Tonight on TCM: Buster Keaton in “The Scarecrow”

Posted in Buster Keaton, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , on April 26, 2015 by travsd

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Tonight (tomorrow morning at 1:30am) Turner Classic Movies will show the Buster Keaton silent comedy short The Sacrecrow (1920). The Scarecrow is one of Keaton’s most perfect, best-loved shorts.

In the first scene, we meet farm-hand Buster and his house-mate (Joe Roberts). The pair live in a house that is a model of harebrained efficiency.  The breakfast table is a contraption—all the condiments, salt, pepper, syrup and so forth are on a system of strings and pulleys that the guys swing to each other in perfect coordination. The biscuits arrive on a little wagon. The dishes are attached to the table; washing them is just a matter of hosing the whole thing down. Water from the sink empties into a little duck pond. Food scraps tumble down to waiting pigs.

The two farm-hands leave the house and see the girl they both love (Sybil Seeley) — and that’s the end of their cooperation. They fight over her, and her father (Joe Keaton, Buster’s real life father) chases them off. While the room-mate dances with the girl, Buster has a run-in with a vicious dog (played by Fatty Arbuckle’s frequent canine co-star, “Luke”).

Then, in order to evade the irate father’s wrath (and his shotgun), Buster disguises himself as the titular scarecrow, a sight both funny and striking. Next, when he just happens to be kneeling in a “proposal” pose, the girl emerges from out of nowhere and accepts! They flee together on a motorcycle, providentially picking up a preacher along the way. He marries them as they speed along on the two-wheeler without ever stopping — until they fall into a river as man and wife.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out 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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Harry Langdon in “Remember When”

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Harry Langdon, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on April 26, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Harry Langdon comedy short Remember When (1925), directed by Harry Edwards.

It starts out at an orphanage where Harry and a girl (Natalie Kingston) are sweethearts. When his sweetheart moves away he leaves the orphanage and becomes a tramp. 15 years pass. Harry is stealing chickens from a farm — a hilarious but where he is trying to hide them in his coat from the sheriff. When nabbed, an impossible number of chickens come out of his coat, like a clown car. Then he accidentally gets a bee’s best on his bindlestiff rather than a bundle. Bees down his pants cause him to crazy gymnastics. A scout from a nearby circus witnesses this and hires Harry to be an acrobat.  Little known to Harry his old sweetheart also works at this circus, as a bearded lady. They have a reunion, although Harry is not crazy about the beard. Later lets in a couple of dozen orphans from his old orphanage into the circus for free, and gets fired. The girl takes her beard off (it’s fake) and they have a proper reunion.

And now a clip:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out 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 Slapstick #207: Dorothy Dwan

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Silent Film with tags , , , , , on April 26, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Dorothy Dwan (Dorothy Ilgenfritz, 1906-1981).  Today she is best known (when she is known at all) as the leading lady and wife of Larry Semon, although the majority of her films were without him — most of them westerns.

Originally from Missouri, she moved to the Hollywood area with her single mom who became a movie publicist. Through her influence, the gorgeous teenager began to get parts at Vitagraph starting in 1922. (Her screen name was taken from director Allan Dwan). Semon began to cast her in 1924, when she was still only 18. Her films with him include Her Boy Friend (1924), Kid Speed (1924), The Wizard of Oz (1925, as Dorothy!), The Dome Doctor (1925), The Cloudhopper (1925), The Perfect Clown (1925), My Best Girl (1925), Stop Look and Listen (1926), and Spuds (1927). She was married to Semon from 1925 through his death in 1928.

Fortunately, she had a movie career of her own to cushion the blow. She’d been appearing in westerns, mysteries and other kinds of films right along, in fact many more of them than comedies she made with Semon. She appeared opposite the top western stars of the day, guys like Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, and Tim McCoy. Her career lasted until the early days of the talking era. Her last film was The Fighting Legion (1930). She retired in 1931 to raise a family.

Now here she is one of her first roles, Her Boyfriend, with Larry Semon and Oliver Hardy:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To find out 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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An Introduction to ME, or Don’t Invite Me to Your Shows

Posted in ME with tags on April 25, 2015 by travsd
My review of the scenery around Los Alamos, New Mexico

My review of the scenery around Los Alamos, New Mexico

An adverse reaction to a review I posted here a couple of days ago convinces me of the necessity of this public declaration that I hope will make one thing abundantly clear: unless you have some unmistakable reason to suspect otherwise I would be more than ecstatic never to be invited to your shows ever again. This means YOU.

