Dr. Rich Edwards

Breakdown of a Gag, Episode 3: Lloyd's Painfully Funny Prop

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Whenever I take trips to Coney Island, I tend to always think about these two silent movies, overall I find myself wanting to find a certain spot where any scene might have taken place. It’s amazing to see history in movies, since Coney Island has changed so much over the decades. I love the breakdown of both these similar gags, to me, it’s not only a tribute between comedians, it’s almost like writing a story among writers. Like for example, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there have been many versions of this book written by other writers, their own views and takes on the legendary story, and this is no different. I love how Lloyd not only makes it his own, but as said by Dr. Edwards and Cellini, he expands it, not only putting his own take on it, but as if leaving the space for another fellow comedian/performer to expand this gag even further.

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I enjoy both Keaton and Lloyd. I never knew of these films till now and how similar they were from each other. It's funny that they used similar props but each put their own spin on it. This gives the audience something they don't realize is familiar but yet Lloyd did it a little differently then Keaton but it still grabbed the audiences attention and was still enjoyable to watch. Makes me want to go to Coney Island or some type of carnival/fair and it made me laugh so they did their job and it worked. 

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This was posted by LARYNXA in another thread and I hope she won't mind my reposting it here, but it was posted so late there that I think most people will miss it and it should not be missed...

 

Larynxa (http://forums.tcm.com/index.php?/user/60373-larynxa/) has just posted a

reply to a topic that you have subscribed to titled "Daily Dose of Doozy #2: A Piece

of Cake: Charlie Chaplin".

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------

The split-second timing of this sequence and the one inside the employment agency,

comes from more than just practice and instinct. It comes from somene being able to

give verbal cues during filming (not possible in a talkie), and from the cameraman's

skill at seamlessly adjusting his cranking-speed just enough, at precisely the right

time, for precisely the right duration.

 

In Ben Model's live presentation on the subject, he used the employment office scene

to demonstrate how the film was undercranked (slowed down) during the filming, just

as each person zipped up to the counter ahead of Chaplin. When projected, this added

an extra burst of speed, resulting in movement that is impossible in real-life.

 

I recognize the same technique in this "lunch-wagon" sequence. The camera is

undercranked for each sudden turn and near-miss. Watch closely, and you'll notice a

little spurt of speed, each time.

 

Adjusting the cranking-speed was a common technique in the silent era, and it was

used in dramas, as well as comedies, to add or remove speed and the apparent weight

of onscreen people and objects.

 

Try imitating Harold Lloyd's little "Step right up and call me Speedy!" jig-step,

from "The Freshman". You'll discover it's impossible. Why? Because it was shot

slightly undercranked. When projected, it not only makes the jig-step a slight blur

of fast movement, it make Harold appear almost weightless as he does it,

 

If we could get Ben Model to do his presentatation for this Slapstick course, or as

a TCM Original Presentation, it would be one of the most amazing things we've ever

seen, and it would exponentially add to our appreciation of the skill that went into

these films...and which was lost with the coming of sound and its requirement that

all frames be shot at a uniform speed.

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I love remakes.
I love comparing them to each other and to the original source material, if it is existent.

These two Coney Island clips strike me (pun intended) more along the lines of musical embellishment than cinematic remakes in the respect that Lloyd took the clip and owned it.  He greatly expanded and tweaked it until only the initial setting / concept was left... and that was left far behind as it was a springboard for the film.     

Such basic alteration is beautifully illustrated in Amadeus... when Mozart plays Salieri's "March of Welcome". He tweaks the ending which then leads to him running the keyboard with it.  

I wonder how Keaton and Arbuckle felt about Lloyd's version...  

 

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Many people seem to think that seeing Keaton laugh was a great thing. It was something of an experiment for him. He thought it was a big flop and he never did it again.

