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.”
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.
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 Productions: The Alice Howell Collection.
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:
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.
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).
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 TheGeneral, 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 →
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!”
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 Rush, City Lights, and Modern Times. And yes, these films are the go-to examples of his much-analyzed use of “pathos.”
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 →
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.
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)
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.
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 →
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.
Following Comique’s move to the sunny spaces of California, the hits just kept coming. Moonshine is another highlight in Arbuckle’s filmography, considered 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 played a hand in its ideas.