A Poem for Harold Lloyd

Silent film star Harold Lloyd hangs from a clock several stories up on the outside of a tall building.Harold on the Clock

Keep climbing, Harold, even though
it was supposed to be your buddy
and not you
seven stories up
the outside of the department store.

Los Angeles tilts around you
and you cling
to the façade.

Your fiancée runs up the stairs inside
Taking the sane route, you the mad one.
Later, you’ll meet on the roof
Press your pursed lips together
The only kind of screen kiss
chaste enough for 1923.

Moviegoers swooned
to see you stagger on the window ledge,
to see the fragile minute hand of the clock
support your flailing body weight.

Did they have to look away,
as you once did
when you saw another stuntman
make this same scramble?

Did they know
you were climbing the building
with only one hand, the other
half blown off
years before
when a prop grenade
turned out
not to be
a prop?

Almost 100 years later,
my own palms are sweaty
as you face danger after
danger: vicious attack pigeons!
A falling badminton net!

Your glasses had no glass in them.
Your eyes, though also damaged by the blast,
were sharp and clear.

You scaled the building,
almost literally knocking
yourself out.

And then you got the girl.
Onscreen and off.

And she got you.


Inspired by the movie Safety Last (1923). Watch it on Kanopy!
Image from the same film, retrieved from the Music House Museum.

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Return to the Black Lodge

Two women in front of a red curtain, holding signs that say "Damn fine."My friends and I attended a Twin Peaks party recently. (That’s me on the left, with Nance on my right.)

Watching that series as a teenager changed me. I’d never seen anything like it. The ways that David Lynch played with mood, with surrealism, with music: It was a show that constantly took risks.

Lynch is talented at creating a dream state on screen. His films have the inescapable logic of nightmare. He’s never afraid to discard rationality, taking a short cut right to the viewer’s lizard brain.

At the party, the hosts showed the very last episode of the series. There’s a long sequence where the hero, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), has entered a place called the Black Lodge (all red curtains and zigzag floors).

The Black Lodge is a kind of underworld, or limbo, where our hero’s soul is in peril. But the threats aren’t clear-cut. There are demons there, it turns out, but there’s no stake-to-the-heart opportunity.

Cooper keeps walking up and down the same red hallway, parting the same billowing curtains, and finding himself in the same room, with increasingly disturbing results. There’s a hum in the background, almost too low to hear, like the space itself is alive and malevolent.

He encounters people who speak strangely to him, in distorted English with subtitles. Lynch created this effect by having the actors record their dialog backwards, and then playing the audio track backwards. The effect is creepy in an Uncanny Valley way: Almost human, but not quite.

Like Alfred Hitchcock, Lynch understands that the darkest places aren’t necessarily haunted houses or unlit basements. They can be suburban living rooms. They can be a train track among the pine trees.

And they can be a room with a zigzag floor, billowing red drapes, people talking backwards, and no way out.

During the screening, my fellow fans were in high spirits, laughing and clapping at some goofy elements earlier in the episode. But in the Black Lodge sequence, people got quieter and quieter, drew closer to the person sitting next to them.

The episode is about 25 years old, so that’s some staying power.

*

Agent Cooper was always on the prowl for a “damn fine cup of coffee.” In tribute to him, I brought a couple of signs saying “Damn fine,” and invited people to pose with them.

Some folks came in costume! Here are two Dr. Jacobys (Jacobies?):Two fans dressed as Dr. Jacoby from Twin Peaks.This Agent Cooper was also damn fine:A fan dressed as Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, drinking coffee.I’m looking forward to seeing the upcoming reboot of the show, which I’m sure will be damn fine itself.A seated woman's legs, stuck out in front of her chair, with a pink skirt, low cowboy boots, and a sign saying "Damn fine."

Read this wonderful Guardian piece about why the world needs Agent Cooper now more than ever.