Tag Archive: movies


The Genius of Harold Lloyd

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain, 1952

While I was at my parent’s house for Thanksgiving, I decided to stay the night so I could more easily go to the famous Sun City Arts & Craft Show the next day. That night, I stayed up with my dad and we got to watch a compilation film done by silent film comedian Harold Lloyd in 1962, that featured all of his best work. I will admit that other than his most famous film Safety Last, and really only the clock tower scene, I hadn’t really watched anything of his. My husband is less appreciative of classic Hollywood movies than I am, so the only time I really get to watch good old movies is when I am with my parents, and more specifically with my dad. He really got me interested in Old Hollywood films circa 1890s-1950s, and it was because of him that I took some film history classes during my undergraduate career. My parents are the reason I grew up watching film stars like Gene Kelley, Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire, Howard Keel, Leslei Caron, Ann Miller, Frank Sinatra and Bob Fosse instead of more traditional 80s and 90s stars like Molly Ringwald, Matthew Broderick or Jennifer Grey. The last star at least I made up for in Graduate School the first time as my friends and I went through an obsessive Dirty Dancing faze.

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last!, 1923

Anyways, I enjoyed watching the compilation movie Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy, not only because it prompted an in-depth conversation, with my dad, about the three great silent film comedians: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and of course, Harold Lloyd. We talked about the differences in their style of comedy, but my dad didn’t know all that much about Lloyd’s background so I thought it might be fun to research it. Harold Clayton Lloyd was born in Burchard, Nebraska on April 20, 1893 and from an early age, had an interest to perform on stage. He enrolled in the School for Dramatic Arts in San Diego, CA. He originally snuck onto the Universal Pictures studio lot and met famous producer Hal Roach, who would later go on to produce Laurel & Hardy movies, who let Lloyd join his new production company. Lloyd starred in many “Lonesome Luke” films, where he played similar to Charlie Chaplin’s tramp. He knew this would not go far with early silent film audiences, so he completely changed his persona. He became the everyman with his trademark round horn-rimmed glasses, straw boater hat and messy suit. According to his official biography from Harold Lloyd Entertainment “Harold was the first film comedian to portray a character that looked and acted like someone sitting in the audience – an average guy, the boy-next-door. With this “glass” character as Harold called it, He could experience the humor in everyday life. And, as an average fellow, Harold’s boy-next-door could have a romance. It was the beginning of romantic comedy in films. As his new character grew more popular, the one-reel comedies became two-reels.” I should first explain a little bit about the terminology one-reel and two-reels. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “In the early days of motion pictures, each reel ran about 10 minutes, and the length of a picture was indicated by the number of its reels.” Therefore it was possible for early film comedians like Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd to literally makes hundreds of films during their extensive careers. By 1922, Lloyd had progressed from making two-reel films to five reels (modern full-length movies).

In August 1919, Harold Lloyd was posing for a photographer with a cigarette, which he was lighting with what he thought was a prop bomb. Only it wasn’t a fake and it went off, temporarily blinding him and taking off his pointer finger and thumb of his right hand. The doctors believed his career was over, but he recovered and had a prosthetic hand made so he could continue working in film for a further 29 years and making a total of 200 films. So it is pretty crazy to imagine him only holding on to the famous clock hand on the side of a building in Safety Last with his left hand and only three fingers on his right hand! Even more so because apparently despite all his crazy stunts involving tall buildings, he was afraid of heights.

Harold Lloyd3

The reason he is a genius stems from his knowledge of his audience. He knew just how to be both funny and moving. According to the PBS American Master’s webpage, he also knew how much fear helped heighten comedy. “One day while on his way to the studio, he watched a man scaling the side of a building. Crowds had gathered around and were completely consumed by the sight of the climber. Lloyd knew that if he could keep an audience on the edge of their seats like this, he could make them laugh even harder. So, using the tricks of photographic perspective, he began to shoot scenes that looked as if they were happening on the sides of buildings, on scaffoldings, or hanging from clocks. These acrobatic hi-jinks seemed amazingly real in a time before special effects. More than simply renewing the audience’s interest in his work, these progressive techniques earned him the respect of others in the film industry.” My dad and I watched several snippets of his films, including Safety Last and Why Worry? that use these “thrill comedy” techniques. When Safety Last opened in 1923, it was immediately a huge success and he was nicknamed “The King of Daredevil Comedy”. According to his biography from Harold Lloyd Entertainment, “By the mid 1920’s, Harold had left Roach and was producing all the films in which he starred. Of all the silent film comedians, Harold Lloyd was the most profitable. His films out grossed the movies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and he made more films than both of them put together.” I find this film gross fact to be particularly fascinating as I would say most people nowadays have never heard of Lloyd, but have heard of Chaplin and may have heard of Keaton. The biography goes on to say that “In 1928, Variety proclaimed him the highest paid film star. When talking pictures came along, Lloyd was one of the first filmmakers to embrace the new medium. He was the fifth film star to immortalize his hand and footprints in the pavement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and he has two stars on the “Walk of Fame.” So go check him and his movies out!

