|Frank Merriwell was a popular pulp fiction character who served as a model for Lloyd's hapless Freshman, Harold Lamb.|
The Freshman (1925)
d. Sam Taylor & Fred Newmeyer
starring Harold Llloyd
Criterion Collection #703
Released March 25th, 2014
A couple things to know about The Freshman going in: One- it was Lloyd's biggest box office hit. Two- it references the 20s American College culture very heavily. It was hard for me to watch The Freshman without thinking about the relationship between the explosive growth of college students and the explosive growth of literature itself in the 1920s. By the end of the 1920s, you had a mainstream literary tradition that was still intact from prior to World War I. There were active German and French language scenes and works. There was literary surrealism, already a decade old. There was experimental modernism- which had a huge decade with both Ulysses and the prime time of Virginia Woolf. There was the Harlem Renaissance, detective/pulp fiction. That is seven sub-genres of novel based literature that were creating classics in the 1920s.
Film, on the other hand, was still largely a popular medium without pretensions towards "high art." The film most instrumental in creating art-film as a category, The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Th. Dreyer, was only released in Europe in 1928. While D.W. Griffith had made quantum leaps in terms of the presentation of narrative film in the teens, his movies were hardly "art film." And of course, neither was The Freshman- they were films meant to entertain that just happen to be, in retrospect, masterpieces. Lloyd was one of the three great silent comedy icons alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
The restored edition released by Criterion Collection, with a new soundtrack/score(by Carl Davis,) is a marvel to watch. Rarely is the before/after difference so great for non-Criterion Collection editions than in the earlier silent era films, where existing copies can be quite bad. Stephen Winer's accompanying essay- readable at the Criterion Collection site is a must after any watching.
On balance, The Freshman is a good deal more crucial than a dozen 60s Italian neo-realist masterpieces simply because it documents a crucial transition in American culture (increase in college attendance) albeit in a light hearted and comical way.