Do you love exploring silent comedy? How about getting to know obscure silent performers? If your answer to both questions is “Heck yes!” (and why wouldn’t it be?) then you’ll probably be excited about the latest DVD set by Ben Model’s Undercrank Productions: The Alice Howell Collection.
Nowadays there’s a lot of hubbub about actresses in modern comedies, with plenty of well-meaning people proclaiming that the existence of Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig proves that, at last, folks are figuring out that ladies can be funny too! It only took 130 years, y’all! No one has ever, ever noticed this before, and no, I’ve never heard of Mabel Normand or seen I Love Lucy, why do you ask?
“…Oh. But that was, like, in black and white.”
But, as the introduction to James L. Neibaur’s latest book The Hal Roach Shorts of Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly points out, the funny ladies of film have been with us far longer than that–since the darn dawn of cinema, I would add. A few perfect examples from the Golden Age of Comedy are Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts, and Patsy Kelly, who starred together in a number of shorts in the 1930s (Todd and Pitts were a comedy team for a few years; when Pitts left the Roach studio in 1933 Patsy Kelly took over her half of the team). While there are a couple biographies of ZaSu available and several about Thelma (due to her tragic death in 1935), Neibaur’s book is the first to examine the short comedies of these frequently overlooked comediennes. Continue reading →
It not easy bein’ Larry Semon–not only is he almost completely forgotten, but the few who watch his work will often just scour it for evidence of why he’s ranked below the Big Four of silent comedy (Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd and Langdon). “Sure, he was super popular back in the day,” they’ll say, “and okay, his popularity even rivaled Chaplin in some areas–butdid he create a cinematic masterpiece worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as The Godfather and Tokyo Story?…yeah, I didn’t think so.”
It’s not like naysayers don’t have a point–Semon’s work can get pretty goofy, and he had a fondness for repeating certain gags almost ad nauseum (although this is more obvious when you’ve watched a bunch of his shorts in a row). He especially loved people falling into puddles, gals flying off swings, and birds doing various unsettling things (such as spitting out streams of water, because birds can do that, as everyone knows).
Ah, the ol’ “rooster drinking nitro glycerin” gag!
But what’s with this disdain for comedies that haven’t made it to “Best of…” lists? Why not just have fun watching something that was never meant to be taken too seriously to begin with? After all, it’s not like you’d limit all your feature films solely to entries on the Sight and Sound lists–right? Continue reading →
We silent fans all know a certain type of person. This is that person who, when you share your deep and abiding love of movies made before the Great Depression, chortles incredulously. When he realizes you’re being serious, he tries to feign interest in your quaint obsession with cobbled-together Victorian melodramas (as he assumes) and nods obligingly as you try to find words to describe the wonder and excitement of that pioneering era. (This is always when regular ol’ words fail you, too.)
You probably know more than one of these people. Okay, quite a few of these people. Alright, just about everyone you come into contact with during your daily life.
I feel ya, classical statue.
What to do, then, when you’re aching to share your passion for movies that most uninitiated friends and family dismiss with an eyeroll? Continue reading →
Greetings, lovers of pratfalls and other priceless bits of physical comedy! This post is especially for MovieMovieBlogBlog‘s See You In The Fall ‘thon. Thanks for taking the time to enjoy this post–I hope you check out all the others too!
When I saw that my friend Steve was hosting a blogathon devoted to favorite moments in physical comedy, one scene jumped to my mind right away. But just before putting my fingers to the keyboard, I told myself, “Now, wait a sec. Let’s sift through some other favorite moments first, in case there’s another one out there that’s equally hilarious and inspiring and will cause rivulets of scintillating wit and insight to flow from your brain and become immortalized on the softly glowing laptop screen. And calm down, already.”
But it was useless to resist. Simply useless. My favorite scene in silent comedy, for sheer laughs, and for sheer novelty value when it comes to the presence of a certain comedian, is–and probably always will be–the “flirting scene” from Roscoe Arbuckle’s Good Night, Nurse! (1918).
In these first weeks of September 2015, silent Hollywood lost two more of its own. On September 4th Jean Darling, one of the child actors in “Our Gang” shorts during the late ’20s, passed away at the age of 93. Not long after this news sunk in (and before I had time to post an appropriate piece on Jean), another Our Gang alumni passed away on September 10: 89-year-old Dickie Moore, who debuted in silent films as a baby and starred in the famous series during the Depression era.
If you are intent on becoming a Keystone Film Company afficionado, as most people are, am I right, an essential film to have under your belt is the cute and charming split-reeler Bangville Police (1913).
This might be the film that you most often hear associated with the Keystone Kops, even though it was made relatively early in Keystone’s history. In 1913, Sennett’s company was still getting its footing, although its popularity was beginning to skyrocket. Continue reading →
Greetings and welcome to…KEYSTONE MONTH!! (There are simply not enough exclamation points.) Let’s get this extended tribute to the comedy company started with some background and historic context (two of my favorite things!).
I am pleased to be a part of the Shorts! Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently. Thank you so much for stopping by, blogathon readers–make yourself comfortable and be sure to check out all of the other great posts this weekend too!
Hold onto your too-small derbies, folks! It’s time to turn your attention to one of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s most overlooked short comedies–a two-reel gem. (Although, in fairness, Roscoe could’ve turned any film into a comedy gem just by wandering into it by accident.) The film is His Wife’s Mistake (1916), and why no one ever seems to discuss it is beyond me.
One of the best things about getting into silent comedy is that once you’ve had some hearty helpings of the essentials–Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd–you can start exploring with confidence. What overlooked series will help you unwind after a day at work? What obscure comedian will end up being one of your favorite actors? Which stock company looks like it had the most fun?
Of course, the answer to the latter is always going to be Keystone.
Thanks to our friends over at Undercrank Productions (who have worked wonders with Kickstarter), we now have another fine comedian’s work to explore–“International Mirth-Maker” Marcel Perez. Continue reading →