Resources

Biography Section from Harold Lloyd’s Entertainment website

PBS American Masters biography section about Harold Lloyd

Encyclopedia Britannica article on reels

Leibster Award 2014

So I just realized it’s been two weeks since I reblogged someone else’s post and even longer since I actually posted anything, so it is definitely time. I’m sorry but my personal life has been really crazy the last two weeks and I’m only now getting some free time to blog like I want to, although it is not any less up in the air.

liebster-award-300x300

One of my best friends over at Dewey Decimal’s Butler gave me the Leibster Award again. Here is the post from the first time I was nominated last year. Thank you very much! I must say that I appreciate it, although I’ve been less than diligent in keeping up with writing. I hope to correct that in future. Now I have a lot more ideas about what to write as I have had plenty of time to brainstorm, so should be a lot easier.

Here are the rules:

  • Share which blogger(s) nominated you.
  • Answer the ten questions they asked in their post.
    • Refers to following 3 points: I went through my list of bloggers I follow and all of them had over 200 followers, most were closer to 1000 people following. However, I enjoy answering questionnaires, so I have answered her questions.
  • Nominate 11 bloggers of your choosing who have less than two hundred followers each.
  • Ask eleven questions for your nominees to answer.
  • Contact your nominees!

Here are the questions, she wants me to answer as part of the award.

1. Hamlet – was he really insane or just faking it? I would say (though let it be known that I’ve not read this play since high school, though it was one of my favorites), that he was probably faking most of it. I think he was probably more frustrated and angry more than anything else. I mean his mother marries his uncle a month after his father the king dies, though that sort of thing would have been the norm for royalty, to guarantee the safety and stability of the realm. I feel sorry for poor Ophelia as she does actually go insane after being mistreated by Hamlet, as he is a supreme douchebag in his quest to get revenge on Claudius for killing his father. His mother even lies for him to her new husband, saying the reason he killed Polonius is because he’s mad, even though he thinks she’s a whore for marrying his uncle. Then there’s the whole to be or not to be speech where Hamlet talks about how insignificant and fleeting life is and how we have no control over it. I don’t think that’s madness talking, just philosophizing over a common fate. Unfortunately Hamlet’s attempts at revenge only succeed in getting him and everyone around him killed.

2. Cats or dogs?  Defend. Dogs definitely. I used to be a cat person, but they are too fickle and alliance-changing. I love their independence though. I’ve become a dog person since I got married. Ok yes, they do have some disgusting habits like eating poo, but they are excited when you come home no matter how your day has been (even better when you’ve had a tough day), are great snuggly nap partners, and genuinely love you unconditionally.

3. Why are you drawn to certain authors? I would say because of the kind of book they write. I tend to be drawn to primarily British writers who are witty and great storytellers, like Brian Jacques, Neil Gaiman and Philip Reeve. I read a lot of children and YA books because I’m trying to keep up with what comes out and because I enjoy reading them, and am particularly drawn to writers who don’t dumb books down for kids. That will tell a great story even if it does get a little complicated at times, when dealing with difficult or interesting subjects. Great examples of writers like this Rick Riordan, Jonathan Stroud, Gail Carriger (her Finishing School series), John Flanagan, L.A. Meyer, and Eoin Colfer.

4. What was your last guilty-pleasure read? Lol, probably The Ghost in the Graveyard (Knight Games #1)a freebie romance/erotica/fantasy e-book I got on Amazon. It was equally bad and entertaining at the same time.

5. Have you ever found a movie that exceeded the book upon which it was based? Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is like that for me (saw the animated movie version called The Secret of NIMH first), as every time I’ve tried to read the book, I get bored and quit after a few pages. I’m hoping the audiobook will be better, as I need to read it for my Newbery Challenge. Aside from that, I would say the miniseries version of The Thornbirds was better, as was Franco Zefferelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet and Kenneth Branagh’s or Joss Whedon’s version of Much Ado About Nothing. I would also have to add Miyazaki’s version of Howl’s Moving Castle. I saw the movie first, which got me into the book, which I enjoyed but liked the movie much better.

