Movie Magic

The Illusion of 'Safety' from Not So Dangerous Heights

Movie magic at its best

Visual Effects of Safety Last!
Photo: Criterion Collection

I only casually mentioned the excellent visual effects featurette on Criterion's new Blu-ray for Harold Lloyd's Safety Last! in my review, but it's one of the set's highlights as film writer John Bengtson and visual-effects expert Craig Barron illustrate how Lloyd and his team manipulated the camera to make it look as if Lloyd was several stories high, hanging from the hands of a clock when in fact he was only a few feet from the ground.

Yesterday Criterion released a snippet from that feature, which includes the details on how they achieved what has to be the most iconic shot from any of Lloyd's features. Give the brief video a watch below and earn a greater respect for the old school masters.

Criterion has done similar looks at the visual effects in classic silents in their collection. Other recent titles include Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush and Modern Times where glass matte paintings were put to great use.

Take, for example, the following roller skating scene from Modern Times where what looks like a drop off to a floor below is actually a painting on glass placed in front of the camera. There's a brief moment where Chaplin's skate disappears, revealing the illusion, but you'll have to pay close attention to notice.

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  • Criterion10

    That's awesome. Criterion always has great special features on their releases.

  • JayRam

    Really enjoying looking at stuff like this. It shows the amount of creativity that went into creating these illusions.

    May have to pick up both Modern Times and Saftey Last on blu-ray.

  • John W. Creasy

    CGI has blunted a lot of the imagination that came out of necessity. Not that I have a problem with CGI, As long as it is photorealistic. Perfectly. But the coolest thing is hearing how directors would come up with simple tricks of perspective to make amazing illusions.

  • topyxyz

    very nice

  • Good Grief

    It's interesting that, years later, Jackie Chan would homage Harold Lloyd's iconic "stunt," but without the camera effect.

  • dslacker

    Damn - another illusion shattered. Next, someone is going to tell me the mountain of coke in Scarface wasn't real.