To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
Skipping madly ahead of the lingering shadow of World War I, the 1920s was a time of optimism, invention, art, and ever-increasing speed. With its marvelous “modern conveniences” and improvements in nearly every aspect of living, it must’ve seemed like a veritable golden age of innovation.
Its atmosphere was also infused with whimsy and wonder. Many people had grown up with “fairy plays” and circuses, and comic strips dabbled in absurdity and surrealism. Puns and tall-tale style jokes were popular, and comedy films needn’t be logical as long as they were amusing.
Logic is never the point.
Only in this atmosphere could someone like Charley Bowers thrive–an animator (and former head of the Mutt & Jeff cartoon studio) whose oddball visions found a perfect home in cutting-edge stop motion animation. A figure only moderately known in his day and then completely forgotten until his rediscovery in the 1960s, Charley appeared in a series of live action “Whirlwind Comedies” enlivened by stop motion–which he dubbed his “Bowers Process.” My personal favorite of the surviving “novelties” is the ever-wondrous and quirky Egged On (1926). Continue reading →
UPDATE 7/18/19: And the winner of the Charley Bowers Blu-ray set is….
Congratulations David! We will be in touch. I hope you enjoy these Charley Bowers shorts as much as I do! And thank you to all who entered–this was a popular giveaway!
Calling all silent comedy fans!! Flicker Alley has a very exciting new release: a Blu-ray set of 17 shorts by the one and only Charley Bowers! And when I say “one and only,” I’m not just using a cliché–obscure comedian Bowers was truly one of the silent era’s most, err, creative individuals. Not familiar with this highly unique genius? (Admittedly, most people on the planet are not. Sadly.) Allow me to give you a brief introduction:
A former cartoonist, Bowers became the head animator for the 1910s Mutt and Jeff cartoon series before becoming fascinated with stop motion animation. In the mid-1920s he created a series of comedy shorts starring himself as a vaguely Keatonesque character with a love of crazy inventions. These shorts were basically showcases for his “Bowers process,” as he grandly dubbed his stop motion animation skills. In the trades they were advertised as “Whirlwind Comedies.” Continue reading →
One of my absolute favorites among all the obscure comedians is Charley Bowers, a man once so thoroughly forgotten that it’s remarkable he was ever rediscovered. Were it not for the director of the Cinemathèque de Toulouse, Raymond Borde, who bought some old film cans from a carnival and noticed one marked “Bricolo,” we might not have Bowers’s work today. And what a darn shame that would be.
We would not, for instance, get to see eggs hatch into tiny Model T Fords, or broomstick ostriches dance to a Victrola, or pussy willow branches blossom into live pussy cats. We would miss out on gangs of thuggish oysters and singing, dancing drops of petroleum. The world would be a little less surreal.
So awhile back, when I was planning a trip to San Francisco with two of my best friends, little did I expect that the dates we chose would just happen to coincide with a very cool event. Which event? Why, nothing less than one of the very best silent film festivals this planet has to offer–the San Francisco Silent Film Festival!
Once I knew this, I just had to go, because A) it was the SFSFF, and B) believe it or not, obsessive-early-film-watching me had never been to a silent film festival before. The closest I ever got were my occasional late night Keystone binges accompanied by cheesy popcorn. (Oh…and my numerous Comique binges. Also accompanied by cheesy popcorn.) I had feverishly sought out any elusive silents that played in theaters near me, but bona fide festivals always seemed to be held on the other side of the country.
Since me and my friends were going to be sight-seeing and creating lasting memories together and all that jazz, I decided to spend only a limited time at the festival. But that would be more than satisfactory. Continue reading →