Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in Comedy, Laurel and Hardy with tags , , , , on November 27, 2014 by travsd

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Harry Langdon in “Fiddlesticks”

Posted in Comedy, Harry Langdon, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , on November 27, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the silent comedy short Fiddlesticks (1927), starring Harry Langdon, with he help of his dream team Harry Edwards (director), and Frank Capra and Arthur Ripley (writers). This film, his last short released by Mack Sennett, had been made several months earlier; by this late date Langdon had not only left Sennett and gone on to features but was now directing his own ones, having fired the dream team one by one.

In this two reeler, Harry’s family are about to throw him out because he doesn’t pull his own weight. He aspires to be a musician. He is taking cello lessons but he is terrible. His professor (Vernon Dent) gives him a diploma just to get rid of him (the neighbors are complaining). Then his father kicks him out. Harry takes a room but has no money. The landlord demands rent and says he will seize the cello. So Harry lowers the instrument out the window on a rope. Unfortunately it lands in a music store. When Harry tries to retrieve it, they demand payment! Finally he manages to get it back. He sees his professor’s band playing in the street and earning money. So he tries to joins them, spoiling their good thing. Eventually the professor revokes his diploma, tears it up. Harry now plays by himself. People start throwing things at him, household objects. A junk man comes and teams up with him—they strike it rich selling off the thrown junk! He goes back home a rich man sporting a top hat and tails.

Here it is, with a score by the great Ben Model:

 

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Harold Lloyd in Dr. Jack

Posted in Comedy, Harold Lloyd, Hollywood (History), Silent Film with tags , , on November 26, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Harold Lloyd film Dr. Jack (1922).

Dr. Jack is easily my least favorite (and the weakest) of Lloyd’s features. He plays a commonsense small-town doctor who exposes a quack’s efforts to mislead a beautiful young girl into believing she’s sick. It’s straight from the Douglas Fairbanks playbook (it’s very similar to his 1917 feature Down to Earth). The film has very little slapstick to it, has very little forward momentum, and the formula is all wrong for Lloyd. As always, individual gags are good. One of his movies has to be worst, and for my money, this one is it. Recommended only for completionists, and/or folks who have already seen Lloyd’s more famous features, as this would not be a fair or representative introduction to the comedian’s work.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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“Nefertitty in Space” and Why Lola Rock’N’Rolla is Our Favorite Film-maker

Posted in African American Interest, Blackface & Minstrelsy, CAMP, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Drag and/or LGBT, Movies (Contemporary) with tags , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2014 by travsd

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I don’t think it’s too much to say that Lola Rock’N’Rolla is now my favorite film-maker. The Mad Marchioness and I attended the world premiere of Lola’s new opus Nefertitty in Space at Anthology Film Archives on Monday, and only just now am I recovering from the onslaught of camp excellence, let alone the excitement of seeing so much burlesque, drag and variety royalty all in one place: Hovey Burgess, Murray Hill, World Famous Bob, Gal Friday, Albert Cadabra, David Bishop, Legs Malone etc etc etc not to mention the film’s star The Maine Attraction who sat behind us with her highly supportive mom.

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Maine almost falls on top of me with her drink

“I just wanna be John Waters!” Lola declared at the end of the festivities…and we do indeed need someone to fill that niche now, have needed that for TEN BLOODY YEARS, because that is when Waters made his last friggin’ movie (his most recent planned film project, a Christmas movie called Fruitcake died in the oven back in 2008). But there is so much of her own that Lola brings to the table that I think calling her the heir to John Waters would be selling her short (as much as we need an heir to John Waters). For one, her love of genre seems wider, deeper and more ambitious than Waters, who has always been pretty strictly focused on exploitation films. In a manner that reminds me of the Kuchar Brothers, her “B movies” attempt big budget spectacle, and she dares pay homage to classics with reach beyond cult aficionados.

Her first film Dragzilla (2002) is like an opening salvo in a campaign to conquer the underground, one cardboard building at a time:

Then there is her zombie send-up Night of the Living Gay (2006):

And who could forget I Was a Tranny Werewolf (2009):

Whereas Waters is a genius of effect, and certainly a genius of comedy, there is something to be said for the focused messaging of Lola’s films. Like Waters, she is a gay film-maker. In her films she frequently returns to the theme of queer people and other outsiders as monsters, and ridicules that representation, which in the end amounts to a simultaneous catharsis, exorcism and celebration.

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In the Nefertitty series, she ups the ante by helping us do the same thing about race. In these blaxploitation send-ups, burlesque star The Maine Attraction plays the titular ‘titty, a foul-mouthed, street-wise ghetto chic SOMETHING. Is she even a cop or a private eye like Pam Grier’s characters? I don’t think so. I think she’s just herself: Nerfertitty, a blaxploitation heroine qua blaxploitation heroine (I said “heroine”, not “heroin”).

Now, this is a genre ripe for parody. In fact even when it was originally in full-bloom, the classics of the genre were usually smart self-parodies, 1972’s Blacula being the supreme example. Mel Brooks went there early with Blazing Saddles (1974), although he flinched from going all out (originally the film was to have starred Richard Pryor – that would have been a VERY different movie). Then Keenan Ivory Wayans went there for real in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka (1988), Quentin Tarantino produced a loving tongue-in-cheek homage in Jackie Brown (1997), and Scott Sanders created a dead-on formal spoof in Black Dynamite (2009). (Judging by that time-table it looks like the world wants a blaxploitation satire flick every ten years).

