Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Safety Last!

Today has been an interesting day. It started off with teaching lab, continued with traveling to a local university campus (where I was reminded how much I miss having regular access to online journal articles; I spent nearly two hours in their library saving dozens of PDFs for later reading), transitioned to writing the formal proposal to teach my course online, and finished with my SO and I watching a silent movie. It was the first one we'd ever seen in its entirety.

The movie was Safety Last! (IMDB page, Ebert's review; caution - both links contain major spoilers without warning), a 1923 comedy starring Harold Lloyd as a harried department store salesman running from one crisis to the next. We didn't plan to watch the movie, but my SO spotted it on TV, and we became intrigued trying to figure out if it was a fake old movie or a real old movie (the picture seemed too crisp for it to be original; turns out it was a recent restoration). After a few minutes we were hooked.

The pacing was very different from modern films; plot developments (such as they were) came slowly, and events that would have been 15-second clips in a modern film took several minutes (though they were generally funny minutes). All the actors were extremely good at physically expressing emotions; we could often figure out what people were saying even if there was no speech card.

While I enjoyed the comedy (I'm not much of a comedy watcher, so don't know what comedy genre this fits in), I also enjoyed what Ebert calls the documentary factor of silent films:
In a way that later films could never duplicate, silent films, especially comedies, have a documentary level beneath their fictions: They're often shot on real locations and use the locations, and the backgrounds are often unrehearsed and real. Into this actual universe steps a character who for reasons of his own will do extraordinary things.
I might just have to watch more of these.

Oh yes, and I now must go out and buy a hat. All those 1920's guys looked darn stylish.

No comments: