Hooray for Harold Lloyd

28th June 2020

Harold Lloyd: Jazz Age Daredevil

In the early 1990s, I inherited an 8mm Bell & Howell cine camera and, with my flatmate Martin O’Shea as actor, began making short films in the East End of London.

Pacific Rim Camera Catalog
8mm cine camera late 1950s / early 1960s

We had a two-bedroom flat near Mile End Tube Station (which we could somehow afford on a student grant), walking distance to Bethnal Green, Brick Lane and Limehouse, areas synonymous with names such as Hawksmoore (the architect), The Kray Twins (local crime lords) and Jack the Ripper (local ripper).

St George in the East - Wikipedia
St George in the East, a Hawksmoore church

The area is incredibly historic, and well worth a walk for local historians, psychogeographists, or anyone with a passing interest in this less salubrious quarter of London.

The Ragged School Museum - East London - Britain's Decays Urbex
Ragged School Museum, Mile End

Walk is what we did, one Saturday night, up to Victoria Park, down to the street markets of Brick Lane and back home via the city farm at Stepney and a visit to St Dunstan and All Saints Church, where we had a lovely chat with the vicar. He was in his working outfit, white, pressed and clean … us, none of the above.

This was where we decided to film what was, I believe, our first film together, ‘A Day Well Spent’, and I think this would be Spring 1992.

St Dunstan and All Saints Church, Stepney, East London

Now the technical side. 8mm film lasted four minutes in total. The film had to be thread, in a figure 8 shape, in the camera, then reversed after 2 minutes. This meant keeping careful time, and not shooting anything vital in the dying seconds before the film ran out.

The film was silent and the camera, I believe, had no zoom and no auto-aperture; the light had to be set manually. Basically, it was a ‘point and shoot’ affair. Close-ups had to be physically close, long-shots, far away.

So, we had four minutes to tell a story, beginning, middle and end. Martin plays a tramp, a happy-go-lucky, Chaplinesque character. He awakes, on a rubbish heap, scratches himself, looks around and gets up. He wanders through the City farm at Stepney

Farmer's Paradise: an inside look at Stepney City Farm | City farm ...
Stepney City Farm
Stepney City Farm (London, England) - Đánh giá - Tripadvisor

Naturally, he’s hungry and seeing the chickens gives him an idea; he has to ‘procure’ an egg for breakfast, without being detected or suffering an avian assault. With his cunning and agility, he is successful, and celebrates his victory by holding his prize aloft as he runs past St Dunstan’s.

However, when he searches his pockets, he only has a fork with twisted prongs … not a suitable implement to eat his breakfast. Disappointed, he throws the egg away, and decides to go back to sleep.

We also had a recurring event, namely a visit from the rozzers (London slang for police). One burly boy in blue was curious what we ne’re-do-wells were up to in his manor. To see a young guy, in trenchcoat, asleep on a rubbish tip alerted his instincts. And we had a recurring escape, namely I showed my camera and all became clear … “Oh, they’re making art,” heavy irony on the pronunciation of ‘art’, and that sarcasm has repeated through the years.

Or maybe, like most people of my generation, he would have seen some short compilation films on BBC1 after 5.30 pm and before the 6.00 pm News. This was how so many of my friends were introduced to the world of Harold Lloyd.

Harold Lloyd - Wikipedia

Everyone knew Chaplin, most people had heard of Buster Keaton, but Mr Harold Lloyd was totally unknown. That all changed with a series of 20-minute programs featuring scenes from his silent films … and all my school-friends were knocked out by them. You would even hear people shout out as they left school, “Don’t forget to watch Harold Lloyd.”

Harold Lloyd | Biography, Movies, & Facts | Britannica
HAROLD LLOYD and JOHN AASEN in WHY WORRY? -1923-. Photograph by Album

Harold Lloyd, referred to as ‘The Third Genius’ was, and remains, a major influence, especially in how to tell a story by images alone and how comedy works. This photo from ‘Safety Last’ (1924) is iconic … and even more amazing when you know that Lloyd lost a thumb and finger in an accident on a film set.

His films and many clips are available on YouTube. I used to show them during break time to my Kindergarten class, and they loved him … I was able to silence 15 hyper-active kids with a silent movie star.

