In Which I Step into a Cinema for the First Time in 3 Years and It Proves Oh So Worth It

I promise I don’t write about every single thing I see or do, but last night was minorly momentous as far as I’m concerned. It marked the first time I have watched movies in a room with other people in nearly three years. And I also realized a long-standing ambition of catching Nelson Hughes’ long running screening series That Slapstick Show, which I had mentioned in this earlier post. It was the perfect night to break my long-running streak of agoraphobia.

There is no cinematic genre more needful of live, human audience interaction than comedy. The belly laughs were plentiful last night. It almost felt like we were re-enacting the scene with the laughing prisoners in Sullivan’s Travels. The movies were that appreciated; the merriment was that genuine. The bill consisted of four rather obscure but hilarious early slapstick talkies: the violent and pyromaniacal The 13th Alarm (1931) starring Chester Conklin (waxing Wilford Brimley-esque by that point in his life); Scratch as Catch Can (1932) with Clark and McCullough (on loan from the BFI, and especially appreciated since we are at the centennial of their big triumph in the Music Box Revue which made them stars); Baby Talks (1929) starring the unsettling child star Sunny Jim McKeen from the Newlyweds series); and a slice of Charley Chase perfection called Snappy Sneezer (1929), which pairs him with the fetching Thelma Todd. All scored a hit with the audience.

Hughes and Stathes, bookending the late Hal Holbrook

The knowing and affable hosts were curator Nelson Hughes and his co-producer Tommy Jose Stathes, long time impresario of the Tommy Jose Stathes Cartoon Carnival, who thrilled us all by getting to show a bunch of early animated films on TCM last year. Tommy will be bringing his vintage cartoons to Metrograph on January 21 and Nelson will be returning to the Queens comedy mecca Q.E.D. (perfect setting for these shows) in late March.

We were also delighted to run into pop culture renaissance man Paul Castiglia last night, who let me know that the West Orange Classic Film Festival, which he helps organize, opens today, with great movies (and guest speakers to announce them) every Sunday over the next couple of months. If you live in New Jersey, you have no excuse for not attending!

Bottom line: I traveled 3 hours in each direction for this show: zero regrets. A show like this is the exact medicine the times require.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.