Thoughts On: “The Four Troublesome Heads” (1898)

Well over a century old and only over a minute long, Un homme de têtes is one of Georges Méliès’s earliest and best-known worksI think the French title literally translates to “a man of heads,” but we know it today as The Four Troublesome Heads. Either way it’s one of your oddly blunt 1890s silent film titles. Classic 1890s cinema, am I right? Haw!

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The Third Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon – Celebrating 100 Years of Buster!

IT IS HERE.

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UPDATE 2/21/17: The third and final day of the blogathon is here! New posts are up and ready for viewing, enjoy!

For the third year in a row we’re celebrating the work of our genius in slapshoes, the one and only Buster Keaton. His work is timeless, his mark on film history irreplaceable, and of course, he was the master of making us laugh. And this time around we are also commemorating a special year: the centennial of Buster’s entry into films, a milestone year that will never come again.

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100 years ago Buster agreed to play a scene in Roscoe Arbuckle’s brand new Comique two-reeler. And movie audiences have been falling for his talent and humor ever since.

Bloggers: Please send me the link to your post whenever it’s ready today, tomorrow, or Tuesday. I’ll be updating periodically throughout the blogathon. Don’t forget that I’ll be holding a drawing for all participants, the winners receiving a either a $25 gift certificate to Buster Stuff, a copy of Imogene Sara Smith’s book The Persistence of Comedy, or the DVD set Industrial Strength Keaton! The drawing will be held on February 22.

Readers: Drop by often to see the latest posts–and don’t forget that we bloggers adore comments. And when you’re finished reading all the wonderful posts, why not pop in a few Buster films? It’s BK100, y’all–let’s celebrate!

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

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The Roster:

Silent-ology: Analyzing the Molasses Scene From The Butcher Boy 

Silver Screenings: Steamboat Bill, Jr. or Buster Keaton and the Important Things in Life

Special Purpose Movie Blog: The General: Factual or Fictional?

MovieMovieBlogBlog: For the Love of Buster Keaton

Grace Kingsley’s Hollywood: An Early Keaton Fan: Grace Kingsley

Big Riot V Squad: Buster Keaton: From Stage to Screen

Finding Nelson Evans: Keaton’s Leading Ladies in Pictures

Caftan Woman: Review of the books Keep Your Eye on the Kid, Bluffton: My Summer with Buster Keaton, and Keaton Comedies: A Toby Bradley Adventure

Silent Locations: Amazing New Keaton Discoveries: My Wife’s Relations

Life’s Daily Lessons BlogA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum 

Little Bits of Classics: Chaplin and Keaton: Two Friends in the Limelight

Popcorn Optional: Buster Keaton: A Wonderful World of Slapstick

Welcome To My Magick Theatre: Buster Goes to College

Senseless Cinema: The Haunted Worlds of Buster Keaton

An Ode to Dust: Buster Keaton: In the Works (Graphic novel project)

Century Film ProjectOh Doctor!

Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie ReviewsOur Hospitality

Critica Retro: Review of My Wonderful World of Slapstick

The Fyuzhe: On Buster’s Television Work

Hometowns to Hollywood: Buster’s Hometown of Piqua, Kansas

Prince of Hollywood: 100 Years of Buster Keaton: The First Films of a Comedy Legend

The Midnite Drive-In: Twilight Zone episode “Once Upon a Time”

The Scribe Files: Buster, Italian Style (or Due Marines e un Maestro)

Christina Wehner: The Joy of Discovering Buster Keaton

The Wonderful World of Cinema: My First Time With Buster Keaton: One Week

The Lonely CriticThe Navigator

Forever Debonair: The Enduring Work Of Comedy Pioneer Max Linder

At first glance, he appears to be an actor from society dramas. He had perfectly creased trousers, well-shined shoes, a coat and tie, white gloves, and, most impressively of all, a high silk top hat brushed to a fine sheen. But then there’s those big, practically bulging eyes–eyes that could only belong to a comedian.

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These are the eyes of Max Linder, a film comedy pioneer that paved the way for all the great comedians of the silent era and beyond. If there’s a comedy routine you like, chances are Linder got there first. While he isn’t as well-known today as folks like Buster Keaton or Mabel Normand, Linder shares their aura of timelessness. All he needs is to be introduced to new audiences–for who today in this era of steampunk and all things vintage can resist comedies starring a dapper Edwardian gentleman with a tidy mustache and a top hat? Continue reading

In Defense Of “The Big Four” Of Silent Comedy

There’s an old quote you may have heard, attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “…In this world, nothing can said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I’d like to amend that: “…In this world, nothing can said to be certain, except death, taxes, and fans of silent comedy debating about the ranking of the Big Four.” (Or the “Big Three,” for the multitudes of you who haven’t made Harry Langdon an integral part of your lives yet.)

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There’s a reason Harry’s wiping away a tear.

