The Legends in Our Modern Time by annette bochenek & matthew c. hoffman

Forty years ago today Harold Lloyd passed away. Lloyd was more than a name in a cinema history book, more than a man hanging from a clock. As with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, he had a relevance in his day. And he has a relevance now. We still need Harold Lloyd. These particular comics serve a function in our world, but a lot of people don’t know why they are so important. (They wonder because they’ve never actually seen the films.) There’s a misconception floating around out there that the movies in my festival will only attract older crowds and that the films themselves could not possibly have any relevance to today’s generation.

My friend Annette, who narrated the Park Ridge Public Library’s promotional video on “Legends of Laughter,” made some pointed observations which I felt needed to be shared. What makes these remarks so unique is the viewpoint. These words do not come from some established film historian, but from a 21 year old college student. What is so encouraging is that I have met other young people– from other countries even– who share the sentiments that follow…

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I’m not sure I could draw any parallels from the modern to the past without insulting the three comedic geniuses… Each one was special in his own right. Chaplin had the deep drama hinting at politics, Keaton had physical talent and expression, and Harold Lloyd portrayed honesty to the point of having you feel what he felt with the giddy, sweet, romantic scenes. They all had a charm about them–except Keaton, who I see as an Everyman, but he didn’t need words since he could emote with his eyes alone. They represented comedy with class.

Nowadays, comedy is too rash and centers around bodily functions, immorality, etc. Comedy is meant to be enjoyed with anyone, but I would find it super awkward to watch some of today’s comedy while sitting with my parents. That’s because it’s not classy, and is more taboo… The three greats, however, could be watched with anyone, even screened outdoors at a park without offending anyone.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of with their work. It was meant in good clean fun, and Chaplin’s especially have messages and meanings that have resonated through various generations. You just can’t tire of his work. You want to see how the florist will react when she finds out a tramp was the cause of her having sight again. You want to see if the kid and the tramp are able to live happily ever after. You want to see if Hannah will find hope in a cruel world. You want to see if someone as small as the tramp can make a difference in the world.

Same with Lloyd–his movies have very similar formulae, but they are so brutally honest and open that you can’t help but be drawn in. You can’t help but relate, and cheer him on. Because everyone has been an underdog, felt odd, out of place, hoping for some higher purpose and meaning when odds are stacked against him or her. His character has an Achilles heel in every movie, and that’s just plain human. I think if people give Lloyd the chance, they can see themselves in him, and can’t help but cheer him on because of it. Everyone wants that happy ending, and it’s that much better when it’s wholesome and realistic. Because it becomes possible, and something to be proud of.

I think comedic innocence has held up in romantic comedies pretty well. Maybe something Sandra Bullock, Mandy Moore, Meg Ryan… Usually the same formulae. I can’t think of many men off the top of my head, though. Nothing that screams straight up comedy in the three greats’ tradition. Maybe Mel Brooks. Another huge medium of comedy–or what seems to be intelligent comedy nowadays–is satire, which could have had roots in Chaplin’s dictator. Political satires especially.

Even so, I can’t bring myself to really compare modern actors to the three. The only slapstick and wholesome comedy I can think of outside of the rom-com exists in live theatre. Most productions that I think of are revivals, though.

Unfortunately, the entertainment of the time period reflects upon the culture, and I just can’t find a comparison. Not unless you interview someone and they directly mention the greats as their inspiration. I think that’s why I enjoy television biopics so much–modern actors reliving and representing past greats to a new audience. There are so many! Ones on Garland, Gleason, Chaplin, the Stooges, Lucille Ball, even Gilda Radner… But I can’t think of anything hugely original. At this point, I can only guarantee that tributes to the actual actors will leave you with less chances at disappointment.

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One Response to “The Legends in Our Modern Time by annette bochenek & matthew c. hoffman”

  1. Art Cerf Says:

    Dear Matthew:

    A marvelous series. So glad you are offering the talents of men like Keaton and Lloyd to potentially new viewers.

    Art & Loy Cerf

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