Steven G. Farrell 2017-11-13 11:44:53
Researching Hollywood comedy legends has only deepened my fascination with movies starring the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and the Three Stooges. Perhaps my favorite funny man is Harold Lloyd (1893–1971), a top Hollywood silent screen star during the Roaring Twenties. Lloyd’s masterpiece, The Freshman (1925), is considered one of the greatest comedy classics of all time. Lloyd started his film career in 1915 as a mildly popular imitation of Charlie Chaplin’s memorable screen character The Tramp. He soon developed his own unique style branded by his tortoise-shaped glasses, unflappable disposition, and displays of athletic daring, which became his trademark during his heyday. Lloyd, along with Chaplin and Buster Keaton, had an everyman appeal that connected to American audiences during the days before the stock market crash ushered in the Great Depression in 1929. Despite some rare forays into the realm of the talkies, Lloyd was savvy enough to realize that his style of humor worked best in action. He knew when to call it quits from the silver screen and his film achievements were acknowledged with an honorary academy award in 1953. He was also wise enough to collect and store his own films. He became a successful businessman in California before passing away in 1971. Q&A with the Screen Legend’s Granddaughter I recently talked with Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd (SL), who has dedicated her energies to preserving the Harold Lloyd film collection. SGF: How were Harold Lloyd’s films stored over the years and where are they housed now? SL: Lloyd’s nitrate negatives and prints were stored in a vault on his estate, then later deposited with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Film and Television Archives in Santa Clarita, California. There was no definitive labeling scheme until the films went to UCLA, where labels now match the master inventory and are alphabetized by title. Films on safety stock were housed in a vault adjoining his garage where his 1924 and 1925 Rolls Royce automobiles were kept. SGF: How many films were in his collection? SL: Lloyd’s collection of original master elements and projection prints included about 70 of the “Glass Character” one-reelers, 9 two-reelers, 4 three-reelers, 1 four-reeler, and 10 silent features of five or more reels. His collection also includes 7 sound feature films, 4 compilation films, and 50+ reels of home movies. Of course, a film such as a typical two-reeler might exist as a domestic original negative, a foreign original negative, and an original print, as well as recent preservation elements made from them, like master positives, dupe negatives, and safety prints. SGF: What were the condition of the films? SL: Some of the silent films were still in perfect condition and could be preserved from the original camera negatives. Others, such as a few of the early one-reelers, were beyond saving. Many were in-between and had to be restored as a composite of several negatives and prints. SGF: I’ve read that Richard Correll, who assisted you with the project, wasn’t happy with the restoration done on the films. Why was this so? SL: Rich and I were unhappy with some of the preservation efforts done during Lloyd’s lifetime and threw away those that had no value. The master positives I made during the 1970s are being used now for Blu-ray and DVD production. The Kid Brother was recently scanned at 4K from the master positive I made from the original negative in 1974. The Criterion Blu-ray discs of Speedy and The Freshman were also scanned from elements I made at that time and look beautiful after receiving full digital restorations. The original nitrate print of Safety Last was scanned at 2K for Blu-ray release. I hope you’ll view those films from the Criterion discs, preferably on a big screen to get the full impact. SGF: Did you uncover any gems that you weren’t aware of during the process? SL: Many of the Glass Character one-reelers (1917 through 1919) turned out to be delights; others not so much. That was the time when Lloyd was developing an everyman type of character—or in other words, a normal human being in extraordinary circumstances, responding as we might, rather than an eccentric clown doing unusual things. This is what distinguished Harold Lloyd from Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Lloyd’s pre-Glass Character one-reelers (1915-17) employed a character called Lonesome Luke, which he modeled on Chaplin and other silent clowns of the period. But the later Harold Lloyd was a comic actor of great subtlety and skill, presenting situations anyone in the audience might identify and sympathize with. SGF: Harold Lloyd films have appeared in archives all over the world! Which is the most impressive? SL: Many foreign archives contain early one-reelers of Harold Lloyd films that we don’t yet have, and the Czech Archives has shared about 16 of them with us. Safety Last is the most iconic of his films, with the image of him hanging by the hands of a clock atop a skyscraper. And The Freshman (1925) was Harold’s most successful film and the 14th highest-earning silent film of all time. But many—myself included—consider The Kid Brother to be his finest achievement, with the strongest, most likeable character, the best story construction, and most artistic cinematography.
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