Driving fast and jazzing it up in the 1920s.
May 25, 2008 6:53 PM   Subscribe

The opening shots of 1920s New York City are wonderful, then you get a zany high-speed Harold Lloyd blazing down the avenues, and that's fun to watch, but the real killer is the horse-drawn trolley absolutely tearing-ass through lower Manhattan, full gallop. Ends badly. Then it's over to San Francisco for one last bit of homicidal vehicular activity with a bus. Well, they sure don't drive like they used to!

In case that crazy 20s spirit grabbed you, you might want to spend a little time with the archetypical "jazz age" sounds of Jan Garber and his Orchestra, full of pep, silly humor and choked cymbals:

There Ain't No Maybe In My Baby's Eyes

Don't Bring Lulu!

Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down

Baby Face

Positively-Absolutely "is she nifty? ABSOLUTELY! under fifty? POSITIVELY!"


Way Down Yonder In New Orleans

Of course, Garber's music was lively, entertaining and well played, but, unsurprisingly, the music of the same era and style as played by black folk had that extra swing, that rollicking but relaxed easy groove that was just a wee bit lacking from bands like Garber's. These musicians deserve FPPs of their own, but for the time being, let's drop by and listen to the music of a couple of early pioneers, Freddie Keppard and Joe "King" Oliver.

Freddie Keppard Jazz Treasury (two 1920s gems on this clip)

King Oliver's Too Bad and Riverside Blues.

posted by flapjax at midnite (37 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
What the crap? Was that really Babe Ruth? These videos are wonderful.
posted by Mach5 at 7:15 PM on May 25, 2008

Fun post. That was my grandparents New York. In 1928, they would have been in their early twenties and living in the village. From what I know, they lived on Charles street and you see Washington Square which (Google maps tells me) is only a few blocks away so it's neat for me to see that part of the city like they saw it back then. The music fits too, my grandfather played the soprano sax in jazz bands in the village during the twenties and early thirties. At least until his square old parents forced him to ditch that jungle music and get a real job selling advertising for the New York Sun.
posted by octothorpe at 7:27 PM on May 25, 2008

Great post flapjax!

I am a Lloyd and Keaton fan and have a bunch of their films already, so when I watched your first link, I was wondering more about the music than the visuals, then I click the more inside and -- voila! Flap delivers the goods once again!

posted by vronsky at 8:09 PM on May 25, 2008

Wow. People in New York in 1928 drive like people in Beijing in 2008.
posted by xthlc at 8:15 PM on May 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Great post flapjax!

I dare anyone to point out a bad one. Double dog and all.
posted by timsteil at 8:27 PM on May 25, 2008

Speedy is a great Harold Lloyd film. They spend a lot of time all over Manhattan and end up all around the Coney Island Amusement Park of the 1920's.

I saw it projected with a live musical accompaniment. Fun.
posted by jfrancis at 8:29 PM on May 25, 2008

That was great! The music seems so perfect, even if that is only because I am trained to think so by watching these kinds of movies with that kind of music.
posted by milestogo at 8:36 PM on May 25, 2008

This makes me want to play Grand Theft Auto: 1928. Great post.
posted by ErWenn at 8:49 PM on May 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Flapjax, someday I'll discover your secret to making these amazing posts. For now, I'm glad you do it so well.
posted by self at 8:56 PM on May 25, 2008

I kiss your double-dag two-tone wingtips. Blow, cat, blow.
posted by mwhybark at 8:59 PM on May 25, 2008


fantastic post. When YouTube first came out, I was a total curmudgeon. When I discovered that it was a treasure box of historic film, music and dance instruction, and other nerdly goodness, fuggedaboutit.

This stuff is wonderful. Thanks, flap. Also, geez! No lines on the road and, apparently, all uncontrolled intersections. Must have been total insanity.
posted by Miko at 9:00 PM on May 25, 2008

They play Speedy on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) a lot. Caught it there, enjoyed it a lot.

The streetcar crash was actually a real accident that they incorporated into the film.
posted by unsupervised at 9:03 PM on May 25, 2008

Pheh, that was so fake.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:21 PM on May 25, 2008

Yeah, sorry the CGI wasn't quite up to par then.

But what's great about it is the glimpse into the Jazz Age mind: OH NOES the world is going so crazy fast! It's all chaos with our many machines! Cars, trains, trolleys and wagons all askitter! Vodey-oh-doh, such a jazzy wild hurtling time we live in! Out with the old mores, in with shimmying and skittly-bop!

Harold Lloyd is obviously a total smartass. He's hilarious ("I didn't! It's a gift.") . If he were alive today, he'd have a website from which he disseminated coyly snarky videos.
posted by Miko at 9:28 PM on May 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't think the movies looked 'sped up' back in the day. They were projected, as shot, at 16 frames per second, not 24 fps as film is projected now.

