Artists' Television Access

[email protected]: Comedy Shorts

Tuesday, December 10, 2019, 6:30 pm

Screening a Noe Valley Library ( 451 Jersey St, SF)

We often are told “silent films were never silent”, but Rick Altman’s research suggests that for the first fifteen years or so of cinema’s existence, they indeed sometimes were shown without musical accompaniment or live narration. The Cinémathèque Française in Paris has always shown silent films with no soundtrack other than the whir of the projector and the laughter of our neighbors. This music-less screening is specially designed to make sure there will be a lot of the latter, featuring some of the funniest comedies of the silent era, each directed by a Great Master.


Big Business (Leo McCarey & James W. Horne, 1929) 20 minutes
Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy try to sell Christmas Trees door-to-door in a sunny Southern California suburb, but are met with a less-than-jolly reception by grinchy homeowner James Finlayson. The conflict inevitably escalates into fury of anti-materialist excess. Leo McCarey, who later directed feature-length comedies with the Marx Brothers, Mae West and Cary Grant, is often cited as the first to successfully pair Laurel with Hardy. Big Business may be the hilariously destructive apotheosis of their collaboration.

The Rink (Charlie Chaplin, 1916) 24 minutes
Often cited as Chaplin’s most productive period as a director and performer, his year and a half at Mutual Films gave him an unprecedented opportunity to make a dozen films with high enough budgets to accommodate his overflowing gag ideas. Eleven of them co-starred Edna Purviance as Charlie’s love interest and Eric Campbell as the heavy, including The Rink, released in December 1916. This film elaborated on roller skating routines Chaplin had developed while working on Fred Karno’s musical hall circuit in England. One Ohio theatre sent Mutual a carpenter’s bill after enthusiastic audience laughter literally “brought down most of the house. The plaster fell off the ceiling and part of the floor sagged.” 


One Week (Buster Keaton & Edward F. Cline, 1920) 25 minutes
Buster Keaton’s first film release as a solo act after fifteen as a duo partnered with his friend Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, One Week became a template for Keaton’s subsequent career, and indeed for physical comedy thereafter. Made during a Federal campaign to increase homeownership, but more than a decade before the New Deal provided substantial assistance for such, One Week follows Keaton and his fictional new bride Sybil Seely as they attempt to construct a house from a kit. A jealous suitor interferes to ensure their domicile becomes a misshapen hazard- and just the perfect arena for Buster to execute the impossible stunts that became his hallmark. The ensuing twists and turns make for one of the most watchable -and RE-watchable- short films ever produced.


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