Sunday, February 5, 2012

All the World’s a Screen

Saturday was another in the Silent Clowns film series. Seven silents—Injuns (1912), The Bogus Booking Agents (1916), Never Too Old (1926), The Grab Bag Bride (1917), A Blonde’s Revenge (1926), A Rolling Stone (1919), and When Knights Were Cold (1923). Whew! And whew, indeed for Ben Model, the accompanist for all seven (he’s also the producer, along with Bruce Lawton as co-producer and Steve Massa, who provided the well-written program notes).

Not too many well-known names this time around, in terms of performers. We had Stan Laurel in When Knights Were Cold, the second reel of a two-reeler (the first pretty much disintegrated, and this reel had some quality issues, as well). It was a sort of parody of the earlier Douglas Fairbanks Robin Hood. In this version, Princess Elizabeth will have to marry Prince Pluto unless Lord Helpus {I love that name} (Laurel) saves the day. He does. In the brief Q&A session I heard (I was rushing uptown to hear a vocal recital), everyone commented that the knights on stick ponies bulked out to look like knights on horseback looked right out of Monty Python! Funny is funny, across the ages.

The programmers were gung-ho about the Library of Congress doing lots of work on 35-millimeter reconstruction. I didn’t get it, but if they do in their geekdom (I can say that, I have my own geekdom, thank-you-very-much!), the end result looked great to these eyes.

I particularly liked The Bogus Booking Agents. Two hapless chaps go to a booking agent’s office when the agent is out to lunch. They each impersonate the agent with various new applicants. Mayhem ensues, including elevators, running up and down stairs, shots fired. But all ends fairly well. I was mildly intrigued with one scene showing an out-of-work acting troupe 2001 miles from New York, while walking along the railroad tracks. That was followed, rather eerily, by our hapless chaps running up the aforementioned stairs to the 110th floor. Strange juxtaposition that caught my eye.

In A Rolling Stone, we had a Charlie Chaplin imitator in Billy West. Apparently there were many imitators, and this did not particularly please Mr. Chaplin. Mr. West was quite convincing as a “Little Tramp”–like character. By 1920, he had dropped the imitation and developed his own dapper character, continuing through to the end of silent film years.

A fun series—there are three more this coming spring. I hope to see all of them and hope to keep you posted!


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