6. On that note, are you as angry about the upcoming The Giver trailer as I am? Honestly I’m not sure. I read the book but can’t remember much of it, but I’m sure they’ll probably do a hash job out of it like most great books (though I didn’t like it as much as other people, only gave it 3 out of 5 stars).

7. If you could take one author out to dinner to thank him/her for writing, who would it be?  (Life status is a non-issue for this question.) Probably JRR Tolkein because I love his books and would love to pick his brain about The Silmarillion and ask him to explain it to me. I’ve tried to read it several times but cannot get through it, even though the subject matter is interesting.

8. What is your opinion on sports?  I like to watch college-level American football on TV occasionally, but hate pro (it’s too boring). Most sports I could do without like golf, basketball, and tennis. The only sport I can actually tolerate watching is real Football (soccer) on TV, though it is better in person. I would love to be able to go to a footie game in Liverpool with my husband, as I know it is one of his dreams.

9. Will there ever be such a thing as world peace? I think it’s possible, but getting everyone to agree to it is quite another thing. Most people and governments are too wrapped up in their own issues to really consider it, as it wouldn’t be good for the economy, or so they keep telling us.

10. Favorite music, what is it and why? Hmm, I guess I would say salsa because it is fun to listen and makes you wanna jump up and dance no matter where you are. I started listening to it in college after I was dating a Guatemalan guy who took me to a latin dance club for our first date (I couldn’t dance it back then). He started my love for it and I started listening to Celia Cruz and later Tito Puente, as he mixes salsa with funk and that’s even more fun to listen to.

11. When was the last time you put your foot in your mouth (figuratively speaking)? Honestly I don’t remember, but most likely it was probably during an argument with my husband.

Today is Shakespeare Day in the UK, as it actually is the Bard’s birthday (or a close enough approximation as it the records weren’t that good back in the day, but they know he was baptized on April 26th, 1564). Coincidentally, he also died on April 23 in 1616. April 23 is also St. George’s Day, who is the patron saint of England. I have posted on the unofficial UK holiday in 2012 on this date with historical facts, and again in 2013 with some more factoids and some English poetry. I always liked to celebrate St. George’s Day as I am an Anglophile and my hubby is English.

Shakespeare and Quotes

Back to Shakespeare, like most people, I had to study the Bard in high school and I took a class on him during my undergraduate career as well. In middle school, my favorite play was Much Ado About Nothing, mostly because I was obsessed with the Kenneth Branagh 1993 film version. As I discussed in a previous post about the play (linked above), I also really like the Joss Whedon movie version of the play. To this day, it is my favorite play and this is the one from which I can still quote lines. In high school, my favorite play was Hamlet, which we did read in class. Mostly this was because of my loving Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film version (what can I say, the man is a good actor and director). I’ve written about more of my favorite Shakespearean film versions in this post. I know a lot of people like to poo-poo studying him because of the language barrier (Elizabethan English can be quite confusing). I guess I never had that issue because although it does sometime take some interpretation, it is worth it because the man is a genius at word play, insults and fantastic memorable monologues, plus its just good writing. If you can, try to see the plays performed. When I was growing up, we used to go to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to see plays and musicals, and this is where I got to see Hamlet performed on-stage.

Catherine Tate and David Tennant - Much Ado About Nothing

(I think I might have a nerdgasm if I had gotten to see the two of them in this play!)

If you want to get into character for the day, so to speak, check out this link on how to talk Shakespearean. Here are some really cool ways that people are using Shakespeare in our modern world, like helping autistic children communicate and socialize better, and the Sonnet Project, which is about getting all 154 Sonnets read by actors in various locations throughout NYC to make Shakespeare more modern and accessible. This website has a great list of resources and ideas for educators who want to teach Shakespeare. If you would like to read any or all of Shakespeare’s plays, check out the Digital Text Library from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

On to the poetry. Naturally because it is Shakespeare Day, I have selected two sonnets of his. Everyone knows Sonnet 18, so I won’t use that one (although it is one of my favorites). I noticed that a lot of the sonnets dealt with marrying and having children, something I never picked up on before (though truthfully I’ve never really study them all that closely). I picked Sonnet XIV (which is amazingly read by David Tennant on the Spoken Word CD From Shakespeare – with love and I had not heard or read it before listening to him read it) and Sonnet CXVI, because I enjoy it.

