Were you there? Wasn’t it fun?
Did you miss it? What shame – you missed a treat.
Who knew that SMSG would be filled with laughter at jokes almost a hundred years old? Or that we’d cheer wildly at the sound of a hundred-and-thirty-four-year-old organ?
That’s because we were listening to Donald MacKenzie’s riotously funny, and magically appropriate organ accompaniment to the Silent Classic Film “Safety Last”.
We were in the hands of a brilliant performer, making the Willis Pipe Organ produce sounds that most of us didn’t know were possible: double bass rhythm to Gershwin songs, boots on the bottom of slow-witted policemen, the quietest of hush of Moon River and raucous fun of the Carry On films.
In his first half, Donald MacKenzie made us think of the ‘our’ Willis organ as “the sound of the Edwardian era, organ-building at its best – the aural equivalent of deep, rich roast beef and Yorkshire pudding”. It was a session harking back to days of the BBC Light Programme and of Reginald Dixon. All we could have wished for was that our mighty Willis could rise up Wurlitzer-like from the bowels of the church.
And then, with popcorn and ice-creams in hand, on to the 1922 silent film. Harold Lloyd’s genius in developing moments of stupidity and hilarity in his visual gags were not the quickfire blink-and-you’ve-missed-it jokes we’re used to. They were slow and careful. Making fun of a policeman by writing “kick me” backwards in chalk on a wall, then pushing the policeman against it so that writing was transferred to his back, then using a small boy to deliver, with glee, the kick on the bottom took over a minute to develop as a gag. But today’s audience was carried along, roaring laughter. The entire film leads inevitably to its long, gloriously funny and terrifying climax which makes “Safety Last” still so famous. Harold Lloyd is duped into climbing up the side of a sixteen-storey department store, swinging off a clock face, pirouetted on the edge of the building. But his warm hearts and good intentions win out the end: he wins the money and he gets the girl.
Of course we knew he was going to make it, but the jokes along the way were made funnier and funnier by Donald MacKenzie’s consummate playing. What a good time we all had.
More photos can be seen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/78058413@N06/albums/72157672574524970
You can also read a review of the film by Jason Day who came to see the Silent Movie with organ in Stony Stratford.
Words by David Wolfson, photos by Ellie Page