Safety Last!

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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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Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Rectify Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is released from prison after serving 19 years on death row for the rape and murder of a teenage girl, but his return home opens up a world of troubled complications for everyone involved. The small, Southern community is divided on the issue of his innocence as the DNA evidence seems at odds with his own confession, and those doubts are just some of the issues he now faces. Character actor Ray McKinnon moves behind the camera here as the show’s creator, and the result is easily one of the year’s finest and most affecting shows. The story shares some thematic similarities to the brilliant Boy A, but it quickly finds its own rhythms and strengths thanks to a smart ensemble filled with heartbreaking performances and characters. It’s not needed, but the show also features some suspense and mystery surrounding Daniel’s possible guilt. It’s a short season at only six episodes, but happily Sundance Channel has ordered an additional ten for season two. [DVD extras: Featurettes]

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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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