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I definitely can see the evolution of not only the gags but also the plot lines and the acting in Lloyd's comedies. Gone are the cruder, purely physical gags replaced by more sophisticated scenarios. Not that he doesn't offer great chases and hair-raising gags but his comedies are more character driven.

 

Lloyd looks and acts like the boy next door. His persona elicits empathy. The straw hat, glasses and tailored suits made him quite the dandy but unlike Max Linder he was the anti-playboy. Sweet, shy and a hopeless romantic. I've read that he wore the glasses because it was thought he was too handsome for slapstick.

 

Like the country, comedy was growing and evolving. Lloyd stands with one foot in the past and one in the future of comedy. He was the transition, still slapstick but with a middle class attitude. Successful in both Silents and Talkies his popularity remained steady until the dire consequences of the Depression changed the audience's taste for breezy comedies. Luckily, his films as Keaton's experienced a resurgence.

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While Keaton could take a gag in unexpected directions often resulting in surprising and sometimes violent resolution, I don't think anyone was better at layering and building gag upon gag than Lloyd. Lloyd with the turkey in "Hot Water" is a good example. It's a sustained sequence where one thing leads to another in hilarious fashion. Keaton's gags may have had more of a "wow" factor but Lloyd's screen persona was so darned optimistic that you happily go with him wherever he leads. At least I do.

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I'm glad to discover Harold Lloyd. He was a Master of comedy, he was as great as Chaplin and Keaton. He was a gentleman, his style was very elegant, good manners. Compared to Chaplin, he was less violent and mischievous. Number, Please? is a great selection for this course.

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One can see how setting was important to each of the three silent "giants" of slapstick.  Lloyd's use of urban settings (Coney Island, a department store, a football field, etc) was tight and constrained, and settings in which a new urban middle class (in the 1920s more folks lived in urban than in rural areas for the first time in US history) could easily identify.  Chaplin, while also using urban settings, often explored the underbelly of postwar existence--the loss of community and the soullessness inherent in modern society ( "The Kid", "City Lights", "Modern Times" for example).  Keaton had too much energy to be constrained in the city.  He needs the outdoors, not just for films like "The General" and "Steamboat Blll", but even in those films set in Los Angeles, such as "The Cameraman", "Sherlock, Jr." and "Seven Chances", the action mostly takes place in the streets.   Interesting that of the three Keaton, who started in Vaudeville, was the one who embraced the potential of space in film. 

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I thoroughly enjoyed this particular "Breakdown of a Gag" episode. The comparison of Arbuckle and Keaton against Lloyd shows how comedic performers could expand on and possibly even strengthen a famous gag. Not to detract from any entertainer's concept of comedy, but these two clips provided as a means of comparison display how something extra can be the definitive of a true genius.

 

Lloyd introduced a kind of innovation into redefining this specific gag. There is already a level of humor in the oversized appearance of props; the hammer, the bell; we are set up to anticipate a comedic moment based on the set design alone. But, Lloyd capitalized on this gag and the idea of the oversized.

 

After having suffered the blow to the head, Lloyd takes it a massive step further, stumbling over to the fun house mirrors. Here, he makes use of his own image, and his reaction to what he now believes to be his distorted, yet actual appearance. Lloyd's addition of reaction to his own gag is the type of vision that lead him to stardom.

 

He, too, created a persona to which audiences attached themselves. Lloyd, like Keaton and Chaplin, garnered inspiration from earlier predecessors, but it was their keen perspectives, consistency in pushing boundaries and heading challenges, and evolutionary vision that holds them firmly in a class of historic artists.

