Monday, October 31, 2005

Retrospective: Harold Lloyd's "Speedy"

From my review of the 2004 Maryland Film Festival:

Review: SPEEDY (1928) by Matt Barry 5/9/04
For me, the highlight of the 2004 Maryland Film Festival was the presentation of a pristine new 35mm print of SPEEDY (courtesy of the Harold Lloyd Trust) with a rousing score performed live by the Alloy Orchestra.

The film: SPEEDY is considered by many to be Harold Lloyd's all-round best film. It contains too many hilarious and well-executed gag sequences to count, wonderful characters, excellent location scenes, and a certain element of just sheer, plain fun that is impossible to re-capture in films today. You really *believe* that Harold and Ann and Babe Ruth and everyone else were genuinely having a ball making this film. Hard to imagine the amount of painstaking preparation and work put into creating that sense of fun, but that's what these guys did best, and why the silent comedies still continue to delight audiences while even some of the best comedies of the sound era can seem just a bit stale to modern audiences.

I was heavily impressed with the technical skill of the filmmaking. SPEEDY was obviously a big-budget production, and it showed that Lloyd really took cares in making it a polished, technically well-made picture. Even the visual effects sequences during the final chase were well-done and used very sparingly; the majority of the chase sequence was filmed entirely on the spot.
I really don't have any negative comments on the film itself. I felt that every gag sequence worked perfectly (as evidenced by the near non-stop laughter of the audience). The performances were excellent, the technical aspects were state-of-the-art for their time. I would rank SPEEDY **** out of ****. Truly a laugh-a-minute comedy.

The Presentation:
The film was presented in a newly restored, pristine 35mm print courtesy of the Harold Lloyd Trust and was hosted by Jed Dietz, director of the Maryland Film Festival. Unfortunately, several segments of the film (most likely the stock footage sequences) were noticably scratchy. The other segments were crystal-clear however, and the print overall was stunning.
The musical score was composed and performed by the Alloy Orchestra. It was an incredibly accomplishment; the score was brilliant in and of itself yet never called attention to itself or detracted from the focus of the film. I understand the Alloy has its admirers and its detractors; to be fair, I have only hear several of their film scores (including a live presentation of THE BLACK PIRATE), but I can say without doubt that their score for SPEEDY was perfectly suited to the mood and tone of the film. For those attending a silent film with accompaniment by the not be put off by the unusual instrumentation of the group. The music they created was perfectly suited to the film.

My only real complaint of the presentation was that a small portion of the left side of the screen was masked off. I could not be certain whether this was the fault of the projectionist, or perhaps the black curtain that masks the rest of the screen needed to be adjusted. This proved quite frustrating during the opening credits because the titles got cut off slightly on the left side of the screen, and the titles during the first minute or so were also affected similarly but after this it seemed not to affect the titles anymore, although the formatting remained uncorrected for the duration of the film.

Overall the presentation was a complete success, and I applaud the Alloy Orchestra for their amazing and effective score, and the Harold Lloyd Trust for lending the beautiful 35mm print of the film. Hopefully the positive response of this event will lead to more live-music presentations with silent films.

Matt Barry

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