Not only was yesterday Buster’s birthday, but this weekend I’ll be heading to Muskegon, Michigan for the official Damfino convention! This will be my very first time at this event (I’m giving a presentation too, so wish me luck!). Thus, it only seemed fitting to start out this Halloween month with one of Buster’s more well-known shorts.
There seemed to be certain plots and tropes that all silent comedians tried out in turn. Everyone did food preparation gags, everyone went to the beach, everyone (everyone) from Harry Langdon to Chaplin himself showed up as a white-clad street cleaner at some point. In 1921, it was Buster Keaton’s turn to try his hand at the familiar gag-rich setting of The Spooky Haunted House.
Not too long ago I read some delightful Facebook comments by a teacher who was talking about how she occasionally showed silent films to her high school class (I think it was high school….maybe it was middle school…hmm…anyways.). She shared a funny story about the way her students reacted to a viewing of One Week(no one saw that last gag coming!) and mentioned a couple other silent stars her class had really liked.
But the one star she couldn’t quite talk them into watching? Mary Pickford. Apparently, they were a little leery to take that step.
Happy Thursday, y’all! Here’s a Silent-ology “oldie-but-goodie,” my impassioned defense of the old-timey title card. My readership has definitely grown since the last time this was published! By the way, point #4 is always worth sharing with any silent film skeptic friends.
So you’ve decided to give those funny old black-and-white silent movies a try. You pop in a DVD with a quaint title and relax on your couch (or you rev up the Netflix, either one). An organ tune plays as you see the scene of a busy town street. There are Model Ts, and people in clothes that look less like a Roaring Twenties party than you‘d assumed, and hey, does that old guy have a handlebar mustache? And was that a streetcar? Why, you could get used to this! And then it happens. The screen goes black…and there are words. Words that you must read. Words that are inflicted upon you. This, my friend, is your very first exposure…to a title card.
In its review of The Blue Bird back in 1918, The New York Times declared, “…It is a safe assertion to say that seldom, if ever, has the atmosphere and spirit of a written work been more faithfully reproduced in motion pictures.” This observation holds true today, but with a twist for “we moderns.” For this film embodies the spirit of Edwardian fairytales and indeed many old European fairytales so thoroughly that for us, it could almost be from another planet. And for those of us willing to experience The Blue Bird today, that’s a good thing.
While far too many films of Jazz Age star Marion Davies are lost or unavailable, happily a few gems still survive. In my opinion the shiniest gem is probably Show People (1928), an affectionate satire of the movies that’s the very definition of a “crowd pleaser”.
So I’m feeling a bit “meh” about this list, as I’m pretty sure other classic film fans will be, but am fairly pleased with the top 25. At least this list didn’t leave out some obvious choices. Yeah, I’m looking at you, sad little first edition of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list, which practically forgot silents existed.
Of course, there probably wouldn’t be any Harry Langdon shorts on this list, I allowed myself to presume. Probably no Roscoe Arbuckle, either. And heh, the Charley Bowers short Egged On probably juuust missed the cut. Continue reading →
Phew! I’ve been a tad lean on the posts lately because of a couple silent film-related projects that had to be done LIKE RIGHT NOW, but I’m getting back into the swing of things. Coming soon: at least one of three article ideas bouncing around in my head right now, an Obscure Film review, and a couple blogathons, too.
Ah, the funny places research rabbit holes will lead you to. Hey guys, did you know there was another Charlie Chaplin?
No, I’m not talking about imitators like Billy West. And not Charlie’s father, Charles Chaplin Senior, either. This guy was a highly-acclaimed artist of the 19th century, and his name was Charles Joshua Chaplin.
New research on silent comedy has been on the rise in the past decade, and quite a bit of this is thanks to the tireless efforts of renowned historian Steve Massa. Silent-ology is very pleased to present this exclusive interview with Massa, where we discuss his very well-received new book Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy.
Sybil Seely and Charles Dorety in one of the many rare images from Massa’s book.
For those readers who might not be familiar with your work, can you introduce yourself and talk a bit about your career?
Fans of film history–rejoice! For in the Year of our Lord two thousand and seventeen, the library of essential early film books like The Parade’s Gone By and Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory has been expanded by Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy by film historian Steve Massa. It’s been my most anticipated book of the year, and as you can already tell, I was not disappointed.