Learning To Laugh At Larry Semon

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–but did 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

Book Review: “Larry Semon, Daredevil Comedian of the Silent Screen”

I sometimes wonder: If comedian Larry Semon had been completely forgotten over the years–that is, if he hadn’t been discussed by Walter Kerr in The Silent Clowns, and hadn’t been mentioned by people like Buster Keaton, and hadn’t had public domain copies of his films passed around over the decades–in short, if he’d been relegated to the kind of obscurity once shared by Charley Bowers, Marcel Perez, and Musty Suffer, would we look at his films today and think, “Wow, this guy’s a great performer–why haven’t I heard of him before?” Continue reading

Were Chaplin And Keaton Rivals?

One question that pops up now and then among silent comedy fans–on message boards, in Facebooks groups, or even in those old-fashioned face-to-face conversations–is the following: “Were Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton rivals?”

It seems like a straightforward thing to ask. Were these two famous, brilliant comedians in active competition to top each other’s films throughout the 1920s? If those Chaplin vs. Keaton fan arguments are any indication, the logical answer must be “yes.”

Artwork by Damian Blake.

An artist’s representation. (By the uber-talented Damian Blake.)

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