Saturday, October 12, 2013

Film concert The Freshman, score composed and conducted by Carl Davis, performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra

Harold Lloyd Entertainment, Inc.

THE FRESHMAN / Keltanokka / (IT: Viva lo sport!; GB: College Days) (Harold Lloyd Corp., dist: Pathé Exchange, US 1925) Titolo di lavorazione/Working title: The Rah Rah Boy D: Sam Taylor, Fred Newmeyer; SC: Sam Taylor, John Grey, Ted Wilde, Tim Whelan; DP: Walter Lundin; 2nd cameraman (foreign release neg.): Henry Kohler; casting dir: Gaylord Lloyd; prod. mgr: Jack Murphy; asst. dir: Robert A. (“Red”) Golden; C: Harold Lloyd (Harold Lamb), Jobyna Ralston (Peggy), Brooks Benedict (il mascalzone/college cad), James Anderson (l’eroe/college hero), Hazel Keener (la bella/college belle), Joseph Harrington (il sarto/college tailor), Pat Harmon (l’allenatore/football coach); rel: 20.9.1925; 35 mm, 6883 ft, 76' (24 fps); print source: Harold Lloyd Entertainment, Inc., Los Angeles. English intertitles. Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in Italian, 12 Oct 2013

Score composed and conducted by Carl Davis, performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra.

Kevin Brownlow: "“The whole idea of The Freshman can be said almost in a line,” recalled Harold Lloyd. “A boy had an obsession to be the most popular student in the college, and he went about it in the wrong way.”"

"Lloyd worked without a script, but he employed the largest number of gag writers of any comedian in the business. “His gag men used to sit in a room with a long kitchen table and canvas chairs,” said Lewis Milestone, who directed Lloyd briefly on The Kid Brother. “They would come in in the morning with awful expressions. They hated the world. Not so much as a good morning. They’d sit there reading magazines."

"“Then they’d hear Harold’s dogs barking. They’d stick the magazines behind them and Harold would come in. One of the fellows would stand up and point at another across the table and say, ‘So-and-so’s got a great idea.’"

"“‘Well,’ Harold would say, ‘Let’s hear it. I’m all ears.’"

"“And, of course, so-and-so hadn’t any idea at all. But he was in a spot. He had to think of something. He would start babbling, and then the others would start talking – they wanted to impress the boss because he was Harold Lloyd. And out of this would come a gag.”"

"“Lloyd was there all the time,” said his friend, John Meredith. “Let’s be honest about it, it was all Harold Lloyd. If he liked it, it was made. If he didn’t, it wasn’t made.”"

"Whatever the drawback of the gag man system, it enabled Lloyd to start a film with little more than a football game in his head, and to end up with a film considered by many to be his masterpiece."

"“We went out to Pasadena where all the Rose Bowl football games were held,” he said, “and we worked for two or three days. Somehow the business or the spirit wouldn’t come, and finally I said to the boys, ‘Fellows, let’s call it off. We can’t do the picture this way. I’ve got to know the character. I’ve got to feel it, or we’re not going to get out of it what I think we’ve got here.’ So we scrapped what we’d shot. We still didn’t have a script, but we went back and we did The Freshman right from the beginning. And as I look back, it’s a good thing that we did.”"

"Hal Roach said that the original idea had been his. But a Charles Ray film of 1917 called The Pinch Hitter survives as an obvious starting point – although the difference is that between a Ford Model T and a Pierce- Arrow. Yet it was not Charles Ray who sued Lloyd for plagiarism, but a writer called H.C. Witwer, author of Universal’s Leather Pushers series. He had related a college story to Lloyd, who had passed it to his gag men. They subjected it to professional scorn. But they kept remembering the story and invited Witwer back to listen to their outline. He was generous in his praise, said it was nothing like his, and if they wanted to use any gags from it they were welcome. So when The Freshman turned into (almost) the most successful comedy ever made, Witwer slapped them with a lawsuit. Not until 1933 did the Harold Lloyd Corporation emerge (mildly) victorious. “Why should Lloyd pay $40,000 to a literary staff to work up the play if it had already been done and could readily have been purchased and copied for a much smaller sum?,” read the court’s decision. “Such a contingent taxes our credulity.”"

"In common with most picture people, Lloyd had never been to university. But one of his gag men had. Sam Taylor (ex-Fordham) was so obviously brilliant that Lloyd promoted him to director, usually in partnership with Fred Newmeyer. They made Safety Last!, Girl Shy, For Heaven’s Sake, etc., after which Taylor graduated to directing John Barrymore, Norma Talmadge, and Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks."

"The Freshman is the nearest to outright satire that Lloyd ever attempted, and yet it isn’t satirical because Lloyd so clearly believes in the society he makes fun of. He convinces us that the world he wishes to join is eminently worthwhile, whatever misery it makes him undergo. Perhaps this was one of the reasons the picture upset students in the 1960s and 70s – that and the fact that The Freshman so quickly develops into an epic of embarrassment."

