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74

Silent Comedies Primer
Topic by: underdog
Posted: March 29, 2004 - 10:11 AM PST
Last Reply: April 2, 2004 - 11:54 AM PST

author topic: Silent Comedies Primer
underdog
post #1  on March 29, 2004 - 10:11 AM PST  
Discuss Gregg Rickman's fine Silent Comedies primer -- from Keystone Kops to Keaton, Langdon to Laurel and Hardy, and of course, Chaplin, all your favorite silent clowns (and some you may not have known about) are in this introduction to silent era comedy. Read it and then post your thoughts about the films and the primer, here.
Cinenaut
post #2  on March 30, 2004 - 11:01 AM PST  
Good primer! I like the way Mr. Rickman goes beyond the obvious recommendations and suggests some lesser known works.

In regard to Buster Keaton movies, here are some of my faves:
The Three Ages has some fun early special effects, like caveman Buster standing on the head of a brontosaurus and scanning the horizon, which seemed very reminiscent of the Flintstones.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. has the jaw-dropping hurricane scene in which the front of a house falls on Buster, with only a well-placed window saving him from dire injury. Jackie Chan used this bit in one of his movies. I've seen the clip, but I don't know which movie it is.

The Navigator DVD contains the short The Boat, which is the source of the International Buster Keaton society's name The Damfinos.

The General is the one everybody talks about and it's quite good, of course. It was the template for many train-related adventure comedies to follow.
underdog
post #3  on March 30, 2004 - 5:21 PM PST  
> On March 30, 2004 - 11:01 AM PST Cinenaut wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Good primer! I like the way Mr. Rickman goes beyond the obvious recommendations and suggests some lesser known works.
>
> In regard to Buster Keaton movies, here are some of my faves:
> The Three Ages has some fun early special effects, like caveman Buster standing on the head of a brontosaurus and scanning the horizon, which seemed very reminiscent of the Flintstones.
>
> Steamboat Bill, Jr. has the jaw-dropping hurricane scene in which the front of a house falls on Buster, with only a well-placed window saving him from dire injury. Jackie Chan used this bit in one of his movies. I've seen the clip, but I don't know which movie it is.
>
> The Navigator DVD contains the short The Boat, which is the source of the International Buster Keaton society's name The Damfinos.
>
> The General is the one everybody talks about and it's quite good, of course. It was the template for many train-related adventure comedies to follow.
> ---------------------------------

Suddenly I'm pining for your old character icon, Cinenaut! Too bad you can't just switch back to it for posting in this one category. ;-)

I love Buster and the one of those you mention that I haven't seen is Three Ages, so I plopped that in my queue. Yeah, it was interesting to learn more about his work with Fatty Arbuckle, only one of which I've seen. His personality in those films is slightly different than his later films but still... Buster.

We've been ordering more and more of these films, to work in conjunction with that primer. I hope it gives people a new appreciation of these works, many of which are still hilarious today.

Glad you liked it!

C
ColonelKong
post #4  on March 30, 2004 - 8:15 PM PST  
I liked the Silent Comedy primer too, it's kind of funny that it would go up on the site now since I've been watching lots of silent comedy lately (and some that isn't, like some Marx brothers movies and Three Stooges shorts). Other than the Chaplin movies that are on DVD (and I feel like I was lucky to find them at a local video store), there's not much in the way of silent comedy to be found in any of the video stores here, Turner Classic Movies and GreenCine are pretty much my only source for most of these films. I haven't seen nearly as many Buster Keaton movies as I should have, I have several of them near the top of my queue.

It might have been interesting if the primer had covered more non-American silent comedies, but it's well worth reading whether you're familiar with silent films or not (the primer mentioned a few people I've never even heard of). Come to think of it, I'm not sure that I've ever seen a non-American silent comedy. The UK probably made some silent comedies, did Germany produce very many? (The US and Germany made most of my favorite silent movies). Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver includes some entertaining fake silent comedy shorts from New Zealand, I wonder how many real ones there are.

Keep the primers coming! I wonder how many more could be added. I'd like to see a Mexican horror primer, there's a Western primer that covers some spaghetti westerns, but I think there would be room for a more in-depth Spaghetti Western primer (and also for a Italian sword-and-sandal movie primer). If you wanted to get a little wacky, a primer for non-Japanese/non-US giant monster movies (like Hong Kong's Mighty Peking Man, Britain's Gorgo, and Denmark's Reptilicus) would be interesting, a Turkish Sci-Fi primer that covered movies like Tourist Omar in Star Trek and The Man Who Saved The World would be a lot of fun too (even though I don't think GreenCine carries any Turkish sci-fi, and that would probably be a rather short primer).
ALittlefield
post #5  on March 31, 2004 - 1:08 PM PST  
Good primer! I'm a big fan of silent comedy. But there is one point I'd like to make: you say "In 1920 Schenck promoted Arbuckle to feature-length films (beating Chaplin to that level of stardom by a year)". This isn't quite accurate; Chaplin had the co-lead role (With Marie Dressler)in TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE. Directed by Mack Sennet in 1914, this was the first feature length comedy film ever. Chaplin himself didn't care for it(I agree), and he appears, oddly, not in his trademark tramp outfit.
dwhudson
post #6  on March 31, 2004 - 2:01 PM PST  

> Keep the primers coming!

