Book Review: “Slapstick Divas: The Women Of Silent Comedy” By Steve Massa

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Fans of film history–rejoice! For in the Year of our Lord two thousand and seventeen, the library of essential early film books like The Parade’s Gone By and Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory has been expanded by Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy by film historian Steve Massa. It’s been my most anticipated book of the year, and as you can already tell, I was not disappointed.

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Thoughts On: “The Hayseed” And “The Garage”

This is the final Comique Month post. Man, it’s gone by fast! A great big THANK YOU to everyone who’s been following along. If you haven’t seen much of Arbuckle’s post-Keystone work before, I really hope these posts inspired you to check it out. And I hope it will bring you as much joy as it has brought me!

The Hayseed (1919)

Title card the hayseed

The Hayseed revisits Arbuckle’s beloved rural setting, with yes, another quirky small-town store. It was one of Arbuckle’s most successful shorts, popular with small-town audiences and city slickers alike.

Fatty Arbuckle The Hayseed Film Daily 1919.png

 

There’s more of a plot to The Hayseed than other Comiques. Roscoe works at a village general store and is also the mail carrier (he always seemed to be a jack-of-all-trades in his films). Buster also works in the same store. Roscoe loves Molly, a country girl, but she’s also being courted by the local sheriff, played by gangly John Coogan (father of famous little Jackie). Naturally they become romantic rivals. It turns out, though, that John is not such a nice guy as he seems. Continue reading

Thoughts On “The Cook,” A Buster Hiatus, And “Back Stage”

The Cook (1918)

Title cards the cook

One of the cherries on top of the Comique sundae, The Cook is a giddy, determinedly free-spirited short that features Roscoe being an impromptu Salome, Buster Egyptian-dancing with careless abandon, and Luke the dog saving the day. It also features Goatland, and lemme tellya, more amusement parks could stand to have a Goatland. We’re missing out, my friends.

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You’ve also been missing out on this lobby card.

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Thoughts On: “Moonshine” And “Good Night, Nurse”

Moonshine (1918)

Title card moonshine

Following Comique’s move to the sunny spaces of California, the hits just kept coming. Moonshine is another highlight in Arbuckle’s filmography, considered to be one of the cleverest fourth-wall-breaking satires in Edwardian cinema. It’s also a bit of an anomaly in Arbuckle’s work, so it’s not hard to guess that Buster had a big hand in its ideas.

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Thoughts On “Out West” And “The Bell Boy”

Out West (1918)

Title card out west

The ambitious western parody Out West is one of the most under-analyzed of the Comiques, although it’s sure been widely discussed. This is because of a stunningly racist scene halfway through the film, which tends to, shall we say, distract us from the rest of the content. But that content is important because, as I’m going to argue, it could well contain the clearest early example of Buster Keaton’s influence on the Comiques.

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Thoughts On: “The Butcher Boy” And “The Rough House”

Let’s get started with the film reviews! To keep things humming along, I’ll be writing about two Comiques at a time, keeping the reviews a bit shorter than usual. Enjoy!

The Butcher Boy (1917)

Title card butcher boy

One of THE most historically important of all silent comedy shorts is The Butcher Boy, the first release from Roscoe Arbuckle’s very own studio. It’s historic for giving the world its first glimpse of Buster Keaton on the big screen, which of course has inspired no end of fan joy and excited analysis. But even aside from that mighty privilege, it’s simply a darn excellent short. Continue reading

The Comique Shorts: Roscoe Arbuckle’s Masterpieces

This is post #1 of Comique Month! (I’m so excited, I’ve been wanting to write about this amazing studio for ages.) Enjoy, and check back often throughout the next thirty-one days as we dive into incomparable world of the Comique Film Corporation!

The Comique films! As cheerful as a sunny summer’s day and as energetic as jazzy music, Roscoe Arbuckle’s 1917-1919 series of two-reelers should be required viewing for anyone even remotely interested in silent comedy. They’re goofy, clever, cheerful, inventive, and contain some of the best choreographed slapstick sequences the Edwardian era ever devised. Chaplin’s late 1910s Mutuals may get the most applause, but the “Comiques” (as they’re often called) definitely deserve the most high fives.

Comique crew butcher boy

At least three for this publicity photo alone.

But despite some excellent restorations, Arbuckle’s Comiques are still somewhat overlooked. They’re usually credited as containing Buster Keaton’s earliest film appearances, and…that’s about it. If they’re discussed in any depth at all, it’s usually in order to analyze Buster’s performances, speculate on which gags might be his, and to compare them with his later, independent work. In other words, the Comiques are held up as examples of decent enough, admittedly energetic films that are of course far inferior to Buster’s own 1920s shorts. Continue reading

Thoughts On “The Knockout” (1914)

If you’re already a big silent comedy fan, you might recognize The Knockout as being the one Keystone Walter Kerr used in his beloved book The Silent Clowns to illustrate how supposedly “unfunny” early Sennett films were. (And if you’re just starting to learn about silent comedy, I’m excited to be introducing you to The Knockout!) After describing the plot in some detail (“cowardice and belligerence alternate with indifferent logic through the balance of the twenty-minute film”), Kerr concludes with these observations: “It is probable that, except for an innovative detail here and there, the substance of this’plot’ doesn’t strike you as particularly funny. My point is that it isn’t, not through today’s eyes.”

So let it be written.

Walter Kerr, I love your book. The Silent Clowns is one of the most beautifully-written and thoughtful works of film criticism I’ve ever seen. You have inspired me, moved me, and made me think…but I think you’re wrong about The Knockout.  Continue reading

The History Of Those Darn Banana Peels

If you could sum up the idea of slapstick comedy film with a mere two phrases, one would be “custard pie” and the other would probably be “banana peels.”

Banana peel comic frame el paso herald Mar 18 '16

From comic strip The Whole Blooming Family, 1916.

But did you ever wonder where this classic gag come from? Why were banana peels in particular an ever-present hazard to a screen comedian’s life and limb? Continue reading