'Safety Last' shines at the Dryden
05:00 AM, Jul 04, 2013
If you know and love film, you must be familiar with one of its most iconic images silent film comedian Harold Lloyd, hanging from the minute hand of a large clock on the side of a building, many stories above a city street. That image is from a gem of its era, Safety Last! and it is being shown this weekend at the Dryden Theatre of the Eastman House.
The general school of thought on the silent era elevates three great comedians, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, high above all their contemporaries.
Each had distinctive qualities:
Charlie Chaplin, a graduate of the English music-hall scene, was a magnificent mime. He worked almost exclusive through a memorable character, The Tramp, and was especially known for his ability to balance hilarity with pathos. You are as likely to cry at a Chaplin film as to laugh. Must sees: The Gold Rush, Modern Times, City Lights, The Great Dictator, and assorted shorts.
Buster Keaton was a Kansas-born vaudevillian who first earned his reputation for his uncanny ability to survive pratfalls, and to make them astonishing and funny. In his films, he continued to explore the art of the pratfall, often achieving balletic genius. His films often offered historic settings and elevated rural values and themes over the more urban or urbane. Keaton has been the best served by Blu-ray DVDs. Must sees: The General, The Cameraman, Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr., and assorted shorts, especially Two Weeks.
Harold Lloyd, a Nebraska native had an academic background in drama and a lifelong interest in technical developments in film and elsewhere. His specialty became the use of breathtaking stunts, often involving a character who finds himself, shockingly, at great heights. While Keaton favored the rural past, Lloyd worked in the realm of the then-modern urban world. Must sees: Safety Last!, The Freshman, and Speedy. The great Preston Sturges also worked with Lloyd in the sound era in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, by incorporating footage from The Freshman as flashbacks, and using the older Lloyd in the new parts of the film.
In the essential Safety Last!, Lloyd plays a country boy attempting to find success in the big city, so he can marry his hometown sweetheart. He takes a job as a clerk in a department store, and comes up with a scheme to attract customers by convincing the store manager to offer $1,000 to scale the outside of the high-rise store. Lloyd convinces a friend to take up the challenge, not knowing he’s a wanted man. When the police pursue, Lloyd has to step in for the guy and do the perilous climb himself. Along the way, he encounters the famous clock.
Safety Last! is scheduled for the Dryden at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The 1923 film is 70 minutes long, and features a new orchestral score by famed composer, Carl Davis.
TWO OTHER DRYDEN GEMS: While we’re in the recently refurbished Dryden Theatre, I’ll recommend two other great films:
Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a film by Aram Avakian and Bert Stern that chronicles the Newport Jazz Festival of 1958, making the film, arguably, the first important concert film. The film employs an impressionistic style to showcase performances by Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Chico Hamilton and others. Newport producer George Wein pioneered the concept of mixing with the jazz artists, various performers in “neighboring art forms.” Here, for example, you’ll see a young Chuck Berry, singing “Sweet Little Sixteen” with backing by jazz artists. The film is at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
Young Mr. Lincoln, John Ford’s evocative portrait of the early years of our greatest president, with a lovely performance by Henry Fonda. The film is, in a way, a great companion piece to Steven Spielberg’s 2012 Lincoln. It’s at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
UPCOMING HOFFMAN WORK: Fairport native and Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman has joined the cast of Daniel Espinosa’s Child 44 , adapted from Tom Rob Smith’s first novel of a trilogy. It tells of a disgraced member of the Soviet Union military police during the Stalinist era who investigates a series of child murders that connect to high members of the political party. Others in the cast include Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman.
Hoffman’s next film to hit the screen will be the eagerly anticipated The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the sequel to the first hit film from the Hunger Games book trilogy. This will be Hoffman’s first appearance in the series that stars fellow Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. Hoffman plays Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamebacker who first appears in the second book. The film is due in late November.