The usual drill for today, since this is now FIVE column Monday. This weekend I watched a Harold Lloyd silent, “Never Weaken,” and gleaned the following peculiar details. As usual, these are not presented as a review, since I have no idea whether you care about these old movies at all. (It was a fine little film, though.) The opening credit card:

A “certain city,” eh? Which one might that be?  It could be just genericus metropolus, but the skyscraper in the background had a familiar profile:

That’s the Singer Building, a 47-story beaut demolished by bottom-liners in the sixties. So this is New York, then! Ah, good ol’ Gotham:

Except that it’s not. That’s the Los Angeles Athletic Club in the background; the building in the middle still exists at 7th & Hill St. S.; and the framework, I think, is for 707 S.  Broadway. The framework foreshadows the final scenes, in which Harold elicits his trademark blend of gasps and laffs as he tries to avoid falling to his death from a symbol of modernity. There: one year of freshman film school, wrapped up in one sentence. Anyway: the middle portion of the film concerns Harold’s attempt to kill himself, because he thinks his love has forsaken him. He reads in the paper about record suicides among the lovelorn:

I mention this only to note the slogan for the newspaper. How rude and presumptuous! How ignorant of the inevitable end of empire!

He cannot kill himself, however, because method has some annoying aspect that abrades his sensibilities. Then he spies this device:

A heater! So . . . he’ll make the room fatally stuffy?

No, he disconnects the cord at the base of the heater. So he’s going to electrocute himself.

But wait: he's turning a tap on the wall.




That's right: it's a gas heater. The gas came out of the wall from a little pipe, into a hose, and connected to the heater. One suspects there was a wide variety of quality and non-standard equipment here. It makes you look at those old skyscrapers a bit differently, eh? Giant vertical gas bombs waiting for a spark, a cast-off cigar butt, a valve left open overnight. It's a wonder the city wasn't illuminated frequently by the sight of 20 story office blocks exploding in a bright shower of glass and masonry.

Eventually he’s been borne out of his office on a steel beam from a construction site that swings into his office and picks up his chair. (It’s happened to everyone at one time or another.) Borne upwards, he senses his ascension, hears harp music from a music studio, thinks he's succeeded at suicide, and removes his blindfold to greet the angel of paradise – a statue on the building’s cornice. The gag is set up with craft and ingenuity, but the image stands apart from the movie as something peculiar to its era, and the country and culture that gave it birth:


Incidentally, I don’t think that’s rear projection. He didn’t use it much; didn’t like it. Looked fake. He set up stages on the tops of buildings so it looked as if he hung above the teeming streets. In a way it’s more impressive than anything in the Matrix; it’s funny, it’s horrifying – and it’s real.

New Quirk, short though it may be. Thanks for stopping, and I’ll see you tomorrow. I leave you with this, which, as an iPod owner, toasts my heart-cockles.





c. j lileks. email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.