Thoughts On: “Chaplin” (1992)

With the biopic Stan and Ollie now in theaters (although not playing anywhere near me, sadly) I thought I’d take a look at one of the more well-known silent star biopics, Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin. Most old movie fans seem to love it. As for me? Well, read on!

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Biopics are a dicey genre. How do you, say, capture a legendary talent from a century ago and showcase him to modern audiences, especially if many of them (likely) haven’t seen one of his films? Naturally, an overview of his entire career is a lot to ask–after all, there were tons of personal and professional events packed into those decades, and it would be tough to do justice to all of them.

Well, Richard Attenborough saw your reservations, and decided to raise you a busy tour throughout the entire life of Charlie Chaplin, ups and downs and all. And if you ask classic film fans about this biopic today, most seem to think it’s the best–why, it has great performances! Moving moments! It’s a fascinating, touching experience! It’s the bee’s knees to most folks, is what I’ve gathered.

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As you’re suspecting, I don’t have quite the same enthusiasm towards the 2 1/2 hour film, nor do I exactly understand why so many fans accept it so uncritically. There’s plenty I do like about it, but too much of it is bothersome to be a definitive look at the great comedian’s story–in my humble opinion. Continue reading

Book Review: “Mabel Normand: The Life and Career of a Hollywood Madcap”

Decades before the likes of Lucille Ball, there was another comedienne who was every bit as well known and influential–the “madcap” Mabel Normand. She was one of the earliest screen comediennes, and for a time was the biggest. She coached Roscoe Arbuckle and directed Charlie Chaplin when they first arrived at Keystone. She was loved by moviegoers the world over. And yet, strangely, almost no books have been written about her. One “major” biography came out over 20 years ago, and…left a lot to be desired. (References and bibliographies are useful things.)

But cue the trumpets, for at long last a new biography is coming out, the result of seven years’ worth of research by author and enthusiastic fan Timothy Dean Lefler. It’s detailed, it’s sourced, it even has appendices. It gives Mabel the kind of thorough appreciation that’s been needed for decades. Is it, perhaps, definitive? Well, let’s take a look. Continue reading

Fantabulous Ford Sterling

Back when I first started watching Keystones, one thing that threw me right away was the over-the-top “mugging” of some of the actors. Seeing adults hop around like cartoon characters and make faces that toddlers would consider beneath them was startling, to say the least. While the sheer old-timey-ness of it was admittedly glorious, it sure took some getting used to.

Charlie grimacing like ford

Geez, Charlie.

Probably the worst offender for me at first was the energetic young Al St. John. His grimaces and hyperactivity drove me crazy…

Al st. john goofy grin

Geez, Al.

…until I started getting more acquainted with him. After awhile I started to see that hey, he was a great acrobat and had a nice screen presence. And heck, his crazy style could be darn funny. Almost in spite of myself, I became a fan. And at one point I thought to myself, “Past Me wouldn’t have expected this, but I really like Al St. John now…however, if there’s anything on God’s green earth I do know…

“…it’s that I’ll never like that friggin’ Ford Sterling.”

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Thoughts On “Bangville Police”

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).

Bangville title

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

Mack Sennett, King of Comedy

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?

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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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