Archive for Keystone

The Sunday Intertitle: Der Mute Tot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2017 by dcairns

BEFORE there was Our Gang/The Little Rascals, it would seem, and before Chaplin’s THE KID, Mack Sennett tried his hand at packaging his own child-based Keystone Komedies. And no, I have no idea why the middle kid above is dressed as a Russian serf.

Three-year-old Paul Jacobs was discovered when a small boy was needed for a short, and he proved so adept that the studio started constructing stories around him. LITTLE BILLY’S TRIUMPH was released in 1914, the first of a few one-reelers centering on “the Keystone kids.” But the whole idea got derailed when Ford Sterling was tempted away by Uncle Carl Laemmle to create his own short comedy unit at Universal, an ill-starred enterprise which ultimately led nowhere as Laemmle slashed the budgets as soon as the first few films proved underwhelming at the B.O. Little Paul/Billy had gone with Sterling (the turncoat!) and so his promising career fizzled before he lost his baby teeth.

Info comes from Kops and Custards: The Legend of Keystone Films (A Book) by Kalton C. Lahue & Terry Brewer. If you already have Simon Louvish’s Sennett bio, you need this to complete your Keystone library.

Sennett evidently remembered those bumpkin sketches in which a hayseed goes to the theatre and doesn’t realise it’s make-believe. See also the American tourist in Montmartre witnessing an Apache dance. In this case, the sprog is getting exercised over a PUPPET SHOW. He should know better, at his age.

I saw LITTLE BILLY’S TRIUMPH on one of those DVDs that LOOKS kind of fancy owing to the covers being lovely period posters, but features fuzzy and milky and poorly-encoded transfers. Still, I pronounce the film pretty good for Keystone. The narrative is coherent and it’s not too busy, probably because the kids needed direction and couldn’t be turned loose like Sennett’s usual army of competitive pie-throwers. Since this is a Keystone film, it takes place in a nightmare world of cruelty, exploitation and violence. Since the characters in this case are kids , this seems more realistic than usual. The only token adults are a lone mom, an ice-cream vendor and a stray kop — identified by the IMDb as a svelte Edgar Kennedy in a cookie-duster mustache. I’m not convinced it’s him.

Young Mr. Jacobs is no Jackie Coogan, but who is? He’s still an adept and sympathetic performer (albeit with a slight tendency to glance off-camera for direction). The plot has bigger boys deprive him of the dime he was given to buy ice cream, so they can set up a tent show using puppets they purchase with the swag. Billy/Paul steals the B.O. takings and buys himself all the ice cream in the world. Amusingly, ice cream in 1914 was served in cardboard boxes and you ate it with your hands, apparently. Filthy business.

As is the Punch & Judy show put on by the pint-sized heavies, a wildly inappropriate melodrama featuring a lecherous “pay-the-rent” type villain in a top hat, with some serious consent issues. When the rapey glove puppet has been defeated, hero and heroine embrace and sink out of view, which also seems kind of adult for this audience. Still, they have to learn sometime.

Matt Stone & Trey Parker’s Weinstein documentary.

The emotional audience scenes — quite realistic, since the director no doubt could stand behind the camera and excite genuine reactions — makes this film a doddering ancestor of Herz Frank’s TEN MINUTES OLDER.

A happy ending sees Little Billy in possession of the full box office take and gorging himself to a state of terminal brain-freeze on all the ice-cream in the world.

Dirty Little Billy.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Time And Relative Dimensions In Cow

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on November 5, 2017 by dcairns

First time I’ve seen racist language, as opposed to merely racist attitudes, in a Keystone comedy. The offending film is WANDERING WILLIES (1926), starring the Australian Billy Bevan and the Scot Andy Clyde as hoboes on the make. Through contrivances of plot too complicated and demented to go into fully, they’ve disguised themselves as a dead cow and find themselves about to be dismembered and fed to a lion at the zoo by an uncredited and unknown African-American performer.

Is it OK if I call him Mr. Halloran until we know better, or am I being racist now? I don’t mean to be.

I guess the filmmakers would have regarded the language as merely casual, rather than hateful. Same thing, really — casualness in what you call someone denotes lack of respect.

Lots of interesting stuff in the film, including one or two funny moments and Billy Gilbert, if we believe the IMDb, in three roles, not looking like himself in any of them.

I don’t think this is Billy Gilbert, do you? You know, Mr. Pettibone from HIS GIRL FRIDAY, the doctor from COUNTY HOSPITAL, Herring from THE GREAT DICTATOR…

Also the attempt to photograph actors inside a cow is amusing — it seems mighty spacious in there. A bovine TARDIS.


The Sunday Intertitle: A Film in Intertitles

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Time to give your negative capability a workout, folks! Reduced to its title cards, the 1915 slapstick romance WISHED ON MABEL, starring Mabel Normand and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, becomes both abstract and winsome. Which it is, anyway, when you watch it straight. But my way is quicker.

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Richard J. Anobile, eat your heart out! The other advantage of watching the film this way is that it eliminates most of the laughs, which could be useful if your intercostal muscles are feeling bruised or weary.

Next week: Erich Von Stroheim’s GREED reduced to its intertitles. We are confident he would have released the film this way, if he had thought of it.