The original Nefertitty joint came out in 2011:

Several things about Nefertitty set it apart. One is context. This is a Lola Rocknrolla film. We know there’s more to it than a stand-alone goof because we have her whole body of work to look at, and it’s plain from the way she tells the story. There is no pussyfooting here. The film-maker and her actors jump with both feet into stereotype (both black and white) like it was a swimming pool full of champagne. But there is something else at work. Blaxploitation has always been a complicated genre (as have many previous forms of American show business). At best it’s an unresolveable question. Yes those historical films back in the early ’70s did emphatically NOT depict a lot of black doctors, statesmen, philosophers and rocket scientists, but instead a bunch of pimps, hookers, junkies and drug dealers (and, the brothers and sisters who bust them). But on the other hand, the form was chic, its stars were admired and set the fashions throughout the show biz world for the entire decade. For better or worse, people EMULATED these films. And this was the first time in history black Americans had a widespread cinematic format in which to take chances, stretch their legs, and just BE….as opposed to playing menials, servants and sidekicks in a “white story”. And though blaxploitation films were the farthest thing from a representative “black story”, they were a mainstream forum for black acting, black music, and black culture in general. There is a certain palpable joy and liberated energy in these movies. (We watched Shaft, Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem and the Blacula films on TCM just a few weeks ago, so it’s all fresh in my head.) As Nerfertitty, Maine Anders broadcasts that exhilarating feeling of “owning it” that is the whole performance style. Then she compounds that feeling with the giddy gas of getting to send it up, all done with a wicked, mischievous gleam in her eye worthy of Arlecchino.

The other major stereotype in blaxploitation films is, duh, whites, invariably rendered as uptight assholes, clueless idiots, white collar criminals, shifty public officials, wanna-be fascists, and sometimes wanna-be blacks. Playing it this way was a stroke of genius on the parts of producers (apart from any intentional character defamation they may have engaged in): it struck the perfect balance between manipulating the resentments of black audiences, and stoking the sublimated guilt feelings of white ones. Lola goes here big time in both Nefertitty films. In fact, the big plague infecting the ghetto in the first Nefertitty is an insidious cocaine that turns the user into an albino honky. And here is Anders as an ofay police captain in Nefertitty in Space (like Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence she plays multiple characters in both films):

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Second is that, as always (and this is something that Lola can definitely be said to have inherited from Waters, and others such as Russ Meyers) she turns the heat WAY the hell up on the playing style. Here too (I’m assuming) she’s a conscious heir to the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, which developed an entire playing style along these lines (and Lola has also done theatre, a show called Homo: The Musical.) This isn’t mere acting; this is PERFORMANCE. This is SHOW BIZ. It’s a movie as a “movie”, with no reality beyond the line-by-line, shot-by-shot immediate need to entertain and engage the audience. If your attention flags while watching this movie, you have issues and you probably need to check in someplace where they give you a pill and a plastic cup of water twice a day.

And, as always, Lola smashes in other genres and brings her insane imagination to bear, which takes this far, far beyond the realm of mere blaxploitation spoof, because no blaxploitation flick ever did anything as weird or as outre as smashing together blaxploitation with gay camp with Star Wars, as she does in Nefertitty in Space, in which the villain is the World Famous Bob as a floating, topless, tassled torso, who uses her breasts as a “white sabre”, shooting a ray that turns her victims into valley-girl talkin’ crackers. It’s clever casting indeed to give a gal named ‘titty an arch nemesis like World Famous Bob, whose pendulous jugs are the Eighth and Ninth Wonders of the World.

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At all events, here’s the trailer to the new film. It’s just about to make the rounds on the festival circuit and I’ll warrant it’ll soon be available online as well. Bottom line: all hail Lola Rock’N’Roller, whose movies put the spring back in my step big time.

Stuff Yourself Silly Tonight!

Posted in BROOKLYN, Coney Island, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , on November 26, 2014 by travsd

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Stars of Slapstick #203: Eddie Lyons

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , on November 25, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Eddie Lyons (1886-1926). Lyons started out in vaudeville and musical comedy. His first film The Villian Foiled, was co-directed by Mack Sennett and Henry Lehrman for Biograph. He stayed with Biograph for two years before going to work for Al Christie. In 1915, Christie paired him with Lee Moran and for five years the two were a very successful comedy team enacting domestic sit-com style scenarios. Lyons directed or co-directed most of his films through 1924. In the early 20s he broke up with Moran, directing his own solo vehicles at his own independent production company for Arrow Film Corporation.  In 1924, he went back to being an actor for hire, appearing in three additional features before he was killed (it is said) by a burst appendix in 1926.

Here he is one of his post-Moran comedies:

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville # 883: The Oakland Sisters

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Sister Acts, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Dagmar Oakland (Edna Andersen, 1893-1989), one half of the vaudeville team the Oakland Sisters. Her sister Vivien is better known today — she’ll get her own post here in due course, for she was in many classic comedies. The girls initially performed in vaudeville as the Anker Sisters, then changed their name to “Oakland” as a tribute to their home town. For a time they performed with the Boston Juveniles, later billed as the Juvenile Bostonians. In 1915, their careers were assured when they made it all the way to the Ziegfeld Follies, along with Ed Wynn, W.C. Fields, Bert Williams, Leon Errol, Ina Claire, Olive Thomas, Ann Pennington and many others.

This is the point where the team split up. Vivien went on to her film career. Dagmar remained on Broadway for another 15 years, with great parts in eight shows, notably The Student Prince (1924-26), Show Boat (1927-1929), and The Wonder Bar (1931). Then she joined her sister in Hollywood, where she worked for another 15 years, although with much less success. She normally had walk-ons and bit parts. One notable exception was her part as the pretty manicurist in The Barber Shop (1933), with her old Follies co-star W.C. Fields.

To learn more about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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