of a multistoried building, and knock you off it in the next instant when he pummels your funnybone with the precision of a heavyweight funnyman.
Lloyd was considered the everyman, an individual with whom his fans easily identified. I know I did, but probably with the bonus parallel – we both wear eyeglasses.
Auteur theory? What’s that?