"When Harold performs his movie jig, his father says, “I’m afraid, Ma, if Harold imitates that movie actor in college, they’ll either break his neck or his heart.” And that’s the last moment of compassion in the picture. From then on, the treatment meted out to Harold is ferocious – particularly in the training sequences."

"Lloyd used real football players in these scenes, one of whom told us Lloyd used a double. But during the making of our documentary The Third Genius we submitted the film to the closest examination, and had no doubt Lloyd did the whole thing himself – perhaps after watching the doubles. “I had some of our own boys in that scene,” said Lloyd, “and they were rough. Boy, when they hit you, you knew about it. But the real footballers didn’t hurt at all.”"

"Lloyd was a great believer in previews. At the first one, everything went well up to the College Ball, where his suit begins to disintegrate. Something was missing. At the second, what was missing was obvious. The gag men (and his close friend, scenarist Frances Marion) insisted Lloyd loses his trousers. “And of course it was one of the high points in the sequence,” said Lloyd. “It’s like slipping on a banana peel. If you don’t step on the banana peel, you’d better have something equally funny for not doing it.”"

"The Ball would have been climax enough for most comedies, but Lloyd still has the football game. Gag after gag convinces us that Harold is an unreconstructed idiot, until there remains just one minute to play. He races after the player with the ball, leaps on him, grabs the ball, and takes off at incredible speed, leaping over opponents in seven-league boots, the camera hurtling across the football field in front of him. “Part of the scene was made at an actual football game,” said Lloyd. “One of the big games of the year, between Stanford and California. It was the only time they had ever allowed a motion picture company to come into a football game. We worked before the game, but with the people there, and in between halves. Instead of having their cards and all their marching, they gave it over to us, and scene after scene that you saw in there was something that we had rehearsed and had all set to go – and shot it at the actual game. You know when I’m running and my shoe comes off, where the whistle blows after me? It was all done actually at the real game.”"

"The big game was filmed at the University of California’s Memorial Stadium in the hills above UC Berkeley. A future film historian, Geoffrey Bell, was in the stands: “You always think of comedy as being casual, and just happening. All of the work and planning that went into this simple scene, the number of technicians, the number of cameras that were set up, and the seriousness of it. They impressed me very much with their dedication."

"“During the 20s I would consider Lloyd at the very top. To me he exceeded the others because of his accessibility. There was something spontaneous and fresh and very, very likeable about him. I think that was one reason he got such a big cheer when he arrived at the game. Everyone identified with him.”" – Kevin Brownlow

The Music. "The spirit of my score for Harold Lloyd’s hilarious and moving comedy is the march: not military, but patriotic in the style of John Philip Sousa, America’s “March King”. This ties in with Harold’s desire to be the most popular man at college, which means he must be a football hero. Around this is the music of the 1920s – a romantic waltz, jolly optimistic tunes, and above all blues and jazz, particularly when Harold throws a party and we see a small band hard at work. At the same time I see this film as large-scale, and now Harold has got a grand orchestra of 40 players." – Carl Davis

AA: The last time I saw The Freshman was five years ago in Harold Lloyd: The Definitive Collection, the 10-dvd box set. Also in that box The Freshman was offered with the splendid Carl Davis score. Initially I had seen The Freshman in the 1970s abridged television version, and it is now puzzling to reflect why such a shortened version had been made in the first place since there is nothing superfluous in the full-length version.

The Freshman is a bold and stunning satire about the emptiness of external success. Harold literally creates for himself a cut-and-paste external identity. In the incredible ball sequence his glued-together tuxedo comes apart. It's a masterful case of a comedy of embarrassment. It can be compared with Charles Chaplin's heartbreaking ball sequence in The Gold Rush, but the psychology of the comedy is entirely different.

The second high point, the football game, is a jaw-dropping showcase of action comedy, both thrilling and funny.

But for me the real climax and turning-point is Harold's moment of self-recognition during the ball sequence. For the first time Harold realizes how others see him. He bursts into tears in Jobyna Ralston's lap. But the moment of the deepest crisis and the biggest embarrassment can also be a turning-point to a new beginning and a new growth. "You have been pretending. Be yourself." Until then Harold has been a stupid clown. Now, after the self-revelation, his true spirit can emerge.

On our way to the Marco Polo airport next morning we discussed The Freshman with another Pordenone regular, and she told that the moment of Harold bursting into tears was cut from the 1970s abridged television version!

This story seems also semi-autobiographical. Harold Lloyd, himself, started by imitating others, and evolved into greatness when he found himself and started to do his own thing. His theme was the American dream of success, and he was also capable of the bitterest satire of its emptiness.

I loved the engrossing performance of Carl Davis's music with the marches and the dances and the currents of emotion which enrich the film experience in a way that is parallel to but different from what Chaplin did to his silent films. Una grande finale to a splendid Festival.

The stills of The Freshman do not do justice to the film. They fail to convey the sense of humour and the gravity of Harold Lloyd's masterpiece.
Harold Lloyd Entertainment, Inc.
Harold Lloyd Entertainment, Inc.
Harold Lloyd Entertainment, Inc.
Harold Lloyd Entertainment, Inc.

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