Month: February 2020

Silent Laughter 2020: save the date!

Silent laughter flyer 2020 final

Kennington Bioscope’s annual celebration of classic and rare silent film comedy is returning, on April 18-19, at London’s Cinema Museum.

If you’re in the UK, and you’re at all interested in the stuff featured on this website, you absolutely need to get there! The full programme has just been revealed, and in my opinion it’s the best yet. As well as iconic silents like Harold Lloyd’s SAFETY LAST, Harry Langdon’s THE STRONG MAN and classic Laurel & Hardy shorts like LIBERTY, there will be some brilliant films rarely seen on the big screen (Buster Keaton’s SPITE MARRIAGE; Ernst Lubitch’s THE MARRIAGE CIRCLE; Marion Davies in THE PATSY), and some really rare gems that you might not get to see again any time soon (UK premieres of long lost Charley Chase, Lupino Lane and Larry Semon films among them!) . All come with introductions from noted historians, and fantastic musical accompaniment from the cream of Britain’s silent film musicians. The price? Just £30 for a full weekend – that’s twelve separate screenings! You’d be mad not to join us.

Here’s more info, with the full programme to follow shortly: http://www.cinemamuseum.org.uk/2020/kennington-bioscope-silent-comedy-weekend-2/

A few song and dance moments

Many of the great comedians had come up through the stage and had to be all-round entertainers. When sound film came in, one of the benefits was allowing them to show off these talents. Many of the silent clowns seemed to enjoy the novelty of performing a song or dance once in a while, and of course performers who primarily worked in this area now had a new outlet for their talents. These routines always make me smile, so here are a choice selection.

Let’s kick off with Laurel & Hardy doing a bit of a dance. Nope, not that dance! While their moves to ‘At the ball, that’s all’ in WAY OUT WEST are iconic, this scene from BONNIE SCOTLAND is less well-known, but has a charm of it’s own. There’s a kind of infectious joy to L & H’s dancing moments, and this one is no exception.

Fellow Roach studios comic Charley Chase positively flourished with the chance to strut his stuff in talkies. Chase had a deep love of music, writing his own songs and choreographing routines for them to use in his comedies. This example, from his penultimate Roach short ON THE WRONG TREK, is  a real charmer.

Over to Britain now. The bright and breezy Jack Hulbert had made his name in musical comedies on stage, often partnered with his wife Cicely Courtneidge. His lanky frame made him quite a talent as an eccentric dancer, and here he gives us a song and a bit of tap. This is from JACK OF ALL TRADES (1936), one of several dated but extremely charming romantic comedies he made for Gainsborough Pictures in the 30s.

Another British comic who made his career in musical comedy (though opposite in build to Hulbert!) was Stanley Lupino. This routine comes from OVER SHE GOES, one of his plays adapted for film in 1937. Leslie Halliwell was right on the money when he called this scene “one of the most dextrous routines I’ve ever clapped eyes on”. It’s glorious.

Did someone mention Lupinos? Here’s Stanley’s cousin, Lupino Lane, in a wonderful slapstick ballet with Lillian Roth. It’s from THE LOVE PARADE (1929), and is one of my very favourite scenes of his. That Lupino family training really paid off, didn’t it?? (By the way, if you like what you see of Mr Lane, don’t forget there’s currently a Kickstarter appeal running to get some of his films on DVD). This clip is a little slow to get going, but kicks in at about the 1.50 mark..

 

Carrying on the theme of slapstick dance, here’s a wonderful routine from Buster Keaton. Buster’s MGM sound features were undoubtedly a waste of his talents compared to his silent masterpieces, but they do have some charming moments of 100 proof Keaton in them. The studio’s zeal for making the most of sound with singing and dancing lets us see another side of Keaton’s talents not often displayed. Like the other comics here, he was a stage veteran too, so could pull off this stuff very well indeed, even if it’s not really the idiom we expect of him. Here he is in the highlight of DOUGHBOYS, an Apache dance routine. Quite a few comedians incorporated their knockabout into one of these , but Keaton’s superior athleticism makes this really something special.

And, to finish off, just a tiny but more Buster. Here’s his international dancing medley from the short GRAND SLAM OPERA (1936). He’s waiting backstage at a radio station when hearing the band spurs him into motion… Great fun.

 

 

 

Coming soon: Lupino Lane on DVD!

JoylandVery excited to be able to share this.  Dave Glass & Dave Wyatt, who recently put out a fabulous DVD of rare Lloyd Hamilton films, are turning their attention to Lupino Lane.

One of my favourite forgotten clowns, Lane was an appealing performer somewhere between Keaton and Harry Langdon. He was also one of the most amazing tumblers and acrobats to ever have stepped in front of a movie camera. Schooled in a family tradition of pantomime and tumbling going back centuries, he had an extraordinary ability at visual comedy and slapstick. This was seen to full advantage in a string of eye-popping, gag and acrobatic-filled two-reelers for Educational Pictures in the 1920s. Often writing and directing the films as well as starring, he drew on a vast bank of gags and routines to create some unique films.

These are usually only seen in grainy, miserable quality, but Dave & Dave’s new Kickstarter project collects some fabulous prints from archives and collections. Here’s more from Dave Glass on the contents:

“We’re delighted to say that we have some exceptional prints (most are 2K scans of nitrate) of some VERY rare films.

Through the generosity of Serge Bromberg and Lobster Films,  Elif & Co at the EYE Film Museum and Patrick Stanbury (Photoplay) we present the following films:

HELLO SAILOR (1927) (one of the special event hits at Pordenone 2019)

SWORD POINTS (1928)  (35mm 4K restoration)

FISTICUFFS (1928) (even Steve Massa hasn’t seen this one!!)

SUMMER SAPS (1929) (complete 2 reel version!)

GOOD NIGHT NURSE (1929) (new scan of 35mm nitrate)

BATTLING SISTERS  (1929)  (hilarious gender reversal comedy)

JOYLAND (1929) (the complete ‘Toyland’ rarity – a Joy!)

AND….. we hope to add one more to that list. (We’re still “negotiating”, so we don’t want to commit to anything just yet. But it’ll be a goodie!!)”

Here’s the trailer for the project, showing just how gorgeous these films look:

Amazing! I’m really proud to be contributing an essay to the booklet for this amazing project. Historian Glenn Mitchell is too, and there will be wonderful accompaniment for the films by Neil Brand and others TBC.

The DVD will only be available as part of the Kickstarter campaign, so don’t miss out! Here’s the link to pledge: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/reelcomedy/lupino-lane-silent-comedian?ref=discovery&term=Lupino%20Lane  

If you’re not familiar with Lane, there’s more on his films here.

 

Charades with Buster

Here’s a nice bit of Buster Keaton I’ve not seen before: his appearance on TV series BURKE’S LAW, from 1964. Buster is being interviewed as a suspect in a murder case, but unfortunately he has laryngitis. This provides up the perfect excuse for a nice bit of pantomime, as he acts out his witness statement. It’s a funny little scene that raises to a nice level of absurdity as the two hard-boiled detectives gradually get more and more excited by their attempts to guess the meaning, turning the whole thing into a party game.