We associate that look with old movies erroneously.
posted by jfrancis at 9:38 PM on May 25, 2008

Also, when cameras were cranked by hand, the speed was inconsistent due to human variance. Today when we run the film at consistent speed, it looks odd, some areas faster than others. Once camera film feed became mechanized, we got steady recording speed which reads much more smoothly to the eye.
posted by Miko at 10:18 PM on May 25, 2008

What's the song that plays during the horse-drawn mayhem? All I can tell is it has the words "Horses, Horses, Horses!"
posted by Joybooth at 10:59 PM on May 25, 2008

That looked like a scene from a 1920's GTA.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:05 PM on May 25, 2008

As with what Joybooth said, that "Horses! Horses! Horses!" song is great - and doubles the hilarity of the horses running around the city than could have been achieved on it's own.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 11:19 PM on May 25, 2008

I wonder how much of that was choreographed, and how much was just random cars already in the street.
posted by delmoi at 11:33 PM on May 25, 2008

I kept waiting for Charlton Heston to lean out the side of the horse-drawn bus and start swiping @ the cars.
posted by Lukenlogs at 11:37 PM on May 25, 2008


It has to be real -- check out the scene at the end of the horses section. The trolley smashes into a subway pole, and the guy goes flying. The picture fades out, most likely due to the fact that the camera man stopped cranking the film to help his coworker and there was no more footage.
posted by sleslie at 1:06 AM on May 26, 2008

Horses, horses, horses! *jazz*

GTA 1928? ♥!
posted by WalterMitty at 2:31 AM on May 26, 2008

Home run, flap! You're the Babe Ruth of music posters. (y2karl is the DiMaggio.)

Don't forget, that for all those head on shots of these vehicles racing through the streets, there was another vehicle, right in front, mounted with a camera, going a little bit faster!

Someone should set the famous "French Connection" chase to 1920s Jazz... Bet it would be a whole new experience.
posted by Faze at 5:01 AM on May 26, 2008

*doffs cap in awe, does a quick Charleston*
posted by languagehat at 5:54 AM on May 26, 2008

There's always the Crazy Taxi version, too.
posted by tinkertown at 7:07 AM on May 26, 2008

I was just coming to comment on the song "Horses," which I found out is by Richard A. Whiting (my favorite song of his until now: "Ain't We Got Fun") with lyrics by Byron Gay, a search for whom led me to this awesome Warner Bros. short film from 1937 with Babe Ruth, Zez Confrey, and Mr. Gay. As always, I find so much fun stuff when I ask questions about flapjax posts.
posted by nosila at 7:20 AM on May 26, 2008

Thank you, thank you, Youtube related videos... (crazy taxi, japanese practical joke style, ends with car on fire, no rear doors, full rollover. Punk'd!)
posted by anthill at 8:11 AM on May 26, 2008

Wow, that's just like GTA, but in the '20s.

tee hee hee
posted by LordSludge at 8:53 AM on May 26, 2008

those horses are dragging a railcar. no wonder its skidding everywhere.
posted by OldReliable at 10:15 AM on May 26, 2008

I fucking LOVE you.
posted by Busithoth at 10:23 AM on May 26, 2008

I don't think the movies looked 'sped up' back in the day. They were projected, as shot, at 16 frames per second, not 24 fps as film is projected now.

Actually, there were no set speeds for either hand-cranking or projectors, and films would be shot at anywhere from 12 to 26 FPS. The rate at which the film was meant to be projected would be noted with the cue sheet. Some films would be shot at a much slower rate to save stock and cram in more story; wily theatre managers would insist they be shown faster to adhere to their tight schedules. Different parts of the film would also be shot at different speeds to add suspense or excitement. Early audiences would be very familiar with "sped up" looking films, though it's definitely true that modern sound projectors have only two settings, the "silent" being 16 FPS. Birth of a Nation is known to have been shot at 12 FPS, and certainly looks sped up on a modern projector. Later in the silent film era as a particular brand of film camera became state of the art, cranking began to be stadardized at 16FPS, which sent 1 foot of film through the camera with two cranks. Once cameras began to be motorized and soundies came in film was shot at 24 FPS.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:51 AM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Utterly brilliant, flapjax. Thanks.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 11:43 AM on May 26, 2008

Plus ça change…
posted by A dead Quaker at 12:46 PM on May 26, 2008

The Babe was a pretty decent actor there. All I could think of was "Those poor horses!" - especially when the streetcar hits the pole.
posted by dammitjim at 5:18 PM on May 26, 2008

...gives "23 skiddoo" a whole new meaning!

a-HOT-CHA-CHAAAA! [jazz hands]
posted by not_on_display at 10:17 PM on May 26, 2008

Some things never change, especially the taxi drivers. OK, now there is more traffic.
posted by caddis at 10:01 PM on May 27, 2008

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