Sonnet XIV

 Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
And yet methinks I have Astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert;
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.

Sonnet CXVI

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

More Hollywood Glamour

Singing in the Rain

I am a classic movie fan, have been ever since I was little. I grew up watching Hollywood musicals of the 1930s-60s, which branched out into many different kinds of pre-1970s films over the years. I took a couple film history classes in college and just like to watch classic movies whenever I am able (having only a couple in my personal movie collection and no cable does limit this). Nine days ago, I posted on my favorite Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head. Now my hubby and I have been watching this series on Netflix called Hollywood Treasures, which is about an auction company in Los Angeles that specializes in selling Hollywood/TV/pop culture artifacts. They have sold some really cool stuff and we’ve got to see people with some really cool collections. Anyways, a couple of days ago we were watching an episode where the classic screen actress Debbie Reynolds had called them up and asked them to help her sell her collection. For those who have no idea who I am talking about, she has starred in such classic films as Singing in the Rain, Tammy and the Bachelor, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (for which she was nominated for an Oscar). She is more famously known as “Princess Leia’s mom”. She was going to create a Hollywood Museum with her artifacts, but ran out of money to fund it, so she has decided to sell the individual pieces instead. It contains a lot of really famous and lesser-known costumes, props, cameras, collectibles, books and posters. On Hollywood Treasures, they showed that she owned the most famous dress Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch. I thought it was sad that the collection didn’t become a museum as it had some really nice pieces in it that needed to be preserved.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So today, I was browsing through music concerts in the Phoenix area for the next 5 months and saw that Debbie Reynolds was going to be doing a performance nearby and was wondering what it was on. When found the venue and clicked on her name, it took me to her Hollywood collection shop, so I started browsing through the different section to see what she was selling, as I was curious from when I had watched the show. If only I had a spare $5-45,000 to spend on this stuff! Lol, sadly most of the stuff was out of my price range. But it was nice to look. Here were some of my favorites:

The other sad thing is that Debbie Reynolds’s collection would’ve been great if it had opened, as there really isn’t a large number of Hollywood-themed museums. There is The Hollywood Museum in Hollywood, at the site of the old Max Factor Building, where the makeup giant did up the stars. I totally want to check this one out whenever I finally get to visit Los Angeles. Aside from this place and the museums that the big name studios still in Hollywood have (Paramount, Universal, Fox etc) and a few celebrity museums scattered around the country, there aren’t a lot dedicated to film costumes. This is why I am so excited that this Hollywood Costumes exhibit is coming to Phoenix March – July 2014! The exhibit was originally created by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and is only showing in Phoenix on the West Coast and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond on the East Coast. So if you can make it to either of these places to see it, I recommend it!

Much Ado About Nothing

branaghs-much-ado-about-nothingmuch-ado-about-nothing-whedon

I fell in love with this Shakespearean play in middle school, after having watched Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film version (above photo to left). I think this version of the story displays the best of the Bard’s wit, humor, drama and romance. Not only did it have a stellar predominantly British cast which included Emma Thompson as Beatrice and Branagh as Benedick (who were married off-screen while filming the movie, which is part of the reason they work so well together), but also Brian Blessed, Phyllida Law, Imelda Staunton, Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves. And to this day, I can still remember the Balthasar’s song from the play/movie. In fact, that’s what I was singing in the shower this morning after watching a little bit more of Joss Whedon’s 2013 film version. Though I love the Branagh version, I must say that I am very impressed with Whedon’s black & white interpretation. I thought most of the selections for the cast were spot-on, plus I think they did even better with the casting of Don John, the main villain of the piece, with Sean Maher in Whedon’s version as compared to Keanu Reeves in Branagh’s. Maher comes off as an underhanded despicable bastard (both literally and figuratively) meant on destroying everyone else’s happiness, whereas Reeves is more a whiny half-hearted rogue. Plus every time I see Reeves from around this period, I can’t take him seriously because I always think of him in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He thankfully has improved as an actor since then. Many other famous actors such as Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, James Earl Jones and David Tennant have played Benedick. Tamsin Greig and Catherine Tate, who are two of my favorite British comediennes, have also played Beatrice.

