From Pie Throwing To Polished Farce: How Silent Comedy Evolved In Under Two Decades

Say the phrase “silent comedy,” and instantly a host of clichés come to mind–pratfalls, silly mustaches, banana peels, wacky acting, and of course, pie throwing. (Although the latter wasn’t as common as we think).

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50% of silent comedy pies were in this film (maybe).

Of course, there’s more to the huge world of silent comedy than those clichés (not that we don’t love them). From the one-reel farces of Max Linder to the light comedies of John Bunny and Flora Finch to the epic scale of The General, a wide variety of films fit under the “laughmaker” label, and this is partly because there were distinct trends in comedy that evolved just as quickly as cinema did itself. Continue reading

Thoughts On: “Shoulder Arms” (1918)

On this day back in 1918, the French cruiser Dupetit-Thouars was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine, and the Second Battle of the Marne ended.

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When Chaplin decided in the spring of 1918 that the setting for his next comedy would be the trenches of the Great War, many of his friends and coworkers were concerned. How could anyone insert slapstick routines into such a brutal conflict? How could that possibly be done in good taste?

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As it turns out, they needn’t have worried. The idea was, after all, in the capable hands of Charlie Chaplin itself. The resulting Shoulder Arms (1918) turned out to be both a great success in its time and a classic comedy for us today. Continue reading

DVD Reviews: “The Round Up” (1920) and “London Symphony” (2017)

Spring is finally here! (It sure took awhile to get to my neck of the woods, lemme tellya.) And with that in mind, it’s time to take a look at a couple fresh, new (or pretty new) releases that will make nice additions to the well-curated collection of silents that we all obviously have.

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It’s with a resounding “Hurrah!” that I greet CineMuseum’s newest release, a Blu-ray/DVD combo of Roscoe Arbuckle’s first feature film, The Round Up (1920). If you’ve read any of my Comique Month series from last July, you’ll know that I’m a big Arbuckle fan. So having this charming Western available is a nice boon for my collection. Continue reading

Was Chaplin Really That Sentimental?

You see it pretty often on the Interwebs–folks who, usually while embroiled in one of those “Chaplin vs. Keaton” debates, will state that they like Charlie Chaplin well enough, but he’s “too sentimental.” They will then declare their allegiance to Buster Keaton, or else sigh: “They’re both so awesome, I just can’t choose!”

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Harold Lloyd sits patiently on the sidelines, as usual.

While I guess I understand this viewpoint, I scratch my head over it at times–and not just because I feel that Chaplin’s so-called “sentimental” stories are crafted with sincerity and taste. I’d venture a guess that most people today who watch Chaplin tend to focus on his 1920s-and-beyond work, the favorites being The Gold RushCity Lights, and Modern TimesAnd yes, these films are the go-to examples of his much-analyzed use of “pathos.”

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People can’t get enough of “pathos,” as my scientific graph demonstrates.

But this fabled “sentimental Charlie” we’re familiar with today wasn’t the character that 1910s audiences went crazy over. Quite the opposite, in fact! My friends, if you’re leery of supposed sappiness in Chaplin’s work I must urge you to get acquainted with…Keystone Charlie. Continue reading

A Little Tour For New Readers

Hello all! As Silent-ology continues to try and spread the joy of silent cinema to anyone who happens to stumble by, I’m considering writing brief “welcome” posts like this every once in awhile. I know what it’s like to visit a new blog and feel like someone who just popped into a trendy new cafe and is trying to figure out the complicated chalk-written menu.

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“The menu includes ‘add ons’ AND ‘extras.’ Aren’t they the same thing?!?”

Of course, the “About” page of a blog always helps, but it’s nice to know you’re in the writer’s thoughts right here, right now.

So here’s the most basic tour: I’m interested in pretty much every detail of the entire silent era, so if there’s a topic you’re interested in, there’s a good chance I’ve got it covered–and if not, it’ll likely be written about in the future! Take a look at the My Articles page, or simply use the Search box. I gravitate toward silent comedy a bit more than drama, so searching for “comedians” or “silent comedy” should bring up a lot of results. (There’s oodles of Buster Keaton, by the way–especially since I host an annual Buster blogathon!)

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Buster’s obviously psyched about being so well-represented.

I like to do theme months a couple times a year, and so far these have included: Forgotten comedians, Georges Melies, Mary Pickford, the Comique shorts (made by Roscoe Arbuckle and co-starring Buster Keaton) and my latest, Flapper Month. I also enjoy covering German Expressionism and other silent horror-type films every October, so there’s plenty of tags for those topics too.

If you’re brand new to silent films, you might appreciate these early articles:

But let’s say you already like silents, and are specifically interested in Really Super Old silents. Consider checking out:

Or maybe you want to know more about the early moviegoing scene. You’ll probably enjoy:

Or perhaps you’re looking to learn more about silent era actors. I try to cover both the big personalities and the obscure ones. Here’s a few:

Gravitate toward the artsy side of the era? Take a look at:

Planning a trip to Hollywood? Looking for some tips on finding silent-related sites, and how to get there? I’ve got you covered!

