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 →
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.
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 →
Today, August 3, is the 103rd anniversary of when Keystone was officially incorporated on paper. Let’s celebrate by examining the life of the laugh company’s founder, Mack Sennett!
[Edit: I’m proud to say that this is also my 100th post! Woo-hoo!!]
Of all the bona fide legends of the silent film era–which include Eric von Stroheim, D.W. Griffith, George Méliès, Abel Gance, et al.–one of the most important is comedy pioneer Mack Sennett. Most people recognize his name, but the man himself is a bit elusive. What’s the story behind this person whose studio produced over a 1,000 films back in the early days of Hollywood?
This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of The Keaton Chronicle, a quarterly publication of the International Buster Keaton Society.I am beyond pleased to be presenting it here on Silent-ology, with a couple bonus photos and clippings too!
If you ask Buster Keaton fans to name their favorite leading lady, chances are they’ll respond right away with “Sybil Seely.” Charming, natural and gracefully spirited, the brunette ingénue appeared in only five shorts with Buster but has been leaving a fresh impression on viewers ever since.
Even with all the praise, little has been known about Sybil. Who was this young woman who just happened to enhance some of the greatest short comedies of all time? Continue reading →
Have you ever wanted to experience the supreme satisfaction of smooshing someone right in the kisser with a great big custard-y pie just like one of those old-time screen comedians?…Always, you say? Well, now you can, with the following handy recipe!
When I watched the Keystone comedy short The Gusher (1913), starring Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling, there was a shot so goofily sublime that I just had to do a screengrab and keep it forever. It has a bowler-hatted villain, an appropriately villainous mustache, a evil grin and a raging inferno. Yes. Continue reading →
Today, February 2nd, is a day of tremendous importance to film history fans.
Wait, let’s edit that–it’s a day of importance to film fans in general. And who among us isn’t a fan of film?
On this very day one hundred years ago a film was released by the Keystone Film Company. It was called Making a Living, and it contained the very first film appearance of Charles Spencer Chaplin. Continue reading →