Thursday, September 22, 2011

Harold Lloyd: got a light?

This has to qualify as the strangest Harold Lloyd movie I've ever seen (and believe me, after spending more than three years writing about his life, I've seen plenty). It's only a minute and a half long, has no sound track (truly a silent film) and no plot to speak of. It's just him n' the chimp.

I don't know why this little gem was made - it looks almost like a screen test for the ape. It's unusual for several reasons: Harold still has an intact right hand (a horrible accident blew half his hand away in 1919), he's shown smoking a cigarette which he never did in real life (explaining his relative awkwardness), and he's in tighter closeup than usual.

This is startling, because it reveals why women loved him so much: the guy was simply gorgeous, with a clean handsome jawline, vigorous head of black hair and slightly bedroomy blue eyes. There was a boyish sweetness about him which never slid into Harry Langdon-esque creepy infantilism. Under the mild exterior he was a tough little scrapper, with a volatile temper that came directly out of his own hot-and-cold personality.

I love this man. I wrote a novel about him called The Glass Character, and I cannot tell you how I ache to see this get into the hands of readers. I want them to know, to feel, to see him as he was, and is. I made a total fool of myself in writing this, and though I think it's the best thing I've ever done, I do wonder if there is something star-crossed about my life, something that just short-circuits success and snatches it out of my hands just as I am about to grab it. If I could figure out why, maybe I could do something about it.

Whenever I discover something new about Harold Lloyd, some odd little thing like this minute-and-a-half-long mini-picture, it's as if I am given a tiny glimpse through an aperture or a magic portal. While I was writing The Glass Character, there were days when I felt as if I had stepped right through it. I did not want to come back. I don't know what is going to happen with my novel, and I know I shouldn't care this much, I'm just putting my heart out on the railroad tracks. But there's just something about him. He inspires that sort of feeling. It's spooky, because I realize that he doesn't try for it.

I can't define charisma, any more than I can define charm, but I know when I am in its presence. In this case, mere dying did not end it. It's still there, lightning in a bottle. If you think you know silent comedy, if you've seen Chaplin and Keaton and maybe Harry Langdon or Chester Conklin, you don't know this: there was a man, an extraordinary actor who never planned to be a comedian, who was able to make the most ordinary, hapless guy so compelling that you couldn't stop watching him.

Harold, Harold! I don' t know how I got in so deep. And I am not sure if I want to be saved or not.