(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

DVD Review: “The Douglas MacLean Collection”

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Looking for something new to watch (for obvious reasons)? Maybe you want to supplement your fabulous at-home silent film festival? I’m happy to announce that the inimitable Undercrank Productions has delivered yet again with their new release–The Douglas MacLean Collection, funded by fans on Kickstarter (like me!). Continue reading

The Sixth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon

UPDATE: Just put up a couple more posts, check them out! Apparently WordPress likes to add some comments to the spam folder for no discernible reason. 😉 Since there might be another late post or two still trickling in, I’m going to give everyone a little extra time and hold the drawing for the gift certificate tomorrow (the 12th) instead of today. Many thanks, everybody!

Aaaaand we’re back! Welcome, my friends, to:

Busterthon 6 2

I feel like the past year really flew by, didn’t it? And now our ‘thon is on year 6–I can hardly believe it, folks! A hearty “Welcome Back” to all my regular readers who’ll be checking out the blogathon this weekend, and a big “Welcome!” to all new readers! Every year many talented bloggers take part in this big Buster Keaton celebration, and it’s always exciting to see what fun, informative, and even heartfelt posts are in store.

This year is extra special since our blogathon is proudly being sponsored by the famed International Buster Keaton Society, which has worked for over 25 years to preserve Buster’s films and share his extraordinary work with new generations of fans. I’ve enjoyed their annual convention and have also written for the Keaton Chronicle, so I can say from personal experience that you couldn’t ask for a lovelier group of Buster superfans. I’ll go ahead and plug the fact that you, too, can become a Damfino–memberships are inexpensive, and you’ll be playing a small role in keeping Buster’s legacy thriving!

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Bloggers: Please send me the link to your post whenever it’s ready today or tomorrow (and thanks to those of you who sent me a link early!). I’ll be updating periodically throughout the blogathon. Don’t forget that I’ll be holding a drawing for the participants, too! The winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to the Damfinos’ online Buster store. The drawing will be held on Thursday, March 12th–I’ll be in touch with the winner!

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Readers: Drop by often today and tomorrow to see the latest posts–and don’t forget that we bloggers love comments!

And if you’re curious, here are the links to the First, SecondThird, Fourth and Fifth Annual Buster Blogathons–a veritable library of all things Buster!

Alright, get cozy on your couch and let’s start reading!!

The Roster:

Silent-ology | Reviewing all of Buster’s 1930s Educational shorts

MovieMovieBlogBlogIIThe General

Cameras Against Humanity | Keaton and the Kuleshov Effect

Big V Riot SquadThe Saphead

MovieRobThe Stolen Jools

and The Navigator

Thoughts of One Truly LovedThe Navigator

Groovy Like a Silent Movie | Essay on Buster’s fandom

Ben Model’s Blog | “Buster Keaton Inspires Don Lockwood” essay

and “Undercranking Study: Buster Keaton Trails a Suspect” essay

Taking Up RoomIn the Good Old Summertime

Wonderful World of CinemaDay Dreams

Movie Crash CourseThe General

The Everyday CinephileThe Cameraman

Century Film ProjectConvict 13

Way Too Damn Lazy To Write a BlogSpeak Easily 

Critica RetroSherlock Jr

Talk About CinemaThe Railrodder and Buster Keaton Rides Again

Silver17 Productions | Fan trailer for The Cook

Kino JoanSherlock Jr

 

Obscure Films: “The Extraordinary Adventures Of Mr. West In The Land Of The Bolsheviks” (1924)

So you think you have a decent understanding of Soviet cinema. Clever uses of montage? Check. Operatic storytelling? Check. Propaganda? Check. Maybe a tragic ending? Check. Those shots of people with alarmingly big smiles, usually because a tractor’s on the way to the collective farm or something? Double check!

Then along comes a film like The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) (maybe the long title parodies dime novels?) and turns many of those stereotypes on their heads.

Image result for extraordinary adventures of mr west

Image credit: Senses of Cinema

…Or does it?
Continue reading

Interview With Steve Massa, Author of “Rediscovering Roscoe”

Silent-ology is pleased to present this exclusive interview with the prolific silent comedy historian Steve Massa, author of the new book Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle. We talk about why a book on Roscoe’s films was overdue, about his considerable directorial skills, about his wonderful friendship with Buster and Al St. John, and just how many hours he would put into filming a single difficult gag…and more!

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887-1933) - Find A Grave Memorial

I must say, after the impressively hefty Slapstick Divas volume I was surprised (and delighted) to see another sizable book from you so soon! How long has Rediscovering Roscoe been in the works?

I have to say that I was a bit surprised too at how hefty Rediscovering Roscoe turned out to be. It was originally planned to be a smaller format book, like Lame Brains and Lunatics and Divas, but it grew too large. I got very lucky finding material and I wanted each film entry to be as thorough as possible. Every one would have credits, cast, working title, contemporary reviews, and archive sources, in addition to a commentary on surviving films and as much as I could find on missing ones. I have to admit that I “borrowed” the format of the book from Rob Stone’s excellent Laurel or Hardy, one of my favorite film books. Continue reading

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

ReRoscoe_tweaked_wo_colon-FLAT

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

Did Billie Ritchie Really Die From An Ostrich Attack?

In his day, British music hall veteran Billie Ritchie was a popular film comedian with a mighty suspicious resemblance to Charlie Chaplin. Today, he might be best known as the hi-larious answer to a trivia question: Which obscure silent film comedian was kicked to death by an ostrich? Why, poor Billie of course!  (Or maybe it was several ostriches–or maybe they bit him–the trivia question varies.)

Billie Ritchie ostriche pics picgoer July 10 '15

This was taken years before the supposed attack, btw. Pictures and the Picturegoer, July 10 1915.

But maybe, like me, you’re wondering precisely how an ostrich-related injury could lead to someone’s death–a full two years after the fact, mind you. (Didn’t know about that time frame? Yup, it’s true.) And maybe you’re suspicious that the details about the ostriches vary so much–was the unfortunate Billie kicked or mauled by the savage birds? And how many birds were there? One or more than one? Since this is obviously is one of the most debated questions of the modern age, let us examine it more closely. Continue reading