'The Freshman' Is Remarkably, if Silently, Contemporary

The grand-daddy of college comedies, The Freshman makes a compelling case for the relevance of silent film.

The Freshman

Director: Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer
Cast: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Brooks Benedict, James Anderson, Hazel Keener, Joseph Harrington, Pat Harmon
Distributor: Criterion
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1925
Release date: 2014-03-25

Long before Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, Real Genius, Legally Blonde, and Pitch Perfect mined college life for laughs, The FreshmanHarold Lloyd’s 1925 hit about well-meaning but clueless Harold Lamb’s first semester at Tate University—established the principal features of the genre.

After modeling a persona based on a favorite movie and several books, Lamb sets off for Tate, where his naïve preparation immediately opens him to ridicule. The popular set keeps him around just to make fun of him and exploit his largesse, unbeknownst to Lamb, and his disastrous tryout for the football team leaves him assuming he’s made the squad when in fact he’s just the water boy.

He finds his only champion in sweet, hard-working Peggy, who urges him to be himself. Lamb finally gets into a game in the film’s climactic sequence, and improbably leads the team to victory in the closing seconds.

This is still familiar territory 90 years later, thanks to the influence of The Freshman, one of the most popular films of 1925, a year which also saw the release The Gold Rush and Stella Dallas. In a 2013 Criterion exclusive conversation between film historian and Lloyd enthusiast Kevin Brownlow and Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, Brownlow calls it “the greatest year for silent film”.

More often than not, the college film is about anything but class and homework—and that anything but is often sport. An intertitle describes Tate University as “a large football stadium with a college attached”, and Harold arrives with a tennis racket in one hand, and golf clubs and a fencing foil on his back.

By the early '20s college football had become a national obsession, thanks in large part to its popularization via radio, and was already an essential part of California culture. In his visual essay included among the release’s supplemental materials, John Bengtson explains how the climactic game sequence was shot in three of four recently constructed California stadiums—the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, and U.C. Berkeley’s California Memorial Stadium (along with other facts about location shooting as well as deleted scenes.)

There are no classroom scenes. The audience never learns what Lamb is studying. The dean, meanwhile, is a pompous nincompoop. Amidst all this, The Freshman valorizes self-awareness and self-discovery. The film thus captures the tortured national outlook on higher education. In America, perennially suspicious of the intellectual, but enamored of individuality, college is about developing character, joining the right crowd, sublimating any ulterior motives on the way to becoming a recognizable, contributing member of educated society—all cloaked in the pursuit of forging an individual self.

It’s still a popular combination. Brownlow observes that the motion picture industry produced just 12 college films from 1921 to 1925, but 60 from 1925 to 1928. The perennial innocent underdog, and an iteration of Lloyd’s “glasses character”, whose thick spectacles, clean-shaven face, and everyday clothing make him surprisingly contemporary. Lamb is instantly familiar as a type.

In his original essay that appears in the edition’s printed booklet, “Speedy Saves the Day! A Harold Lamb Adventure!”, critic Stephen Winer stresses the uniqueness of Lloyd’s glasses character in comparison to other silent-era comic actors’ personas and to stars of the talkies such as W. C. Fields and the Marx Brothers.

Neither an outsider like Chaplin’s Tramp, nor consigned to navigating the fringes like Buster Keaton’s and Harry Langdon’s characters, Lloyd’s trademark protagonist “has more in common with the then popular rags-to-riches tales of Horatio Alger.” For Lamb (and Lloyd), social success is not only acceptable, but is also worthy of actively pursuing.

Criterion does its usual thorough job packaging The Freshman. Brownlow and Correll put the film in historical and generic context, while also giving a rich description of Lloyd, whom both of them knew. The package includes several of Lloyd’s earlier short films, and you can see how silent comedy evolved from gag-based plots to narrative-driven features.

The famous scene from The Freshman in which Lamb navigates the Fall Frolic dance in a suit prone to coming unraveled is a brilliant sequence on its own and would have worked well as a short. In the context of the feature, however, it reinforces Lamb’s good-natured tenacity and resourcefulness and leads smoothly into his epiphany of exactly how he’s viewed by his peers at Tate.

Also among the extras are a 1963 tribute to Lloyd with Jack Lemmon, Steve Allen, and director Delmer Daves, and Lloyd’s What’s My Line appearance from 1953. Both establish Lloyd’s popularity and influence on comedy as Hollywood transitioned from its Golden Age to the post-studio era. They also show just how much had changed. Not even 30 years after The Freshman premiered, sound, wide-screen, color, and television had radically changed the entertainment landscape.

Brownlow and Correll make a strong claim for the power of silent film to connect with audiences of today without mediation. They observe that even Lloyd himself edited his work in his later years to diminish what he saw as its excess sentimentalism (cutting, for example, the key scene in The Freshman where Lamb breaks down into tears in front of Peggy at the Fall Frolic). The two historians make no apologies for what they consider an art form that can stand on its own. Criterion’s Blu-Ray/DVD combination presentation of The Freshman, digitally transferred from a 1998 restoration and accompanied by a new orchestral score by Carl Davis, makes a compelling case for their argument.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.