I don’t mean that I don’t wish to buy tickets to your shows. I don’t even wish to be COMPED to your shows. The most valuable thing to me in my life is my time, and spending that time in activities which I know will either be productive or that I will enjoy. And the odds that your show will rate that description (unless you already know that I am a friend or a fan) are infinitesimal. So much do I value my time that I can’t put a dollar amount on it. Would it be worth $10,000 to me to devote four hours of my life (two hours in travel time, two hours for the performance) to watching your shitty show? I should say not. Not when I could be walking in the woods, writing, reading a book, having a conversation with my brilliant girl friend, or watching far superior entertainment on that machine across from my sofa in the comfort of my own home. I have already said as much here. You got that? Not only don’t I want to attend for free, I WOULDN’T TAKE $10,000. Well, I’d take it but I wouldn’t like it.

This isn’t to say that I don’t go to the theatre or that I won’t ever go to the theatre. In fact I often love the theatre. Just look at this and this. But it is to say that whatever theatre I do so see struggles against an innate handicap. It begins in the red and it will have much to do to break even, let alone get ahead. Don’t ever suffer any misapprehension that you are doing me a favor by letting me attend your performance. I don’t care if it’s a hit, I don’t care if Ben Brantley called it the greatest invention since Wonder Bread, if I don’t want to be there (I almost always don’t) you are STEALING SOME OF MY SHORT TIME ON THIS EARTH. Instrinsically. I don’t attend theatre to socialize, I don’t give a shit about keeping up with the Joneses, and if you’re “hot”, then so much the worse for you as far I’m concerned, because all that means to me is that you swindled a lot of lemmings into walking off your cliff. If there’s one thing I pride myself on it’s seeing with my own eyes and forming my own opinions.

I remember a couple of years ago a friend, stung by a bad review asked the evergreen question, “What good are critics anyway? One guy wrote a good review, and one guy wrote a bad one, so what good are they?” The answer in 2015 (the era of democracy, the internet and a woeful lack of education even among “educated” people), is that a large percentage of them — almost all of them — are worthless. It is my considered opinion that even most contemporary PROFESSIONAL critics are unequal to the task they purportedly undertake, never mind the vast army of citizen journalists who throw in their two cents, both of which are counterfeit. Almost all of them are worthless, that is, except….

I won’t say my own opinion is unerring, but I will say that I am uncommonly well informed about the theatre. I began taking courses in theatre history when I was 13 years old, I had read every extant Greek and Roman play (including the fragments of Menander) by the age of 19, and subsequently every play of Shakespeare’s and most of the other Elizabethans, all the classics of the Restoration and the French classicists, every significant American play (including every single available play by O’Neill, Williams, Miller, Odets, Maxwell Anderson etc etc), scores and scores of 19th century melodramas and comedies by people you never heard of, everything by Shaw, Wilde, and many of their contemporaries, everything by Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Coward, all the Absurdists, everything by Brecht, the American musical theatre canon, and I’m sure I’m still leaving out hundreds of others.

Reading plays is one thing; from the time I was a teenager I’ve also seen hundreds upon hundreds of productions, most of them in the course of reviewing for publication: I wrote nearly 100 pieces for Time Out New York, 30 for the Village Voice, numerous ones for American Theatre during my fellowship there, a monthly column for The Villager for four years, and pieces for The New York Times, The New York Sun, Reason and others (including this blog). To learn to write reviews I read widely in the criticism of Shaw, Wilde, Max Beerbohm, George Jean Nathan, Dorothy Parker, Harold Clurman, John Mason Brown, Walter Kerr, John Lahr, and many others. By “read widely”, I mean hundreds and hundreds of essays. I also studied criticism at NYU, and am a trained and experienced actor, playwright, director and producer. And of course there have been all those years researching vaudeville, burlesque and theatre history in general, resulting in things like books.

I left a lot out because I don’t want to brag. Consequently when I take a black eye from reviewers and critics myself in reaction to my own productions, it’s rarely from a place of “Why, that pompous, superior ass!” it’s generally more like “How dare they send that retarded teenager to judge my masterpiece? The orangutan they sent as a reviewer is not qualified to evaluate my farts!” And I can generally be fairly certain that I’m correct.

How do you do? This is an introduction to me. You may have known me for several years without knowing THIS. Invite me to your show, I will be only too glad to tear out your jugular vein in revenge for depriving me of my walk in the woods. I might well love your show. The odds are fairly certain, for example, that I will love what I’m seeing tonight. But I generally have a pretty good instinct for seeking out and finding what I think I will like and not resent on my own. I make no pretense of ever being “fair” about this highly subjective undertaking. But I will say that if you don’t badger me to see your fuckin’ show, you’re on safe and solid ground.

Tonight on TCM: Deathdream, or Dead of Night

Posted in Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2015 by travsd

 

Tonight (tomorrow morning really) at 2:15am (EST), Turner Classic Movies will be showing the early Bob Clark film Deathdream, a.k.a. Dead of Night (1974). The under-rated Clark was the man behind Black Christmas (1974), Murder by Decree (1979), Porky’s (1982) and A Christmas Story (1983). He invented entire genres.  