Keep those ideas for primers coming, too! Naturally, we have a lot ideas of our own (and the means for realizing some of them lining up, too), but yours, Colonel, are the kind that get the brain storming all over again. Thanks.
Cinenaut
post #7  on April 1, 2004 - 1:44 PM PST  
> On March 31, 2004 - 2:01 PM PST dwhudson wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Keep those ideas for primers coming, too! Naturally, we have a lot ideas of our own (and the means for realizing some of them lining up, too), but yours, Colonel, are the kind that get the brain storming all over again. Thanks.
> ---------------------------------

Children's films? 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, Thief of Bagdad
Fantasy films?
Russian/Czech/"Eastern bloc" films?


underdog
post #8  on April 1, 2004 - 2:49 PM PST  
> On April 1, 2004 - 1:44 PM PST Cinenaut wrote:
> ---------------------------------

> Children's films? 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, Thief of Bagdad
> Fantasy films?
> Russian/Czech/"Eastern bloc" films?
>
>


They're all on the To-Do List, but fine ideas! We'll likely separate out Russian from Czech, and Polish.

And we're gonna do a Peplum (Sword and Sandal primer) as soon as we can line someone up.

I got dibs on the MST3K primer, but I think that one's a low priority right now. ;-)

Muchasgracias!

C
underdog
post #9  on April 1, 2004 - 2:58 PM PST  
> On March 30, 2004 - 8:15 PM PST ColonelKong wrote:

> It might have been interesting if the primer had covered more non-American silent comedies, but it's well worth reading whether you're familiar with silent films or not (the primer mentioned a few people I've never even heard of). Come to think of it, I'm not sure that I've ever seen a

It's a fair point -- I thought about this, too, while editing it, but think the major reason to leave out non-US silent comedies is that very few are available on video at all in the States, and it's also hard to argue with the fact that the most influential silent comedies came out of the States. Still it's important to acknowledge that other countries were producing films in this era, too, and would be interesting to follow up on that, see which titles we can pursue. I'm sure Gregg R, like the rest of us, hasn't been able to see many of these silent comedies from abroad.

Good point and thanks!

C
Gradalis
post #10  on April 1, 2004 - 5:50 PM PST  
...it's also hard to argue with the fact that the most influential silent comedies came out of the States.
Them's fighting words! The most influential silent comedies, arguably, were the French trick films of Melies and others. You can find the very origins of slapstick there, for instance.

The American films (particularly those containing an aforementioned British actor) were definitely the most commercially successful. However, filmmakers from Sweden, Germany, Japan and elsewhere were all quite adept at comedy (and, most importantly, making films that were quite unlike their American counterparts).

opinionatedly,
Marlow
underdog
post #11  on April 2, 2004 - 11:42 AM PST  
> On April 1, 2004 - 5:50 PM PST Gradalis wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> ...it's also hard to argue with the fact that the most influential silent comedies came out of the States.
> Them's fighting words! The most influential silent comedies, arguably, were the French trick films of Melies and others. You can find the very origins of slapstick there, for instance.
>
> The American films (particularly those containing an aforementioned British actor) were definitely the most commercially successful. However, filmmakers from Sweden, Germany, Japan and elsewhere were all quite adept at comedy (and, most importantly, making films that were quite unlike their American counterparts).
>
> opinionatedly,
> Marlow
> ---------------------------------


Well, as I'd as much as admitted, I've only seen a few silent comedies from abroad -- Melies I've certainly seen and certainly agree he should rank at the top in importance, and if we're talking historically, the Lumiere brothers, too. And I've read much about some of the filmmakers from France, Germany and Japan (don't know much about Swedish), and yes, it sounds as if they were quite adept and quite different. I guess I wasn't thinking as much about how adept people were as much as how influential they were and what kind of legacy they left. I have friends in other countries (one of whom I just asked, in England, another who is from Japan) who when asked to name silent film comedians could only name Keaton, Chaplin, and a few of the others mentioned in the primer. What this proves, I don't really know, other than there's a difference between artistic merit, historical relevance -- and legacy/importance. I was thinking more of the latter.

But, let's not forget the first few paragraphs of Gregg's primer -- he talks about Melies, the Lumieres, and Max Linder (who sounds really interesting).

But he did also say he's up for adding something more about foreign silent comedians, of which there would be exactly two DVDs to point to.

C


underdog
post #12  on April 2, 2004 - 11:54 AM PST  
And yes, we should definitely not forget that Chaplin was an Englishman! (Then didn't he end up in Switzerland after his career wound down a bit?)

That alone is a fine contribution to film history.

I enjoyed Eddie Izzard's portrayal (impersonation) of him in Bogdonavich's Cat's Meow -- fun for anyone interested in Chaplin and in that era.


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