‘Laugh and Live Longer’
The Freshman’s mass marketing and cultural reception illuminate how the film captivated contemporary audiences and sparked a cycle of college films in the late 1920s that still influence the conventions of today’s youth films. Through exhibitor exploitation strategies meant to blur the line between the campus and the cinema, including tie-ups with national and local press, clothing stores, and football teams, The Freshman sold campus youth culture as a participatory experience accessible to audiences both young and old. Along the same lines, mainstream critics, college students, and international audiences received the film as akin to a live event, similar to the college football game the film depicts, that prompted a sense of embodied participation regardless of spectators’ temporal and physical distance from the events on the screen. As this chapter traces, The Freshman’s participatory ethos, in particular its emphasis on youthful masculinity as linked to athletics and other physical pursuits, kicked off a collegiate film boom in the second half of the 1920s, during which the American film industry produced over 40 films featuring campus culture. More than pale imitations of Lloyd’s blockbuster success, 1920s collegiate films crystallized the elements of the first American youth culture – campus settings, intercollegiate sports, and athletic male stars – that audiences wanted to see and feel for on the screen.