Happy Thanksgiving! Harold Lloyd in Hot Water (1924) | Nitrate Diva
Hot Water (1924): Harold Lloyd versus the Turkey on Make a GIF

Meanwhile, Mr O’Shea is busy in Berlin with a massive project: to put all our 8mm and Super 8 films onto computer, add commentaries and upload them on social media. Wish him luck, and take some time to watch Harold Lloyd … you won’t be disappointed

Art Cinema: The Cranes Are Flying 1957, USSR. Director : Mikhail Kalatozov

13th June 2020

The Cranes Are Flying | Jerusalem Film Festival
Looking up to see the cranes, flying

First, a thank you to Darrel over at ‘A World Of Films’:

https://aworldoffilm.com/2019/05/11/my-current-favourite-films/

Darrel lists his (current) top ten films, and topping the list was this Soviet film which I hadn’t seen. So I started searching online, and the clips I saw were so mesmerising, so dazzling, the reviews so laudatory, I had to see it. I began with a review:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCDHExdjO0M&t=6s

This introduction gives context and commentary on the film, as well as placing the film in relation to other noteworthy examples of Russian or Soviet cinema.

Despite only finding short, two-minute excepts with English text, I wasn’t going to be deterred. Instead, I decided to read the synopsis on Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cranes_Are_Flying

and then watch the original Russian version sans subtitles. I’ve recently been considering how cinema should (could) be told, and how so much exposition text is actually needed, how much text, in fact, is needed. As F.W. Murnau has beautifully shown in ‘The Last Laugh’ (1924), a film, a great film can be told without any need for dialogue or title cards. But that, as they say, is for another blog …

I will briefly relate the plot, then what attracted me to the film.

SPOILER ALERT: in order to highlight the creative camerawork and staging, the plot details need to be mentioned.

Boris and Veronika are young sweethearts, staying out late and risking family censure by sneaking home, trying not to wake their parents.

Film Reviews: The Cranes Are Flying
Happy in love, the sun reflecting off the water, life is a dance

However, when the Germans invade Russia, Boris, along with his close friend Stepan, join up. Boris has to catch a train to get to his battalion and Veronika rushes to say goodbye, but the crowds are so thick, she has no hope of seeing him. In vain, she throws her gift, but it falls and breaks on the ground. This clearly foreshadows the fate of their romance; they will never meet again.

Meanwhile, the War comes to the city, and Veronika’s parents are killed during an air raid. With nowhere else to go, Boris’ family take her in and during another air raid, with the living room symbolically shaken, glass shattered, Boris’ younger brother, Mark, sexually assaults Veronika. Her shame compels her to marry Mark, to the disdain and contempt of the family.

With the German advance, the Russians are moved eastwards. We see both the mounting Russian casualties and the sorry sordid state of the sham marriage.

Veronika is told that Boris is dead and runs frantically, racing a train under which she plans to throw herself … yet a young boy, who we later learn is also called Boris, diverts her attention, and she takes him home.

The film ends with Veronika waiting at the train station for the victorious Soviet soldiers to return. Amidst all the tearful reunions, Veronika meets Stephan; he confirms that Boris is indeed dead. Veronika is again denied any further contact by the sheer force of the crowd, her tears of heartbreak juxtaposed against the tears of happiness. As at the beginning, she looks up and sees, in a V-formation, the cranes flying.

I love the idea of the camera-stylo – the camera being able to move as freely as a pen, the director (and cinematographer, art-director, the whole team) being able to put their personalities on to the film so that by a mere shot or two we can detect a Hitchcock from a Hawks, a Kurosawa from an Ozu, a Godard from a Truffaut. Naturally, this will later clash with Roland Barthes’ essay, ‘The Death of the Author’ (1967) … again, for another blog.

I love the idea of a camera being free, released from the constrains of the studio, allowed to move and as it were, to breathe. From an actor’s point of view, it could be different, with concerns about hitting exact marks at exact times, instead of focusing purely on the performance (yes, another blog), but as a viewer, as a lover of cinema, ‘The Cranes Are Flying’ features some breathe-taking shots and said shots add meaning to the film … they are not mere decoration. Take this shot:

The Cranes Are Flying | Pima County Public Library

Veronika is so close to her goal yet blocked … and she had no where to turn, she is trapped, confined. This next still can’t capture the circular spinning of the camera, whirling up the stairs, as their hearts whirl with love, happiness and hope … none of which will last.

Russian Film Trailer: "The cranes are flying" 1957 - YouTube

Then we have the crowd scenes … and what scenes … the camera is like a character, bustling and elbowing its way through, between people, around vehicles, forcing its way off buses or onto trains.

The Cranes Are Flying - YouTube
The Cranes Are Flying (1957)
Marx and Matryoshka · The Cranes are Flying
Flowers for the lover destined never to return
The Cranes Are Flying: A Free Camera | The Current | The Criterion ...

I hope you enjoy it

Allez, ciao !

quote movie quotes talking jean-luc godard Vivre Sa Vie ...
Vivra Sa Vie – Jean-Luc Godard 1962