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

Obscure Films: “Egged On” (1926)

 To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
–Thomas Edison

Skipping madly ahead of the lingering shadow of World War I, the 1920s was a time of optimism, invention, art, and ever-increasing speed. With its marvelous “modern conveniences” and improvements in nearly every aspect of living, it must’ve seemed like a veritable golden age of innovation.

Its atmosphere was also infused with whimsy and wonder. Many people had grown up with “fairy plays” and circuses, and comic strips dabbled in absurdity and surrealism. Puns and tall-tale style jokes were popular, and comedy films needn’t be logical as long as they were amusing.

screenshot EggedOn 2

Logic is never the point.

Only in this atmosphere could someone like Charley Bowers thrive–an animator (and former head of the Mutt & Jeff cartoon studio) whose oddball visions found a perfect home in cutting-edge stop motion animation. A figure only moderately known in his day and then completely forgotten until his rediscovery in the 1960s, Charley appeared in a series of live action “Whirlwind Comedies” enlivened by stop motion–which he dubbed his “Bowers Process.” My personal favorite of the surviving “novelties” is the ever-wondrous and quirky Egged On (1926). Continue reading

Obscure Films: “The Policemen’s Little Run” (1907)

Need a little pick-me-up after a long, hard day? Looking for some good old-fashioned slapstick nonsense that’s blissfully short? Have a particular craving for, say, a 1900s French comedy short that your friends (and possibly you) have never heard of?

Well that’s easy enough–The Policemen’s Little Run (1907) it is!

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Seen here in blurrymotion.

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Win The Blu-ray Set “The Extraordinary World Of Charley Bowers” And Rediscover A Quirky Forgotten Genius!

UPDATE 7/18/19: And the winner of the Charley Bowers Blu-ray set is….

David Grigg

Congratulations David! We will be in touch. I hope you enjoy these Charley Bowers shorts as much as I do! And thank you to all who entered–this was a popular giveaway!

Calling all silent comedy fans!! Flicker Alley has a very exciting new release: a Blu-ray set of 17 shorts by the one and only Charley Bowers! And when I say “one and only,” CharleyBowers-PreviewimageI’m not just using a cliché–obscure comedian Bowers was truly one of the silent era’s most, err, creative individuals. Not familiar with this highly unique genius? (Admittedly, most people on the planet are not. Sadly.) Allow me to give you a brief introduction:

A former cartoonist, Bowers became the head animator for the 1910s Mutt and Jeff cartoon series before becoming fascinated with stop motion animation. In the mid-1920s he created a series of comedy shorts starring himself as a vaguely Keatonesque character with a love of crazy inventions. These shorts were basically showcases for his “Bowers process,” as he grandly dubbed his stop motion animation skills. In the trades they were advertised as “Whirlwind Comedies.” Continue reading

Fan Magazine Fun: “The Five Funniest Things In The World”

Whilst perusing old issues of Photoplay magazine, this little article caught my silent comedy-loving eye: “The Five Funniest Things In The World.” “Funniest Things” meaning “the top 5 gags guaranteed to make folks laugh.” Being written at the late date of 1918–and that is late, considering how fast screen comedy evolved–I knew it probably wouldn’t list banana peel gags or pie throwing. (I’d like to go back in time, stand in a room full of Edwardian film critics, say “CUSTARD PIE” and watch all the eyes roll.)

Hmm, so what were considered the funniest gags ever, from the viewpoint of our worldly-wise Photoplay writer Homer Croy?

Well, for starters, pie throwing.

funniest things 4

Well okay, then.

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Who Is Douglas MacLean (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?

Okay, in this context “everybody” means “a decent selection of the silent film community.” And if you’re part of that decent selection, you might’ve already heard: Undercrank Productions is bringing two Douglas MacLean features to DVD!! With the help of fine fans like yourself, of course.

Douglas MacLean in One a Minute (1921)

I’m sensing a lot of you are thinking: “Wait, who?” An understandable question. In an age when someone like Harry Langdon is deemed obscure, Douglas MacLean is practically obsolete. But that’s exactly why two of his surviving features should find new audiences. Like the work of other obscure figures such as Alice Howell and Marcel Perez, it shines a new light into some of the hidden nooks and crannies of early cinema. Continue reading

DVD Review: “The Alice Howell Collection”

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Do you love exploring silent comedy? How about getting to know obscure silent performers? If your answer to both questions is “Heck yes!” (and why wouldn’t it be?) then you’ll probably be excited about the latest DVD set by Ben Model’s Undercrank ProductionsThe Alice Howell Collection. 

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BLOGATHON UPDATE: Less Than Two Weeks Until Busterthon Five!

Happy Friday, all! It’s hard to believe, but the anticipated Buster Blogathon V is only ten days away!

Busterthon 5-4

This year we have a lot of Busterthon regulars as well as some new faces. A hearty welcome to all–this event is shaping up to be as exciting and enlightening as previous years! Continue reading

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

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Fifth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon!

Hear ye, hear ye! I am pleased to announce the return of Silent-ology’s prestigious blogathon, devoted to that inimitable thespian of the enigmatic visage and whimsical porkpie chapeau, the singular Joseph Frank Keaton:

Busterthon 5-1

Can you believe this blogathon is in its fifth year? I can hardly believe it myself. (That also means my blog is about to turn 5 years old–I can hardly believe that, too!) And thus, once again I would like to extend the cordial invitation to all my fellow film bloggers to join in this annual celebration of everything Buster Keaton–one of the most important and unique figures in cinematic history.

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