And as long as we’re on the topic of visiting silent Hollywood, if you’re as interested in research as I am, you’ve no doubt heard of the prestigious Margaret Herrick library. Plan on going there one day? Here are some tips on how to do research there:

A Newbie’s Visit To The Margaret Herrick Library

There’s a lot more, of course, but I hope this brief tour was helpful. And as always, feel free to leave comments (even on older articles). We have a very friendly crowd here, so don’t be shy!

Happy reading!

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The Fourth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon

Welcome back, everyone, to the Buster Keaton Blogathon–fourth edition!

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UPDATE 2/13/18 Day two of the blogathon has begun–looking forward to what the day has in store!

Once again we’re paying tribute to one of the most unique and beloved comedians of all time. An excellent variety of topics is being covered, and more are on the way!

Bloggers: Please send me the link to your post whenever it’s ready today or tomorrow. I’ll be updating periodically throughout the blogathon. Don’t forget that I’ll be holding a drawing for all participants, the winner receiving a Blu-ray/DVD of The Saphead! The drawing will be held on February 14 (Valentine’s Day).

Readers: Drop by often to see the latest posts–and don’t forget that we bloggers adore comments. (We adore them almost as much as Buster adored pratfalls.)

And once again, here are the links to the First, Second and Third Annual Buster Blogathons.

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The Roster:

Silent-ology | Recap of the 23rd Annual Buster Keaton Convention 2017

Silver Screenings | College

MovieMovieBlogBlog | The Railrodder and an essay on Buster’s Educational and Columbia sound shorts

Wolffian Classic Movies Digest | The Joys of Silent Comedy essay

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films | Why I Love Buster essay

A Person in the Dark | Yay for the Porkpie Party!

Big Riot V Squad | Buster Goes to War

Silver17 Productions | Trailer for The Rough House

An Ode to Dust | Curating a Buster Keaton retrospective

Grace Kingsley’s Hollywood | Kingsley’s 1920s interviews with Buster

Welcome To My Magick Theatre | Steamboat Bill, Jr

Special Purpose Movie Blog | Twilight Zone episode “Once Upon a Time”

It’s Rob | On visiting Buster’s gravesite

Silent Wierdness | Buster, Roscoe, and Al’s Comique films in New York

Once Upon a Screen | Convict 13

Le Monde de Dyajesse | Reviews of various Buster features (French language)

Senseless Cinema | Buster’s Blockbusters

Critica Retro | The Villain Still Pursued Her

Christina Wehner | Our Hospitality

The Wonderful World of Cinema | The Blacksmith

tgreywolfe | “Visage”–a poem

Old Hollywood Films | The history of the Italian Villa

Movies Meet Match | The General

The Funny (And Forgotten) Stick Figures of Norman Z. McLeod

While combing through an online copy of a 1920s magazine just for amateur movie makers (it’s called, in case you’re curious, Amateur Movie Makers) I stumbled across a name that seemed familiar: “Norman McLeod”. Hmm, why did that ring a bell?

He was mentioned in an article on “art titles” (title cards with illustrations) which referred to “the famous skeleton cartoons” which “were made familiar by the clever pen of Norman McLeod, who has illustrated Christie Comedy titles for a number of years.” (You might be picturing Silly Symphony-style skeletons, but they were actually stick figures.) Having seen a few of the Christie Comedies, I had a little “ah-ha!” moment of now knowing who was behind those funny cartoons.

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Loose Change (1928)

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Book Review: “The Silent Films of Marion Davies” By Edward Lorusso

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For decades, silent star Marion Davies was known mainly for two things: for being the mistress of uber-powerful newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and for supposedly being the inspiration for the untalented Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane. Well, the latter isn’t true–Susan was based on the wife of a different uber-powerful magnate (as Orson Welles himself finally revealed). And as for the former, while Marion was certainly part of a faithful “arrangement” with Hearst right up until his death, it didn’t define her. A look at her films proves that she was a warm, hardworking, immensely talented woman who likely had the charisma to make a name for herself in Hollywood without Hearst’s help. (I’d say she was mighty lucky to have him on her team, but she was already working on her acting career before he swooped in with 5-gallon buckets of money.)

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A Halloween Post Roundup!

Happy Hallowe’en, everyone!

This wonderful illustration is from Dennison’s Bogie Book, a book of Halloween decoration and party ideas that seems to have been published every year, with updates I presume. This comes from the 1925 edition–isn’t it priceless? Here’s another  illustration:

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To celebrate this spooky holiday, here’s a roundup of all my Halloween-inspired posts from the past. Counting my posts from this month, this includes the films: Continue reading

Thoughts On: Keaton’s “The Haunted House” (1921)

Not only was yesterday Buster’s birthday, but this weekend I’ll be heading to Muskegon, Michigan for the official Damfino convention! This will be my very first time at this event (I’m giving a presentation too, so wish me luck!). Thus, it only seemed fitting to start out this Halloween month with one of Buster’s more well-known shorts.

There seemed to be certain plots and tropes that all silent comedians tried out in turn. Everyone did food preparation gags, everyone went to the beach, everyone (everyone) from Harry Langdon to Chaplin himself showed up as a white-clad street cleaner at some point. In 1921, it was Buster Keaton’s turn to try his hand at the familiar gag-rich setting of The Spooky Haunted House.

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