Deathdream, a.k.a. Dead of Night (1974) is a monster movie that turns out also to be one of the very first movies about the impact on Americans of the Vietnam war.  Shot under the influence of Cassavates it seems (naturalism, improv), and using two Cassavates actors (John Marley and Lynn Carlin) , it tells the story of a couple who are informed that their son (Richard Backus) has been killed in the war, only to have him show up at the door a few hours later…acting very strangely. Variously described by critics as either a vampire or a zombie, young Andy has the bad habit of slashing people’s throats and injecting their blood in order to stay alive. The combined effect of this habit, and Andy’s alienating behavior, inevitably conjures all those soldiers who came back and had trouble re-assimilating, some of whom became drug addicts.

The film is endlessly fascinating and very well constructed, and “required reading at the academy”. Watch it!

Shirley MacLaine in ’69-70

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , on April 24, 2015 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Shirley MacLaine (b. 1934). Quite at random, a post about two films she made back to back, drawn from my notebooks.

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Sweet Charity (1969)

An all-star effort: music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon (screenplay by Peter Stone for the film), directed by Bob Fosse (both stage and screen), and based on a Fellini film (Nights of Cabiria).

I find much of this film (mostly the song and dance numbers) truly demented and amazing…just riveting in energy and weirdness, emulating both Fellini (sometimes a little too much) and Warhol, as well as the burlesque tradition Fosse knows so well. Unfortunately there isn’t much of a plot, so it really sags between the numbers. It is about a dance hall girl (of the “private dancer” variety) who longs desperately for real love and a normal life. But it rambles and feels static. One segment has her trapped in a closet. Another has her trapped in an elevator. At first, it resembles Fellini too much…her first boyfriend is a mafia looking hood in sunglasses, and her second one a famous  Italian film director (played by Ricardo Montalban).

At the heart of the film is MacLaine, who has played this type of woman countless times: loose with men, ironically, out of goodness and a trusting nature. In such roles she is never less than completely sympathetic and vulnerable. Hence she is great here as Charity. Plus she can dance—if not exactly sing. I am glad she was cast in the film instead of Gwen Verdon, the star of the stage version, who invariably makes my flesh crawl. Stubby Kaye plays the guy who runs the dance hall, Chita Rivera is one of the girls, Sammy Davis Jr is a psychedelic cult leader (in a number that’s just a bit too weak given the weirdness of the scene prior to it where she hooks up with the film director). There is also another familiar face, with but a single line: Bud Cort plays (what else) a hippie in the park. Most of the songs are great and two are famous: “Big Spender” is so well known and so associated with burlesque that I had always assumed it was much older. “If My Friends Could See Me Now” is the other hit.

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Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

Clint Eastwood rides in over credits, oblivious to harbingers of danger: a cougar, a sidewinder, a skeleton, a tarantula. He plays his “Man with No Name” in this movie — only this time he has a name: “Hogan”. Hogan encounters three guys in the Mexican desert raping a nun (MacLaine). He dispatches them all handily.

Hogan proves to be a gentleman with Sister Sara, but only just so far: he makes her bury the guys who were raping her, for example. He prefers that they go their separate ways, but it turns out that she is being pursued by imperial French cavalry. Hogan has a heart, and decides to help evade this band. Then he hatches a plan to take a garrison on Bastille Day with the Mexican revolutionaries she supports and which he sometimes does business with. She knows the layout, and claims to have taught the soldiers Spanish. Bit by bit though we get hints that she is either more (or less) than the nun she claims to be. The film is very well plotted but slow paced, exploring the chemistry/antagonism/growing together of the two characters.

En route, Hogan gets shot by a Yaqui Indian arrow. Sara has to remove it while he gets drunk. Then they blow up a train bridge, in a spectacular but brief shot.  When they get to the town, it turns out that “Sister Sara” is not a nun, but a whore. But there is no time to fight about it. They and the Mexican band invade the French fort and are victorious. Hogan goes back to where Sara is taking a bath — a hint of the final resolution of all this romantic tension. An epilogue has them back in the dessert, Hogan this time carrying all kinds of wedding presents, and “Sister Sara” seriously tarted up. The moral of the story? When in doubt, Shirley MacLaine is always secretly a prostitute.

 

This Weekend at Anthology: Mucho Charlie Chaplin!

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, PLUGS, Silent Film with tags , , , on April 24, 2015 by travsd

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This weekend at New York’s Anthology Film Archives: lotsa great Charlie Chaplin movies! Just click on the highlighted movie titles below for my blogposts on each film:

Saturday, April 25

4:15pm: Program 1:

A Woman (1915)

Easy Street (1917)

A Dog’s Life (1918)

6:oopm: Program 2:

Shoulder Arms (1918)

Sunnyside (1919)

A Day’s Pleasure (1919)

8:00pm: Program 3:

The Idle Class (1921)

The Pilgrim (1923) 

Sunday, April 26

5:45pm: The Gold Rush (1925/ 1942)

7:30pm: City Lights (1931)

More details are here. 

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To find out 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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