Archive for Charlie Chaplin

The Sunday Intertitle: Bull!

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , on September 17, 2017 by dcairns

One last Stan Laurel solo film, then we can move on. MUD AND SAND is Stan’s epic denunciation of Rudolph Valentino (here, Rhubarb Vaseline). All the intertitles, or nearly all, rely on bull-based humour.

Hey, I’m not knocking it.

Visual gags are little more varied, depending largely on the deflation of Dorothy Arzner’s melodrama with pratfalls, but Stan’s first, successful corrida, shot from outside the arena walls, is impressively silly. As the other matadors-to-be anxiously wait for Stan to be carried out arrayed on a stretcher with limbs akimbo, like his predecessors, a stuffed cow flies over the wall, crashing unconvincingly to the ground. And then it all happens again.

The repetition of gags is an interesting phenomenon. Buster Keaton didn’t go in for it, unless he could play a variation on the gag to surprise the audience. I suspect this proud refusal to be predictable was a big part of why he was less popular than Chaplin and Lloyd.

Chaplin repeats incessantly, and the recurring arse-kicks or pratfalls become part of a structured dance. Stan just repeats where it seems likely to get another laugh. It’s been suggested that Laurel & Hardy relied more on predictability than surprise: showing the audience the banana peel before it’s slipped on. The comedy coming from the expected gag happening right on cue. But that doesn’t seem quite right. Everybody shows the banana peel first. But only Buster has characters walk over it without slipping — outsmarting or “double-crossing” the audience.

I want to try to analyse L&H’s approach more closely. I do think they’re the funniest, in terms of intensity and volume and duration and frequency of laughs, of any classic era comedians. It doesn’t matter if you personally like them or not — I think their success is measurable and would be borne out by any laffometer. And they seem to use both jokes of predictability and jokes of surprise — the former making the latter more surprising. And of course there’s the measured pace. They jettison entirely the myriad advantages of pace, to concentrate on getting the most out of every joke by worrying it to death. But there’s even more going on than that, and I want to explore it.

This will mean looking at talkies, since I think the talkies are their funniest films. But maybe a silent or two also…

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The Sunday Intertitle: Jazz Lizard Harold

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2017 by dcairns

TWO-GUN GUSSIE (1918) is an early, inferior Harold Lloyd short with a western setting — something Harold returned to fairly often. A pointless opening scene establishes Harold playing piano back east — I suspect deleted footage might have made more sense of this. But we do see Harold “shooting” the keys with his index finger (he still had all his fingers at this point), a la Chico Marx. The Marxes were already a big noise in vaudeville, so it’s quite possible this is a direct swipe.

The best jokes in this silent are verbal, from the insane word soup of this intertitle, to the signs behind the bar saying things like “No drink sold stronger than liquid fire” and “If you ask for credit you will get it in the neck.”

But when the hulking bad guy (William Blaisdell) wants to demonstrate his strength, he does so by plucking the legs off a chair. Now, how much strength that takes depends on how securely the legs are attached, so the gesture means nothing, and certainly lacks the hyperbolic terror of Eric Campbell bending a street light just to show Chaplin how strong he is in EASY STREET. Western saloon furniture is notoriously flimsy, but having Blaisdell maybe break the legs in half might have worked better. But he’s just torn Harold’s shooting iron to pieces, so it’s all kind of an anticlimax…

Bebe Daniels (top) also appears, but has little to do (more evidence of missing scenes). Pretty soon, Lloyd’s films would show more structure and better gags, and give Daniels slightly better roles, but they never exploited her comic potential to its full extent. She would have to wait for her own star vehicles…

 

The Judex Files: The Look

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 15, 2016 by dcairns

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Episode 2 of Louis Feuillade’s JUDEX introduces the Liquorice Kid (La Môme Reglisse), screen left, and we wonder how we ever got by without him.

The Liquorice Kid is one of nature’s aristocrats. A streetwise urchin on the side of good, he walks into the story, wedges himself there, and refuses to budge. There are perhaps elements of Chaplin to this minute hobo, but he’s also a sterling example of the deus ex machina device at its most charming. René Poyen, child star of Feuillade’s BOUT-DE-ZAN series of comic shorts, is an engaging little fellow. Like many of the characters in this serial which keeps a toe in theatre, he can turn to his chums in the audience and display what he’s thinking with facial expressions, gestures, or even silent utterances. But the Kid does this more often than the other characters — just like Chaplin, he enjoys a special relationship with his fans. We know he knows we’re watching, but the other characters are less aware that they’re in a movie. Even Judex doesn’t have the Kid’s cinematic awareness.

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You might think constant knowledge that one is being observed by either a camera, or an audience of people ranging in period from 1916-2016 and possibly beyond, depending on how you imagine the Kid’s experience, might be distracting, might put one at a disadvantage. But the Kid is far from put off: basking in our admiration, he enjoys miraculous levels of self-confidence.