 

*Also, I love Keaton's blatant lack of composure in the "Coney Island" clip. His giggling fit was just as entertaining as his stone faced demeanor he adopted a bit later on into his career.*

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I'm not sure if others know about this "different side" to Lloyd's artistic activities. I found this book a few years AGO AND REALLY ENJOYED IOT. tHERE ARE PLEMTY OF "USED" COPIES ON aMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Harold-Lloyds-Hollywood-Nudes-3-D/dp/1579126790/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473349921&sr=1-1&keywords=Harold+Lloyd+Nudes

 

Lloyd really got into "3 D" photography, as he got into music and other things. When he was in on something, he was all in. He would spend hours and hours and thousands of dollars on all of his hobbies. It has been implied  that as his wife, Mildred, drank, Harold would spend a-lot of time with the models, and that he was having affairs. I haven't gotten the book, but I have seen some of his other  3 D photographs that were included in the Harold Lloyd box set. Besides being a giant of comedy, he was also a wonderful photographer. Check out his photos of Marilyn Monroe in her apartment.

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1. Lloyd successfully exploits Coney Island to give a feeling of happy delirium in this clip. On one ride, Speedy and Jane sit with other fairgoers in the middle of a ride that spins, daring its riders to stay in the middle. They seem dizzy and happy until the crab (what a crazy gag!) pinches them, forcing them out. After a dissolve to a pinwheel image we find the couple again upended, this time in a ride that revolves while they try to walk upright in it. Finally, the delicious if not nutritious Coney Island food is featured as the two overindulge. After a series of eating scenes, we cut to a rear shot of Speedy apparently throwing up, but it's revealed to be a "Test Your Lungs" (!) booth.

 

2. Harold Lloyd's screen characters were more specifically from 1920s America than were Keaton's or (especially) Chaplin's. I'm not sure that made Lloyd any "freer" in style; in fact maybe the opposite was true. Keaton's surreal house in One Week mightn't be as possible in Lloyd's more real world, which nevertheless provided him with plenty of hilarious situations, often of coincidence (like the man shooting and winning Speedy a doll for Jane). 

 

3. Lloyd's characters crazily coping with a very real contemporary urban world may have made a very useful transition to screen comedy in the sound era, where sound itself (and later color) made things more and more "real."

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1. In what ways does Lloyd use the settings, amusements, and attractions of Coney Island in pursuit of creating original slapstick gags? Be specific.

 

I had to watch this clip twice for two reasons. First, I thought I had missed how a crab found its way into Lloyd's pocket. Second, I was fascinated by the food Lloyd and his girlfriend were eating. I guess fair food hasn't changed that much in 88 years. 

 

The happy, novel nature of an amusement park makes the audience feel as Lloyd felt, carefree and joyous. We feel sorry for him when he is cracked over the head after the woman is pinched on the behind by the crab. Lloyd's reaction is typical of what the audience's reaction would be: confused and appalled at the unwarranted assault.

 

The "adult merry-go-round" allows Lloyd to use the crab gag one more time, while contributing to the audience's thoughts that he is eventually going to be sick to his stomach from the inner ear challenging ride. We then see Lloyd in the spinning cylinder and on the (water?) slide. He next indulges in the fair food.

 

After Lloyd has stuffed his face with sugary, fried foods and drinks, we see Lloyd slightly bent over shoulders heaving up and down. Of course I thought he was vomiting from too much fair food and dizzying rides, but no! He is testing his lungs with some amusement park air flow measurement equipment. While not slapstick, the joke is in poor taste, but funny none the less. Using the novelty lung equipment allows Lloyd to make the joke, and get away with its somewhat obnoxious nature since the audience feels taken in by the very nature of Lloyd's surroundings. Lloyd owes Chaplin for his last gag in the clip.

 

In the classic sketch, in which Lloyd is trying to win his girl a doll at a ball toss booth, Lloyd is clearly failing at his task. Lloyd can't beat the house with his inexact tosses until he goofs (or so we think) and smashes another amusement park goer in the mouth and gets cotton candy all over the poor passerby. Infuriated, the man seeks to throw the ball at Lloyd's head, but actually succeeds where Lloyd had failed. The man's toss is accurate and Lloyd ends up winning the doll due to the man's effort. This gag reminds me of Chaplin's gags, which we saw earlier in the week, in which Chaplin faces two adversaries (here the booth proprietor and the passerby) and fortuitously beats them both, to win in the end.

