When I watched the Keystone comedy short The Gusher (1913), starring Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling, there was a shot so goofily sublime that I just had to do a screengrab and keep it forever. It has a bowler-hatted villain, an appropriately villainous mustache, a evil grin and a raging inferno. Yes.
Alright, before you take a good look at it (get pumped!), here’s what The Gusher is about: country rube Sterling and con man Charles Inslee vie for Normand’s affections. But her love is Sterling, who buys a fake oil well from the con man. Good fortune smiles on the couple and the “well” starts gushing oil for real. With a twirl of that villain-y mustache, the con man decides to set the well on fire and deprive the lovers of their newfound riches. Yes, there are shots of a real-life oil well that had happened to be on fire that day.
You just know someone ran into the studio sputtering something about an epic fire going on right that minute, fellows, and Mack Sennett yelled “Grab the cameras boys, and go make a comedy out of it! Ten dollar bonuses for anyone who risks their life getting too close to the fire!” And thus a new film was born that very afternoon (well, they didn’t get that close to the fire but I’m sure they tried).
Have I mentioned that I love 1910s Keystones?!
Look at that. Look at that magnificence. The evil, knowing grin. The bowler hat. The cigarette that clearly has something to do with the Armageddon in the background.
And people call Keystone comedies primitive relics…feh!
So while staring at my screengrab with great affection, it occurred to me that it could be even more awesome. By becoming a meme. (What? I love memes.) A meme with just a touch of The Dark Knight Rises.
Keystone + meme + Joker reference + old-timey language. I could not be happier.
Thank you, Keystone. And you’re the man, Charles Inslee!