With the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival just gearing up, I can already say that I’m firmly on-board with this year’s highly detailed, virtual approach. This is made delightfully more enjoyable thanks to the expansion of the offerings to make use of TCM’s partnership with streaming giant HBO Max. I’ve already raved about the short documentary Uncovering the Naked City, but my joy with ‘The Streets of New York’ collection with its next offering: In the Footsteps of Speedy.
The short documentary (which comes in at a tantalizingly smooth 30 minutes) is once again helmed by film programmer Bruce Goldstein. This time though, he examines the 1928, Harold Lloyd, silent comedy Speedy.
Goldstein dives headfirst into the history of the classic Lloyd comedy, tracing what much have been a complicated, dangerous and complicated shoot… so much so, in fact that the movie was finished up in Los Angeles.
However, Goldstein’s historical deep-dives grants viewers an entree into a view of New York City that precious few remember– New York in during the Jazz Age. The images of Coney Island are iconic and immediately transport viewers to days gone by and like the other entries in this collection, Goldstein makes it crystal clear why these films need to be preserved. These are simply fluffy feature films, these are historical documents.
While there are a lot of struggles with an almost century old historical record, Goldstein attempts to piece together the film’s shooting, tracking Lloyd’s movement through the city. There’s mention of sequences shot in New York’s subways of the period, but as he shows us in the film, the scenes which made the final cut are most certainly sets. This begs the question, just how much valuable historical material has been lost to time?
Goldstein also dives into a particularly interesting (and dangerous) element of the shooting, focusing on a horse car accident (which is featured in the final film). Thanks to the improvisational bravado of the silent era, almost a hundred years removed, it’s difficult to tell if the jarring moment was intended. What was the shot supposed to look like? We see it in every speed and Goldstein even shows aftermath photos.
It is mentioned, thanks to reshoots toward the end of filming, that Lloyd and company were perhaps attempting to film around the accident… only to cause another accident (which sent them back to Hollywood). All at once, in a contemporary era of computer graphics and special effects, one is remembered just how real this era in Hollywood was. These were practical stunts that crews actually filmed. Lives were risked, but at the same time, the greatest talents in Hollywood showed just exactly what they could accomplish.
Speedy as well as documentary In the Footsteps of Speedy will be showing as part of ‘The Streets of New York’ collection on HBO Max during the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. Make sure you check out this brilliant work of historical documentation. This entire series is not to be missed.
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