Archive for March 28, 2023

Roomers versus Ruminant

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2023 by dcairns

Weird synchronicities pile up when you’re seeing multiple films in a day at a film festival, and the 13th HippFest was no exception: we discovered that Laurel & Hardy in ANGORA LOVE and Brian Aherne & Annette Benson both lived at number thirteen. And variant spellings of “Carabou” kept turning up, as the setting of WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS, the hometown of early woman animator Bessie Mae Kelley, and the name of the goat’s rightful owner in ANGORA LOVE:

One is reduced to muttering along with Ricky Jay in MAGNOLIA, “And I am trying to think this is all only a matter of chance.”

The other queer thing about ANGORA LOVE, a sort of rough sketch for the masterpiece that is LAUGHING GRAVY, only with a goat instead of an adorable puppy, is that I was convinced I’d seen it, but seeing it again evoked no recollection. I think I’d been fooled by the appearance of a goat (the same one, probably) in HABEAS CORPUS: so I’d seen Laurely & Hardy with a goat. I have the box set so I actually OWN a copy of AL, and have seemingly never watched it. I guess the idea of an inferior prototype of a short I loved never tempted me.

I should have watched it, as AL is a delightful little film in its own right. Saddled with an unwanted ruminant, the boys must conceal it from murderous landlord Edgar Kennedy (top). There are a number of pleasures here not ported over into the better-known talkie. Photographed by George Stevens, the film has a number of fast, if wobbly, tracking shots down LA streets, something we see again in LIBERTY, by the same cameraman.

There’s a close-up of a tack that Ollie, of course, is about to step on —

I got excited about this because of something I once read — was it in Karel Reisz & Roger Crittenden’s book on film editing, or was it merely Leslie Halliwell? The theory was put forward that, whereas most comedy depends on surprise, L&H comedy depends on the audience being forewarned of disaster, and thus being able to laugh before anything has actually happened. Of course, L&H use surprise A LOT, but it becomes even more delightful because it’s shuffled in with gags where everything is set up as obviously as possible. So you get surprised by the fact that you’ve been surprised.

Anyway, the example I’d read was about how L&H would treat a banana peal gag: rather than revealing the discarded skin at the moment it gets underfoot, they’d grant it an insert shot long before it comes into play. Well, I’m not sure that ever happens in an L&H film, and anyhow the wide-shot framing favoured by silent comedians means that, in, say, THE HIGH SIGN or SHERLOCK JR, Buster Keaton would reveal the presence of the banana skin well in advance also. But here is a tack. I think in this case the closeup is called for because the thing is too small to see in a wide shot. Nevertheless, it is fairly close to the banana skine xample described.

There’s also a gag apparently too racy for the canine remake:

Quite a modern notion, the serious foreground undercut by comedy business in the background.

The movie also has a rare expressive camera angle. Again, I’m tempted to credit Stevens rather than director Lewis R. Foster. Ollie is demonstrating how to use chest expanders silently (!) when Kennedy walks in. The sequence also benefits from cutaways of Stan, in bed, noticing the menacing landlord first.

The sequence makes a simple over-the-shoulder on Ollie into a big dramatic reveal by having Babe turn, with a dancing movement, into his medium close shot. We get to see his face fall, up close. The pay-off is an even closer view of Edgar’s scowling fizzog.

Penelope the goat may not be as adorable as Laughing Gravy, but there are good gags about it gradually consuming the contents of the room (Stan attempts to reattach a scrape of wallpaper by licking the back of it) and then the same punchline as Rin-Tin-Tin’s WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS — just after Ollie has pronounced his ardent desire to never see a goat again, from Penelope’s hiding place under the communal bed —