One of the cherries on top of the Comique sundae, The Cook is a giddy, determinedly free-spirited short that features Roscoe being an impromptu Salome, Buster Egyptian-dancing with careless abandon, and Luke the dog saving the day. It also features Goatland, and lemme tellya, more amusement parks could stand to have a Goatland. We’re missing out, my friends.
Following Comique’s move to the sunny spaces of California, the hits just kept coming. Moonshine is another highlight in Arbuckle’s filmography, considered to be one of the cleverest fourth-wall-breaking satires in Edwardian cinema. It’s also a bit of an anomaly in Arbuckle’s work, so it’s not hard to guess that Buster had a big hand in its ideas.
The ambitious western parody Out West is one of the most under-analyzed of the Comiques, although it’s sure been widely discussed. This is because of a stunningly racist scene halfway through the film, which tends to, shall we say, distract us from the rest of the content. But that content is important because, as I’m going to argue, it could well contain the clearest early example of Buster Keaton’s influence on the Comiques.
For decades, Coney Island was one of the most-watched Comiques, thanks to 16mm copies being in the public domain. Since few other Arbuckle films were available, it was sometimes cited as the “only” film where Buster actually smiled on camera–not true, as we’ve seen. Still, we’re lucky the lovable, crowd-pleasing Coney Island got to be one of those available few. It’s not only very funny, but treats us to all the period charm of an Edwardian afternoon at the famed amusement park.
Comique number four, and number three in terms of Buster Keaton appearances, was the cheekily-titled His Wedding Night–which of course offers nothing salacious. While not usually considered one of Arbuckle’s more outstanding works, it offers loads of fun gags and some “I can’t believe I’m seeing this” Buster scenes. Continue reading →
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)
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 →
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.
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 farinferior to Buster’s own 1920s shorts. Continue reading →
This is my own post for the Third Annual Busterthon–hope you enjoy!
It’s one of the most famous scenes in all of silent comedy–the “can of molasses” scene from the Roscoe Arbuckle short The Butcher Boy (1917). This had the honor of being former vaudevillian Buster Keaton’s very first scene ever committed to celluloid. He always spoke of it with fondness and in his later years he enjoyed reenacting it for TV shows. And significantly, he would say that it had been done in one take. He’s often quoted from his autobiography, My Wonderful World of Slapstick:
Incidentally, I’ve been told that my first scene in The Butcher Boy is still the only movie-comedy scene ever made with a newcomer that was photographed only once. In other words my film debut was made without a single retake. p. 93.
Having watched The Butcher Boy approximately 458 times, I now wonder: if we examined the gag frame-by-frame, could we discover how this seemingly simple scene was put together? And was the entire molasses scene done in one take? Can we spot any clues that would prove it? Clear your schedules, my friends, ’cause this is about to get detailed.
There are some silent comedy shorts that are so of-their-time silly that you aren’t sure if a newbie could handle them. They’d probably think to themselves, “This is what silent comedy was like? Lots of grimacing and flailing around? Humor was, like, so primitive back then. And look at those special effects–why did they even bother before CGI?”
Um, CGI could never improve on Al St. John, for one thing.
What this newbie doesn’t know is that there’s more to these “primitive” comedies than meets the eye. Well, a little more, anyways. If you chuck aside your “21st century cynicism” glasses for about 15 minutes, you can have a delightful time experiencing the supreme Awesomeness of a short like Shot in the Excitement (1914). Allow me to give you a tour. Continue reading →