(Supposedly) Lost Films: “In The Clutches Of A Gang” (1914)

It’s one of the most famous photos from silent comedy. Or from the silent era itself. Or, heck, from cinema itself. It’s the image that probably leaps to mind when you say “Keystone Kops.”

Keystone Kops | Description, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

This one!

It’s also key to what I think is the ultimate championship trivia question: “This famous still comes from which lost film?” The winning answer–major props if you know it–is “In the Clutches of a Gang!” *Cue lots of applause and money showering from the ceiling*

For being such a wildly famous image, it’s surprising that In the Clutches of a Gang (1914) isn’t better known–as a title, at any rate. After all, the film itself has been lost for many decades, yet another casualty of delicate nitrate paired with the relentless march of time. What a pity that such a tantalizing piece of slapstick history should have been so thoroughly, and regrettably, lost.

OR HAS IT?! Continue reading

Silent-ology Recommends: “CHASE! A Tribute To The Keystone Cops”

Hold the candlestick phone! Another new book on silent comedy is available to brighten our bookshelves? And it’s the first-ever book on the Keystone Cops?!

26 Best keystone cops images | Keystone cops, Cops, Silent film

“It is? Seriously?

Why yes indeed! I’m happy to help spread the word that the fine new book CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops is now available from BearManor Media. It represents a dream team effort by a number of historians and writers, all compiled by editors Lon and Debra Davis. Many of the names you probably know already: Sam Gill, Joe Adamson, Michael J. Hayde, Rob King, Mark Pruett, Chris Seguin, Paul E. Gierucki, John Bengtson, Randy Skretvedt, Rob Farr, Brent E. Walker, Mark Wanamaker, Stanley W. Todd, Lon Davis himself, and Lea Stans.

Wait–Lea Stans? Why yes, that is me, and I’m very proud to announce that this is the first time my writing is appearing in a good ol’ turn-the-pages book! Continue reading

Book Review: “Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle” by Steve Massa

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Back when I first got into silent comedy, it wasn’t long before I became a fan of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. I’d heard his name all my life thanks to the infamous 1921 scandal (you’ve probably heard he was acquitted), but he always seemed like more of a shadowy figure than a real man, a sort of “character” from that misty, quasi-mythical era of “Classic Films.” Thanks mainly to the wonderful DVD set of Arbuckle comedies by CineMuseum–I plug them because I love them!–I discovered that this “Fatty” was not only a very real individual, but genuinely funny, very funny. And like all fans in the know, I only call him “Roscoe.”

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, c. 1920.

So I was thrilled to hear that comedy historian Steve Massa, author of Slapstick Divas and Lame Brains and Lunatics, has a brand new book about this great comedian’s career: Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle. (Don’t you love that cover?) If there’s anything I enjoy as much as watching silent comedies, it’s reading about silent comedies–and studying the colorful, hardworking personalities behind them. Continue reading

9 Treasures From The NFPF Site

Love cinema, especially obscure cinema? So do I, obviously. I’m always on the hunt for all things quaint and curious, and aside from those random YouTube playlists, there’s one site in particular that has a fascinating library of free films that I highly recommend: The National Film Preservation Foundation’s website.

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This foundation, as you suspect, does God’s work. As their site describes:

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. We support activities nationwide that preserve American films and improve film access for study, education, and exhibition…Our top priority is saving American films that would be unlikely to survive without public support. Over the past decade, we have developed grant programs to help archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, and universities preserve films and make them available for study and research. Our grants distribute federal funds secured through the leadership of the Library of Congress and preservation services donated by public-spirited laboratories and post-production houses. Congress increased the authorization for this work in 2005 and 2008. Every penny of these federal funds goes out to the field and we raise operational support from other sources.

Comedies, dramas, cartoons, documentaries, avant-garde, westerns–you can find a little of everything on the NFPF’s site, most films being from the early 20th century. Since it contains a good helping of silents, I thought I’d share nine of my favorite finds (so far). Think of it as suggestions for a DIY at-home film festival: Continue reading

Obscure Films: “A Bear Affair” (1915)

Picture a fast-paced silent film scene where one character chases another with a gun blazing. Bullets fly, characters panic, and the editing is fast and furious Picturing something from a Western? Maybe even a Roaring Twenties gangster shootout?

Nope, just a typical scene from a 1910s Keystone comedy, where people fire guns like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and bullets do less damage than gnat bites. This particular scene’s from a short known only by the most hardcore silent comedy aficionados, A Bear Affair (1915). Oh, and the actor brandishing the gun? That would be the actress Louise Fazenda, one of the toughest and most good-natured slapstick comediennes of the silent era.

Louise Fazenda 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

Obscure Films: “Shot In The Excitement” (1914)

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

Hats Off To Charlie Murray

Among the ranks of the Forgotten Comedians there were many whose talents admittedly didn’t stand the test of time. They may have lacked charisma, or weren’t particularly unique, or maybe their films were uninspired. Their obscurity today is unfortunate, but understandable. But then there are others who were not only talented, but had personalities so colorful, so larger-than-life, that their obscurity is really almost inexplicable. Charlie Murray is one of these.


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Thoughts On “The Knockout” (1914)

If you’re already a big silent comedy fan, you might recognize The Knockout as being the one Keystone Walter Kerr used in his beloved book The Silent Clowns to illustrate how supposedly “unfunny” early Sennett films were. (And if you’re just starting to learn about silent comedy, I’m excited to be introducing you to The Knockout!) After describing the plot in some detail (“cowardice and belligerence alternate with indifferent logic through the balance of the twenty-minute film”), Kerr concludes with these observations: “It is probable that, except for an innovative detail here and there, the substance of this’plot’ doesn’t strike you as particularly funny. My point is that it isn’t, not through today’s eyes.”

So let it be written.

Walter Kerr, I love your book. The Silent Clowns is one of the most beautifully-written and thoughtful works of film criticism I’ve ever seen. You have inspired me, moved me, and made me think…but I think you’re wrong about The Knockout.  Continue reading