You’ll laugh, you’ll cry

I saw Girl Shy at the Film Forum last night. Now I understand why people thought talkies would ruin the movies. I expected to show urbane appreciation for a period piece—it’s a Harold Lloyd movie from 1924—but it sucked me in. A piano-player pounded out the score on an old upright as the wiseass titlecards flickered. The dimpled arms and doe eyes of the women reminded me that our current ideals of beauty are both new and very local—Monsoon Wedding’s langorous heroine has the same softness as these twenties vamps.

As for Harold Lloyd, he’s a nebbish with the grin of a crazed angel, and I never thought him capable of the stunts he pulled off. The final chase scene, where he races to interrupt his beloved’s wedding to a mustachioed creep, is extraordinary. He bounces from car to bicycle to tram to motorbike to cart to horseback to firetruck. I looked for the tricks—the stunt doubles, the fake backdrops, the modern-day CGI—but there was Lloyd himself, up close, swinging under a galloping horse or balancing on the roof of a tram. It made Spider-Man, which I’d liked on Friday, seem pallid and safe. We knew that wasn’t Tobey Maguire, or even an unknown stuntman, loping through the canyons of Manhattan. But eighty years ago you could still smell sweat and greasepaint at the movies.

That’s also why I like blogs better than Sunday supplements. There are fewer rules and resources in a baby medium, and the stars don’t sit in trailers while someone else does the work.

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