16 April 2008

Bespectacled

I just finished me my first read of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a book I have longed longed to read, and was not disappointed by. If Dickens had only written about magicians, I would have enjoyed my required reading so much the better. In an odd way, it encourages my steampunk leanings of late. Of course the setting of the book predates any sort of industrial revolution by quite a bit, yet something about the juxtaposition of magic on an otherwise historically rational world sets me in mind of the steampunk. That, and it's set largely in Britain, home of all good steampunk. (Expatriate Dave: I need a grood steampunk gadget to go with my steampunk jacket.) (All: Can I stop saying "steampunk"? No I can not. And you wouldn't want me to, really. Steampunk.) Finally, on the subject of steampunk (henceforth: steampunk), someone really needs to make a good, contemporary movie in this vein. Sadly, no one will. Oh, they may try, but they'll botch it good. Elements can be found in The Golden Compass, Hellboy, and of course any Jules Verne adaptation. In fact, in my ideal world, such an ideal steampunk movie would be directed by Guillermo del Toro, with consulting art direction by Tim Burton, include specific references to Verne all over the place, and feature predominantly craft and in-camera visual effects. Also it would be aware of the cultural similarities between Victorian England and contemporary United States. Make it so.

But the actual subject of this post is actually to point up something I've noticed thanks to the new book I'm reading: The Man on the Clock, by Tom Dardis. It is, so far, not a great book, but it was the only remotely portable biography of silent-film actor Harold Lloyd I could find. Lloyd was a great comedian, and was the basis of my base character in Silent Lives. Not nearly as many people know him as do Chaplin and Keaton. I wanted to learn more about him because I dig these guys as pioneers of art, entertainment and media, and because I'm lagging a bit in the idea department in completing my clown silent film outline (see 3/27/08). As I read, I discover (assuming Mr. Dardis' writing is to be believed) that I have far more in common with Lloyd than I was aware of. He seems to have been a very careful sort who loathed making mistakes, and something of a frustrated actor in the beginning, trying to find his own way. I've also noticed a remarkable potential connection between two things I love.


This:













+ this:
= this:














Harold Lloyd apparently had some difficulty early in his film career in establishing a memorable, unique character upon whom the production companies could bank. He was just a few career footfalls behind Chaplin, and only one or two behind Keaton, but it could be argued that he was a lot more behind in experience to the two. He grew up on stage, but as a regular actor who took what roles he was given, rather than the kind of innovative vaudevillians Charlie and Buster had to be. In an unfortunate turn, he even made a character called Lonesome Luke that was so derivative of The Tramp that it's a little difficult to believe as an honest mistake. (Then again, it's a pretty human tendency to "borrow" -- sometimes without even realizing it -- from those around you when starting something new.) At any rate, audiences liked Lloyd because he was daring, easy on the eyes and a good actor, but they didn't really identify with him until he figured our his glasses character, or Glass Man.


The glasses were pivotal in Lloyd's effectiveness as a character. The Glass Man worked because of the expectations implied by his appearence with the glasses. They made him accessible and identifiable, sure, but in a very specific way. The films Lloyd made after 1918 and his discovery of the Glass Man began to evolve his stock progression. A goof, a klutz, and hopeless boy gets in over his head in adventures that have him thrown this way and that, until just at the end, seemingly miraculously, he overcomes every adversity, usually through some incredible act of bravery, strength and cleverness. It must have been as though one were going to a Buster Keaton movie that switched at its climax to a Douglas Fairbanks. As he established his character, Lloyd even bested Chaplin (in my humble opinion) at incorporating pathos and empathy. A conglomeration, to be sure, but a very effective one that may have been responsible for moving movies toward still more sophisticated forms.


Nevermind whether or not that was a good idea.


Siegel and Shuster began a long process of creating the Superman(TM) we all know today in 1932. He went through a lot of revisions over the six years before they sold him to Action Comics (the initial comic they wrote featured The Super-Man as a psychic bad guy), at which point his appearence and general origins are at least similar to what we know today. It's just possible that they were sunconsciously influenced by Lloyd films. Many of the names they used in their creation were references to movies, and though they've never mentioned him by name, they have included silent films amongst their influences. Shuster: "But the movies were the greatest influence on our imagination: especially the films of Douglas Fairbanks Senior."


Harold Lloyd was tall, brunette, athletic and charismatic, but it was all belied by those glasses, and his own relatively reserved persona in real life. Superman certainly was a zeitgeist comprised of too many elements of society and culture predating him to point to any one as a significant source. It is precisely because of this conglomerative nature that I'm inclined to believe that Harold Lloyd's character had some influence on the creation of at least Clark Kent, if not Superman himself. And hey: Even if I'm wrong, it's clear that American audiences love a good underdog scenario.


Which gives me hope.

6 comments:

dave said...

Steampunky gadget, eh? point your new Google Reader at

http://community.livejournal.com/steamfashion/

That should do.

Jeff Wills said...

Now you're going to cost me time AND money. How do you sleep at night?

Davey said...

In case you just wanted to look at pictures, and not be tempted to buy anything, one my favorite time wasting resturants gave me this today:

http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2008/04/you-know-you-want-this-steampunk-gear.html


Also, can't wait to see you. I've got gift for you!

Jeff Wills said...

You're a sunumabitch, too, Davey. But I do like me some presents...

Davey said...

http://www.becausewecan.org/

Go there. Click on Interiors. Scroll down just a little to Three Rings Design and click where it says Read More.

Drool.

Jeff Wills said...

...
...
...Davey. You are not doing wonders improving on your sunumabitchitude.