Thoughts On: “The Butcher Boy” And “The Rough House”

Let’s get started with the film reviews! To keep things humming along, I’ll be writing about two Comiques at a time, keeping the reviews a bit shorter than usual. Enjoy!

The Butcher Boy (1917)

Title card butcher boy

One of THE most historically important of all silent comedy shorts is The Butcher Boy, the first release from Roscoe Arbuckle’s very own studio. It’s historic for giving the world its first glimpse of Buster Keaton on the big screen, which of course has inspired no end of fan joy and excited analysis. But even aside from that mighty privilege, it’s simply a darn excellent short. Continue reading

The Comique Shorts: Roscoe Arbuckle’s Masterpieces

This is post #1 of Comique Month! (I’m so excited, I’ve been wanting to write about this amazing studio for ages.) Enjoy, and check back often throughout the next thirty-one days as we dive into incomparable world of the Comique Film Corporation!

The Comique films! As cheerful as a sunny summer’s day and as energetic as jazzy music, Roscoe Arbuckle’s 1917-1919 series of two-reelers should be required viewing for anyone even remotely interested in silent comedy. They’re goofy, clever, cheerful, inventive, and contain some of the best choreographed slapstick sequences the Edwardian era ever devised. Chaplin’s late 1910s Mutuals may get the most applause, but the “Comiques” (as they’re often called) definitely deserve the most high fives.

Comique crew butcher boy

At least three for this publicity photo alone.

But despite some excellent restorations, Arbuckle’s Comiques are still somewhat overlooked. They’re usually credited as containing Buster Keaton’s earliest film appearances, and…that’s about it. If they’re discussed in any depth at all, it’s usually in order to analyze Buster’s performances, speculate on which gags might be his, and to compare them with his later, independent work. In other words, the Comiques are held up as examples of decent enough, admittedly energetic films that are of course far inferior to Buster’s own 1920s shorts. Continue reading

Thoughts On: “Tol’able David” (1921)

It’s during these warm days of summer, when the humid, greenery-scented air brings back nostalgic memories, that I find myself turning to Tol’able David (1921). A masterpiece of Americana, it’s also arguably one of the great masterpieces of the cinema. It’s also one of my absolute favorite silent movies.

Image result for tol'able david 1921 Continue reading

Happy 121st Birthday, Louise!

I wanted to wish a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Louise Fazenda, one of our great unsung comediennes!

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And it wouldn’t be a birthday without a fabulous Art Deco cake:

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Shoot, the bakery left out the first “1”!

A veteran of Joker comedies who achieved fame as one of Mack Sennett’s Keystone regulars, Ms. Fazenda also had a long career as a character actress in the talkies. She was married to producer Hal B. Wallis for over thirty years. Although most sources say her birth year was 1895 (even contemporary magazines and newspapers), according to her birth certificate the year was actually 1896. I wrote a detailed article on her life here. (Featuring mah very own research! I’m hoping to pen a Louise biography, so if you have any information please contact me.) Continue reading

Book Reviews: “Keaton” By Rudi Blesh And “Tempest In A Flat Hat” By Edward McPherson

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As part of the ongoing, year-long celebration of his 1917 entry into films, I will periodically review the prominent books on Buster Keaton. Here’s my take on two of the more widely read biographies out there:

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One of the great classic film biographies, Keaton–along with Buster’s own autobiography–is an absolute must for anyone looking to learn more about our favorite straight-faced comedian in a porkpie hat.  Continue reading

There’s Hope Out There, Silent Film Fans!

So recently I stumbled across a fun story making the rounds on social media, and thought I’d take a minute to share it myself. Because it’s a perfect antidote for those moments when the world seems to be an endless sea of folks who think that Jurassic Park is an old movie.

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I feel you, Sam.

The story was published on May 9 of this year on Omaha.com, and the headline alone is a thing of beauty and a joy forever: “The story of the Nebraska fourth-graders who became obsessed with silent cinema”. That’s almost enough right there, but let’s go on: Continue reading

Bert Williams: Vaudeville Superstar

If you have even a passing interest in learning about vaudeville–that hugely influential form of entertainment that today’s pop culture wouldn’t be the same without–and indeed want to acquaint yourself with early stage shows in general, there’s one name in particular that you should know: Bert Williams.

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Oh yes, I can sense you raising your eyebrows right now–Williams (who himself was black) is in that cringeworthy blackface makeup, white gloves and all. This was how he appeared on the stage, and how audiences recognized him. But this man was much more than a dated makeup–this was a performer who transcended a stock character appearance by his sheer talent and charisma, and became one of the most successful performers of his time. A performer so beloved, that after his sudden death in 1922 from pneumonia over 5,000 fans filed past his casket.  Continue reading

My Top 5 Favorite Silent Stars

Hola! I’ve been out of town for a awhile but am back just in time for the Five Stars Blogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe, celebrating National Classic Movie Day–my kind of holiday!

In true Silent-ology style, I decided to focus on my top 5 utmost favorites from the silent era, rather than film in general. So let’s count down to number 1: Continue reading