 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Schickel's assessment of Lloyd as more "real" or "freer" of "exaggeration and stylization" than Chaplin or Keaton? Why or why not? 

 

I do agree with Schickel, based on the limited exposure we have had to all three actors. Lloyd is dressed like a middle class American, his reactions to the situations posed by the scene are normal and recognizable to regular folks, and the setting of the amusement park is accessible to most of the audience.

 

This is unlike Chaplin, whose makeup is clownish, and whose clothes are costume-like. Chaplin's movements are exaggerated, and the situations in which he finds himself, and the millieu in which they occur, are not within the audiences' own realm of experience. While Chaplin seems foreign and outside the norm of middle class experience, Lloyd is totally relatable.

 

As for Keaton, while he looks normal in terms of his dress, and settings, his reactions are ridiculous, which is what makes them funny. No one approaches life with the completely unemotional acceptance of crazy happenings as Keaton does.

 

3. In watching this clip, what contributions do you see that Lloyd added to the history of slapstick comedy?

 

It appears that Lloyd made slapstick comedy accessible as an experience to middle class viewers who could understand the settings, situations, and reactions Lloyd portrayed.
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i enjoyed  "Coney Island" with Arbuckle  and  Keaton. I liked the gag however when Lloyd re-used tht gag he enhanced it by also using that crazy  mirror they always have at amusement parks. I recorded  "Number Please" on my DVR and plan tto watch it later.

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1) Harold successfully uses familiar surroundings to pull off the slapstick. Audiences can relate to the rides and feelings of fun at Coney Island. And, after showing all the eating, he makes us think that he has an upset stomach but is actually playing a "Test you Lungs" machine. To me, this was a variation of Chaplin's gag on a ship. We see him from the rear and he appears to be heaving, but is actually fishing. Two approaches, and a good laugh in both cases.

 

2) As Lloyd's "Glasses" character was a more normal looking individual, I have to agree with Schickel's statement. Setting the gags in the amusement park puts the audience in an immediate positive frame of mind.

 

3) I think that by putting the character in familiar settings, audiences immediately could relate to the character.

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Arbuckle is unfairly underrated in the history of silent comedy; partially due to the types of gags (usually simple and with him getting even) but probably also due to the unfortunate real life scandals. Ironic that comedians of that girth often make their physicality the focus of their humor while "Fatty" always focused on the gag first. Had he been as thin as Stan Laurel, getting clipped by the mallet would have been equally funny - especially without the amplified sound a heavier man might have leveraged.

 

But Keaton shines here even in a supporting role - and yes, odd to see him smile and laugh (though it's necessary to set up the "comeuppance" of being hit back). The more important element here is split second timing by both comics...Arbuckle really looks like he got clocked, and Keaton swings without the benefit of seeing the target.

 

Lloyd was a later discovery for me (I did not see his films until adulthood; I have been watching Chaplin and Keaton since I was five) but I learned to appreciate his combination of physical comedy and unique ideas - the "funhouse mirror" is a perfect example. Earlier comics would have moved on after the bell ringing; later comics would have employed sound effects and camera tricks (zooming in and out of focus) to sell the concept of disorientation.

 

Thankfully there are scads of material on all of them, from critical analyses to wonderful DVDs from Kino and Criterion. Great art is timeless.

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It is interesting how different slapstick comedians approached the same or similar props with their own twist and made it a totally different gag or funnier than the earlier comedians that used it. I didn't know very much about Harold Lloyd, I mean I knew who he was but didn't know much about his comedy style. I did find the "Number, Please?" ending very interesting. Instead of the usual  vengeance ending Lloyd moves the action down the midway to the mirror gallery and has some natural fun with the big head and other distorted reflections. Sorta of a "kinder gentler" slapstick routine. Lloyd seems to be a genius of his own.

