Friday, July 6, 2007


This Vintage Books paperback from 2007 edited by George Stevens, Jr. was originally published by Knopf in 2006. Containing transcripts of American Film Institute seminar interviews with the greatest film makers of the 20th c., it is a must read for anyone who wants a greater understanding of how movies are made and the kind of personality it takes to get it done. The only shortcoming for me is that some of the technical explanations of things like lighting effects were hard for me to understand.

First among the 32 subjects:

HAROLD LLOYD (1969 seminar)

I remember watching silent movies with Charlie Chaplin on Channel 13 during the summer in the '60s and maybe some Buster Keaton. Why was the third master of the form, Harold Lloyd, never shown? Lloyd reveals that he wanted $300,000 for two showings so this certainly kept him off PBS. Lloyd retained control of his work and actually financed his own pictures.

Bill Irwin's great silent characters, Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent, these are the descendants of Lloyd's brand of comedy, the man who unexpectedly gets the jump on his persecutors.

Like most comedies, his films play better in a theater as I witnessed in a showing of GRANDMA'S BOY, AN EASTERN WESTERNER, and FEET FIRST at the Film Forum. GRANDMA'S BOY is about a cowardly boy in 1922 who is given his grandfather's lucky charm by his grandmother. Gramps was a Civil War hero and this lucky charm made him invincible. Harold finds out that it takes more than a lucky charm to make a man brave and strong. To put the Civil War in historical perspective, the woman who played Grandma was an actress named Anna Townsend, who was born in 1845!

In 1969, Stevens asked Lloyd about rereleasing GRANDMA'S BOY. Lloyd thought that the general public didn't want to see his pictures so he took them to colleges, where the "response was tremendous." Like the lady who was asked how she like Hamlet ["it was nice but there were so many cliches"], Lloyd's gags, such as climbing buildings, hanging from heights, and getting the upper hand on bullies are timeless and show up in just about every successful comedy, whether it's Lucille Ball, the Home Alone kid, or Adam Sandler.

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