Archive for Sherlock Jnr

The Sunday Intertitle: Presenting the Lumiere Sisters

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 18, 2016 by dcairns


If you don’t know Silent London, you should, even if you’re a non-cockney. I have co-contributed an article, basically providing bits of word-glue, and the wonderful Pamela Hutchinson of SL has kindly published it. Here.

You can either try to puzzle out the meaning of the resulting oddity, or you can try to guess which bits I wrote and who my sisters are (they both hang out at The Chiseler). Or both.

Oh, it’s called Better Stars Than There Are In Heaven, and I am happy to claim credit for that suggestion.

The Mothering Sunday Intertitle

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2015 by dcairns


A gentle reminder that the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival will be raging this week in Bo’ness. Among the treats in store is Buster Keaton’s THE NAVIGATOR (screening Saturday), accompanied by maestro Neil Brand upon the piano forte. I hope to be on hand to experience and write about as much of the festivities as possible.

I rate THE NAVIGATOR pretty near the top — not as dazzling as SHERLOCK JNR or as plain great as THE GENERAL, but I like how Kathryn McGuire gets to be almost an equal partner in the slapstick. Her character is exactly as helpless as Buster’s, not more helpless in THE GENERAL (“almost aggressively stupid” was Richard Lester’s affectionate description of Marion Mack’s character) or simply competent and attractive as in THE CAMERAMAN.

I’m not going to try to arrange Keaton’s films in definitive order on a Sunday morning, but I would roughly say that the first rank, for me, contains ~


The middle group, which are not to be sneezed at, would be ~


And the “lesser films” — ones which are still likely to be better than anything else you might see, would be ~


I realize that this is both subjective and impertinent, and that any attempt to say that SEVEN CHANCES or STEAMBOAT BILL JNR is less than great is likely to look philistine. All I mean to say is that they are LESS great than my top four. But I welcome disputes, if you want to make the case for a lower-down title or knock down one of my pantheon. I will say that I’ve only seen BATTLING BUTLER and SPITE MARRIAGE once, and that it’s been a while since I saw THE CAMERAMAN and THE THREE AGES.

We might also attempt a larger project, a ranking of the short films

The Sunday Intertitle / Congruence 3

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2009 by dcairns


I had a pretty good time delivering my first lecture of the year at Edinburgh College of Art on Monday (on the history and uses of the long take), and then a really good time screening silent comedies on Tuesday evening — Chaplin’s A DOG’S LIFE, Harold Lloyd in FROM HAND TO MOUTH, and Keaton’s SHERLOCK JNR. Enthusiastic responses from students, some of whom had seen plenty of silent-era slapstick, some of whom I think had seen none. All pronounced themselves Keatonites at the end, barring one Chaplinist (who had seen several other films so had more to base her choice on). I only asked for a show of hands because I was curious, having previously advised that they shouldn’t feel that they can only like one.


The three films fit together well, because they’re all fairly short without being tiny, and because you can see how all the silent clowns borrowed from each other (well, I’m not sure how much Chaplin borrowed…)

The Lloyd film (which crams three hours of plot and business into 25 mins) gave him dog and kid companions and cast him as a down-and-out, a la Chaplin, and the Keaton featured a close-following scene very similar to the one in FROM HAND TO MOUTH. Of course, SHERLOCK JNR is such a surprising, peculiar and downright avant-garde comedy that even if moments owe their existence to the work of other comics, the film as a whole is sui generis. And its principle descendant is Samuel Beckett’s Act Without Words.

(First, Buster literally breaks his neck falling onto railway tracks, then he climbs inside a motion picture…)

Anyway, it was a pleasure to share these eighty and ninety-year-old movies with a decent-sized audience, some of whose laughter had the delight of surprise in it — and the spontaneous applause was good too.