Harold Lloyd

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At the risk of generalization, The Criterion Collection is probably best known for packaging two types of films: celebrated canonical works that deserve pristine treatment; and comparably worthwhile but overlooked or unavailable films in need of a resurrection. Two of this week’s DVD/Blu-ray releases from Criterion – Harold Lloyd’s iconic silent comedy Safety Last and Czech auteur František Vláčil’s largely unheard-of-in-the-US Marketa Lazarová – exemplify the very best of both these tendencies, giving cinephiles an opportunity to “discover” in various ways both an undisputed classic and a challenging, largely unknown masterpiece of form and tone.

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Harold Lloyd Freshman

Why Watch? We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of Harold Lloyd‘s appearance in films by sharing some filmmaking tips from the stunt man/actor/director/producer and by showcasing what is probably his most famous short film appearance. As usual, Lloyd plays the underdog trying to become popular on campus, using his trademarked energy and comedic physicality to create a simple, hilarious story. What will it cost? Only 9 minutes. Skip Work. Watch More Short Films.

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Harold Lloyd in Safety Last

An icon of the silent film era, Harold Lloyd first appeared on the silver screen in the short film The Old Monk’s Tale. Its release in February 1913 means this is the 100th anniversary of the start of Lloyd’s movie career. A decade after that not-at-all-illustrious beginning, he would star in Safety Last!, which is almost definitely his most famous film — an unbelievably funny film where a simple store clerk organizes a contest to climb a tall building and ends up having to do it himself. Like Buster Keaton, Lloyd was a master of stunt work, making it look so effortless that audiences could be simultaneously stunned, awed and relieved. Laughter often followed gasps. He was also a director and producer with a unique perspective on the birth of a popular art form. The question is whether his viewpoint can still teach us a few things about the process of filmmaking. I think there is, so here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a man we’ve known for a hundred years.

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Culture Warrior

The self-reflexive practices of the meta-film take various forms. On the one hand, there’s the legacy of cinephilic directors from Brian De Palma to P. T. Anderson to Robert Rodriguez who shout out to specific films through their in-crowd referencing, or even go so far as to structure entire narratives through tributes to cinema’s past. Then there’s “the wink,” those film’s, like this weekend’s The Muppets, who exercise cheeky humor by breaking the fourth wall and by constant reference to the fact that they are in a heavily constructed film reality. The third category is less common, but perhaps the most interesting. There has been a recent influx of films that don’t use past films to construct present narratives or engage in Brecht-light humor, but have as their central narrative concern the broad developmental history of the medium itself, from practices of filmgoing to particularities of projection, and anything in between. Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is a good example of this mode of meta-filmmaking, but more high-profile films have begin to make this turn, specifically by directors who formerly operated in the first (and perhaps most common) category, like Tarantino with Inglourious Basterds two years ago. Now Martin Scorsese has followed suit with the 3D love letter to early cinema and film preservation that is Hugo.

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