Last Friday night, I had the extreme pleasure of going to Celebrate Brooklyn! to see Carl Davis conduct the 16-piece orchestra The Knights as they played his new original scores to three fantastic Charlie Chaplin shorts from his post-Keystone, Mutual Film days: The Immigrant, The Rink and The Adventurer. It was a truly fantastic evening -- a beautiful and eminently comfortable summer night, a not too overcrowded Prospect Park Bandshell, and three really fun and often hysterical silent films accompanied by some really great music. As I've mentioned frequently, I love watching silent films with live accompaniment. It brings an element to the experience -- whether the accompaniment is a simple single piano or a full orchestra -- that somehow is utterly different than even hearing the same score via recorded methods.I hadn't watched any silent comedies in a while, though, and seeing Chaplin in his early two-reeler glory presented a tremendous reminder of how great these stars of silent comedy truly were, not simply as performers and comedians, but as stuntmen. In The Rink, in particular, Chaplin performs these multiple stumbling moments on roller skates that look funny, especially in their slightly sped-up manner, but upon reflection simply make me say, "How the hell did he do that? How is he that strong?"
I don't think I had actually ever seen any of those Chaplin films even though The Immigrant and The Rink are two of his most famous from his pre-United Artists days. One silent film I have seen many times -- and mentioned repeatedly -- is Speedy, the genius 1928 comedy starring Harold Lloyd. I love this film. I can watch it and rewatch it. Much of it was shot on location in New York. It features the original House That Ruth Built as well as The Babe himself. It has a great subway sequence showing what dating was like in the early 1920s when Coney Island was a destination spot. It has one of my all-time favorite movie chase scenes which includes a shot of a horse-drawn trolley car driving through Washington Square Park, under the arch and around the fountain because at the time, that was a through-road.
Lloyd always gets third billing (if any) when mentioned along with Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but he certainly deserves to always be included in the same breath. He played a very different character from either Chaplin's mischievous Little Tramp or Keaton's wide-eyed, somewhat more oblivious, or rather casual to the situation around him, characters. There's something about Lloyd's physical comedy that always feels more athletic even if simultaneously a little less elegant. In comedy terms, he's Gene Kelly to Chaplin's Fred Astaire. And Speedy -- a lovely little story about a boy wanting a girl and needing to impress her father by saving his trolley route from being taken over by the big bad railroads (read: coming subway system) -- is one of his best.
Why am I talking Speedy right now? Because even though I've seen it several times -- in theaters and on my own DVD set; with live accompaniment and without -- I'm sad that I can't make it to BAM tonight as they'll be showing the film with the how-does-that-small-group-of-three-guys-make-such-a-big-sound-Alloy Orchestra. I've seen Alloy perform several of their scores with other films, but I don't believe I've ever seen them do Speedy, and that's just a shame. They're really great, and if I didn't have a play ticket tonight, I would certainly be at BAM. If you've never seen Speedy or never seen it with live music, I whole-heartedly encourage you to go and experience a whole different kind of movie magic than that to which we've now become accustomed -- for better or worse.