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People keep making reference to the fact that Keaton started out in vaudeville, which he did, of course, as a child. But so did Chaplin, as a child. Even Lloyd had early acting experience in theater, so none of them had come as virgins to film.

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i enjoyed "Coney Island" with Arbuckle and Keaton. I liked the gag however when Lloyd re-used tht gag he enhanced it by also using that crazy mirror they always have at amusement parks. I recorded "Number Please" on my DVR and plan tto watch it later.

I agree with Lloyd's enhancement of being hit by the hammer as he goes to the mirrors. The Arbuckle and Keaton scene seems as though after Fatty gets the cigar, the scene is over. Lloyd "milked" the hit to last a while by looking in the mirror. I haven't seen Coney Island or Number, Please, but I feel like the latter might be the better of the two movies.

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Whereas Arbuckle and Keaton oppose each other for comic one-ups-manship, in a competitive fashion, Lloyd chooses to centralize attention on the singular character (his own).  My impression is Lloyd wanted the audience to sympathize with his character primarily by relating to him as an 'everyman', who is both an enthusiastic go-getter, with a gentle caring nature.  In these clips, you have Buster laughing at the mis fortune he has caused at the expense of Arbuckle, and Arbuckle evening the score.  Mae competition (particularly with a female witnessing this).  With Lloyd, we join him in worrying about his welfare, and are able to be amused by his distress (his distorted image a reflection of injury) only by knowing he is truly not disfigured.

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Imitation is the sincere form of flattery and these two scenes show the similarities and differences not only in the basic gag but in the two comedians. In the first clip, Fatty Arbuckle is clearly the boss and Buster is the flunky who gets a knock in the noggin while Fatty gets the cigar. Harold Lloyd similarly gets his bell ring literally while showing the effects in the bit with the funhouse mirrors. His character is flushed out in this brief snippet. If Lloyd was a modern athlete, he would have to undergo the concussion protocol and testing.

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I enjoyed the films. I liked Harold's gags with the phone and the film technique of showing five people talking at once, I liked the gag with the dog and the fun-house mirriors.

I liked physical comedy of Keaton/Arbuckle and seeing Keaton laugh. :)

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I think I really profited from the discussion of the gag this time and I hadn't before made the connection that Lloyd's confusion with the funhouse mirrors results from his being hit on the head.  I just saw the progression of the scene as the movement from one gag to another.  But the extra confusion caused by the knock on the noggin makes a lot more sense!

 

What fascinated me most about the mirror scene was how they captured the images but kept the camera out of the shot.  I felt the same when I watched Chaplin in the mirror maze during the opening sequences of "The Circus."  Clearly, I know nothing about movie-making, but I'd sure like to know how they do that.  Why isn't the camera reflected in the mirror?  Are they filming from an angle?  Is it there but I just don't see it because it's disguised as part of the scenery?  This is probably elementary stuff to those who know how to do it, but to me it's like a magic act -- I can't see how it's done.

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I think I really profited from the discussion of the gag this time and I hadn't before made the connection that Lloyd's confusion with the funhouse mirrors results from his being hit on the head.  I just saw the progression of the scene as the movement from one gag to another.  But the extra confusion caused by the knock on the noggin makes a lot more sense!

 

What fascinated me most about the mirror scene was how they captured the images but kept the camera out of the shot.  I felt the same when I watched Chaplin in the mirror maze during the opening sequences of "The Circus."  Clearly, I know nothing about movie-making, but I'd sure like to know how they do that.  Why isn't the camera reflected in the mirror?  Are they filming from an angle?  Is it there but I just don't see it because it's disguised as part of the scenery?  This is probably elementary stuff to those who know how to do it, but to me it's like a magic act -- I can't see how it's done.

This link to a discussion might help a bit with your conundrum:

http://nofilmschool.com/boards/questions/removing-camera-mirror-scene

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