Tribeca Film Festival: Harold Lloyd’s ‘Speedy’ With Live Soundtrack by Z-Trip

Criterion's new restoration of Harold Lloyd's Speedy was screened with a live score accompaniment from turntablist Z-Trip at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

The Tribeca Film Festival screened the Criterion Collection’s newly restored digital print of Harold Lloyd’s last silent feature Speedy ahead of a physical release. Silent comedy legend Lloyd had starred in nearly 20 films, but I hadn’t seen any of them before this unique event, an event which almost makes me never want to see Speedy in its original silent form again.

Tribeca upped the ante by inviting turntable wizard Z-Trip to sequence and perform a live score to accompany the film. I’ve seen orchestras do scores live. I have heard of rock bands performing live scores. But I hadn’t ever considered a DJ doing a live score before. It must be a Herculean challenge for one man to sequence and reproduce music from sampled sources to sync with action on screen.

Sure enough, Z-Trip admitted (during a Q&A following the screening) that some of his samples were preprogrammed and not performed live. But watching him mix and slice just a few yards from the screen, I could see he was never relaxing behind the decks. I did sense the effects were a split second behind the on screen action at some times, but Z-Trip was on point for most of the night (the display he had was running with a slight delay from the projection). I may not know half of the songs he sampled, but I almost thought he was gonna use all New York City bands after hearing A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Theory” in the opening credits (particularly the “ludicrous, we speedy” line). Some artists I could identify included Soul II Soul, Beastie Boys and Moby, while I recognized sound effects from a variety of sources including video games like Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, cartoons like The Simpsons and South Park, and sports like baseball and boxing.

His best sample choice came after the great fight scene where all the elderly war vets, in their hodgepodge armor, beat on the gang attempting to wreck Dillon’s trolley car. As I watched the scene unfold, I was thinking of all the various news-teams assembling to battle it out in the first Anchorman movie. That scene remains one of the most ludicrous and hilarious film fights ever, and I could see how Speedy might have inspired it. As the on screen battle drew to a close, Z-Trip included the conversation between Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell (“I killed a guy with a trident”) and I know at least I laughed out loud.

The first time Z-Trip saw the movie, he was already imagining music to go along with it. His impressive score synced perfectly to the slapstick comedy and enamored a contemporary audience with a nearly 100 year old film. Unfortunately, it won’t likely ever be screened again; with the current state of copyrights and licensing I would never expect a release of it. Even without the music, though, the comedy of errors that is Speedy holds up today, as it involves a lot of physical humor and timeless gags.