gif:-safety-last

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Animation re-enactment of how the clock sequence was shot in “Safety Last” (1923), using a platform, prop clock face and set facade on top of the actual building located at 908 S. Broadway, in downtown Los Angeles.  There was a mattress below, but as you can see, no guard rails. The building is 9 stories high and is still extant today.

Screen stills from “Locations and Effects” documentary clip included in the Criterion release of “Safety Last” (1923)

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Happy Birthday Harold Lloyd! »  Born April 20, 1893

In the collective mindset of the masses, it’s a given assumption that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby is the dominant, all-encompassing definitive characterization of America’s Roaring Twenties.

But a more appropriate personification of the decade is Harold Lloyd, whose life, films, and most of all ‘Glass’ character reflected the social dynamics and attitudes of that transformative era. Whilst in retrospect we maybe see the jaded disillusionment of ourselves and our times in Gatsby, those living through the 1920s saw themselves in go-getter Harold Lloyd’s energetic screen presence. His endearing optimism and distinctive character is unmistakable. Always pushing the possibilities, but never pushing them into the absurd, he grounded himself firmly in the social imaginations and values that formed modern America.

Harold Lloyd captured the essence of ambition and social possibility that shaped the 20s more than any other movie idol. And among the comedy giants, there were none bigger. He was the most real, the most human. And he was handsome. He was resourceful, even when travelling at high speed through the urban phantasmagoria of the booming city. Obsessed with climbing the social ladder, making a buck, and getting the girl, he achieved all three through the genius of his inventive spirit, endless energy, and intuition; such was also the nature of Lloyd’s filmmaking. So many film ‘firsts’ were Harold’s.

Even people who don’t know Lloyd’s name will probably recognize the ubiquitous image of the young man in horn-rimmed glasses and boater hat, scaling the side of a building and dangling from the hands of its clock. Like never before, suddenly in the 20s the impossible was possible, and Harold Lloyd did the impossible, right before the audience’s eyes. He fulfilled the dream, and like scaling a building, reached the highest heights. But as every decade must end, so did the 20s, and no other decade ended quite as hard. Inevitably thus, the sparkle in Lloyd’s eye faded out.

One simply can’t deny or ignore Harold Lloyd’s universally timeless appeal. Yes, he embodied the collective dreams of social self-betterment that so tapped into the 20s movie-going public, but his comedy also stands up today as uniquely relatable and exciting. That smile could tap into the American Dream of any era. Yet he is solidified in history, tied to his time and his place. Harold Lloyd is eternally youthful; eternally 20s.