General film enthusiasts take the informal-yet-widespread ranking of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd as the all-time best silent comedians for granted (and more would include Harry if they would actually watch Harry, harumph), but for some time now the tide has been changing among silent comedy fans. It’s not uncommon to find arguments in favor of less emphasis on “The Big Four,” of adding or replacing a comedian or two, or even of ditching the ranking all together. Those in favor of the latter say there were lots of popular comedians back in the silent era, and furthermore, these unjustly overlooked folks could be just as funny as Lloyd or Keaton. Thus, the ranking is unfair and not even historically accurate. Right? Continue reading

Obscure Films: “Hearts and Flowers” (1919)

This is the final post for Forgotten Comedians Month. This past August was successful indeed–the heartiest of thanks to everyone who’s been following along these last few weeks! I’m sure Charlie Murray, Gale Henry, Musty Suffer, Charley Bowers, Louise Fazenda, and all the other forgotten folk appreciate it. (Oh, and Pimple. We mustn’t forget Pimple.) September’s looking mighty interesting, since in a matter of days a certain important film will be turning 100…

Are you in the mood for a short comedy?  Would you like to watch something that’s off the beaten track? Do you have a hankering to see pompous orchestra leaders, ladies in men’s clothing, bathing beauties playing ball, and flower girls rolling down hills? If so, Hearts and Flowers (1919) may be the short for you!

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Film Fun, 1919.

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Louise Fazenda, Comic Venus

I am pleased to present this (relatively brief!) look at the life and career of the underappreciated Louise Fazenda, one of our earliest and most popular female clowns. I am currently researching Louise in as much depth as I can for a possible book project, so if you or anyone you know has any info on her life and career, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Custard pies, a chase, a fall, mud, a fire hose, soup, a leak in the plumbing, innumerable lost garments, broken dishes, a slide on a cake of soap, mud in the hair, pie in the eyes, soup down the back, a fall into a lake, policemen, a cleaning up, a bucket of suds and a mop, a slavey with a round-eyed, utterly blank expression, a Mack Sennett comedy–Louise Fazenda.

–Allen Corliss, Photoplay

Long before Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett would earn their places in pop culture history, there were a number of comediennes who paved the way for them. The most famous of these was Mabel Normand, the irrepressible, winsome Keystone star. But not too far behind her was another irrepressible performer: Louise Fazenda.

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Many people today are at least familiar with the name of Mabel Normand, but how many are aware of Louise Fazenda? She was one of the most popular comediennes of the silent screen and one of the most familiar character actresses of the early talkie era, but she often gets no more than a passing mention even in film histories. And yet, she was one of the most well-known female clowns, and–as a bonus–was one of Hollywoodland’s most beloved and charitable individuals. Continue reading

The Silent Comedy Mustache Hall Of Fame

Welcome, my friends, to the very first induction ceremony for our prestigious new Silent Comedy Mustache Hall of Fame! Some of the names of the following gentlemen may be familiar to you, while others have been obscured by the mists of time. But all have been judged worthy for one of the highest honors in all of screen comedy history: the eternal enshrinement of their contributions to pop culture within these sacred walls. I would like to thank the architect, Leopold Plumtree, for this magnificent structure, the first building of its kind to be shaped like a handlebar mustache.

Architectural model.

In the modern mind, film comedies of the early 20th century are associated with three dominant tropes: cream pies, banana peels, and fake mustaches. While the first two cliches were not as ubiquitous as society may believe, there certainly was a rich crop of crepe mustaches glorifying movie screens across the globe. For bearing the finest of these enrichments of celluloid mirth, we are pleased to honor the following inductees: Continue reading

The Quirky Charm of Charley Bowers

One of my absolute favorites among all the obscure comedians is Charley Bowers, a man once so thoroughly forgotten that it’s remarkable he was ever rediscovered. Were it not for the director of the Cinemathèque de Toulouse, Raymond Borde, who bought some old film cans from a carnival and noticed one marked “Bricolo,” we might not have Bowers’s work today. And what a darn shame that would be.

We would not, for instance, get to see eggs hatch into tiny Model T Fords, or broomstick ostriches dance to a Victrola, or pussy willow branches blossom into live pussy cats. We would miss out on gangs of thuggish oysters and singing, dancing drops of petroleum. The world would be a little less surreal.

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Obscure Films: “Shot In The Excitement” (1914)

There are some silent comedy shorts that are so of-their-time silly that you aren’t sure if a newbie could handle them. They’d probably think to themselves, “This is what silent comedy was like? Lots of grimacing and flailing around? Humor was, like, so primitive back then. And look at those special effects–why did they even bother before CGI?”

Um, CGI could never improve on Al St. John, for one thing.

What this newbie doesn’t know is that there’s more to these “primitive” comedies than meets the eye. Well, a little more, anyways. If you chuck aside your “21st century cynicism” glasses for about 15 minutes, you can have a delightful time experiencing the supreme Awesomeness of a short like Shot in the Excitement (1914). Allow me to give you a tour. Continue reading

Josie, Lige, “Pimple,” And Other Uber Obscure Silent Comedians

 

While many people are familiar with only a handful of big names, the world of silent comedy was a vast, dizzying hurricane of one- and two-reelers starring folk of every conceivable size, shape, and level of talent. A great many tried and a great many failed to win themselves a coveted spot on the “Beloved Performers Who Will Be Immortal” list.

…Well, Billy Dooley tried.

If you are a fan of silent comedy, you already know all those big names: Charlie, Buster, Harold, Mabel, Roscoe (not “Fatty,” mind you), and so on. If you are a buff, you probably also know Max, Lupino, Snub, Ford, and so on. And you also never to call Roscoe “Fatty.”

But what of all those other names? Who were some of the really obscure comedians from those far-off days when automobiles were finally catching on? Many of them are lucky if a handful of their shorts survive. But while the Immortals such as Charlie and Buster were certainly very popular back in the day, at one time these forgotten people had fanbases of their own (some smaller than others).  Continue reading