For those who have never read or heard of the play, I will include a brief summary. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC explained it the best: “Much Ado About Nothing includes two quite different stories of romantic love. Hero and Claudio fall in love almost at first sight, but an outsider, Don John, strikes out at their happiness. Beatrice and Benedick are kept apart by pride and mutual antagonism until others decide to play Cupid.” I like the characters of Hero and Claudio, but as I and I’m sure many others will agree, that the best part about the play is the verbal sparring between Beatrice and Benedick and the way Leonato, Don Pedro, Claudio, and Hero work together to convince the two that they are actually madly in love with each other. I love watching Benedick and Beatrice in both film versions, physically fall down and trip themselves up when their male or female associates discuss how they secretly love each other but are too proud to admit it.

Shakespeare borrowed elements from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene to create the story. The actual play is set in Messina, Sicily, which makes sense as Don Pedro is actually the Prince of Aragon, which was the Spanish ruling family that controlled Sicily during Shakespeare’s time. However, Branagh’s version is set in Tuscany and Whedon’s in the director’s mansion in modern day Los Angeles. The meaning of the title of the play, which I didn’t think much of before other than it being about the whole business of Hero’s alleged unfaithfulness to Claudio before the wedding. However, Shakespeare instead decided to use a play on words, as explained in this book blurb:

“In Shakespeare’s day ‘nothing’ was pronounced the same as ‘noting’, and the   play contains numerous punning references to ‘noting’, both in the sense of   observation and in the sense of ‘notes’ or messages. A third meaning of   ‘noting’ – musical notation – is also played upon (eg in Balthazar’s speech   ‘Note this before my notes/There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.’) However it is a fourth use of the homonym – this time as ‘nothing’   – that is the most controversial element of the title. ‘Nothing’ was Elizabethan slang for the vagina (a vacancy, ‘no-thing’ or ‘O thing’). Virginity – a state of potentiality rather than actuality – is also much   discussed in the play, and it is these twin absences – the vagina and   virginity – that lead, in plot terms, to the ‘much ado’ of the title.”

STC 22304, front endleaf 3v-A1r, t.p.

Quarto for Much Ado About Nothing, 1600

Shakespeare’s play was probably written in 1598-99 and the first printed version of the play was in 1600. That book was called a quarto, which according to this website is:

“a sheet of printing paper folded twice to form eight separate pages for printing a book. To better visualize a quarto, hold before you a standard sheet of typing paper and fold it as you would a letter. You now have a rectangular piece of paper. Fold the paper again to form it into a square (or near square). Now unfold the paper and lay it flat before you. Notice that the sheet of.paper now has four sections on one side and four on the other. In Shakespeare’s time, printing paper was folded in this way. Each of the four sections on one side became a page, and each of the four sections on the other side became a page. Thus, there were eight pages in all. Each of these pages was about a foot high.”

These quartos were produced quickly and cheaply and 18 out of 38 plays appeared this way, and were probably produced without his permission. According to the Folger Library, “they were not much larger than modern paperbacks. About half of the early quartos list the playwright, Shakespeare; almost all give the name of the acting company that performed the play.” The much-larger Folio versions, whose pages were about 15 inches high, was first published in 1623 and included thirty-six of the author’s plays. They included eighteen plays that had never before been published.

First Folio 1623

First Folio collection of Shakespearean plays, 1623 (reader’s note facing the famous portrait is by poet/playwright Ben Johnson)

My favorite bit of dialogue from the play is when Beatrice & Benedick first meet at her uncle Leonato’s house:

BEATRICE

I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior
Benedick: nobody marks you.

BENEDICK

What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?

BEATRICE

Is it possible disdain should die while she hath
such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?
Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come
in her presence.

BENEDICK

Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I
am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I
would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard
heart; for, truly, I love none.

BEATRICE

A dear happiness to women: they would else have
been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God
and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I
had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man
swear he loves me. 

BENEDICK

God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some
gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate
scratched face.

BEATRICE

Scratching could not make it worse, an ’twere such
a face as yours were.

BENEDICK

Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.

BEATRICE

A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.

BENEDICK

I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and
so good a continuer. But keep your way, i’ God’s
name; I have done.

BEATRICE

You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.

You know, I never really noticed until I started watching Joss Whedon’s film adaptation that Beatrice and Benedick were probably in love with each other before, but things did not turn out so well. This makes their love-hate relationship more meaningful, especially in that last line above mentioned by Beatrice, “I know you of old.” I guess I always just thought they casually knew each other because they were in the same social circles. If you are interested in further commentary on the play, check out this article, which I enjoyed reading while researching this post.

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