Friday, July 26, 2013

Kings of (Silent) Comedy

The Sunday morning show at the SF Silent Film Festival was a program of shorts featuring Felix the Cat, Charley Chase, Buster Keaton & Charlie Chaplin. I'd never seen Charley Chase before, & he made a good impression in Mighty Like a Moose, a frothy domestic comedy. A husband & wife both get cosmetic surgery on the same day. Not recognizing one another, they of course proceed to flirt. Mayhem ensues. Charley Chase has a dapper presence, & he comes across as an ordinary guy in a farcical situation rather than as a clown. The audience laughed especially loud at a routine in which he plays both sides of a fist fight.

I'd never seen the Buster Keaton short The Love Nest either, which parodies the romantic notion of going to sea to forget a lost love. Keaton is hilariously deadpan as he seals a farewell letter with his tears. Most of the gags weirdly invoke death, & the film has a surreal, fragmentary feel. It includes an impressive shot of a breaching whale. The film was only recovered in the 1970s, & perhaps the ending is still lost. As a bonus, we saw a color home movie of Stan Laurel, shot in Santa Monica in the early 1960s, in which he flashes his famous goofy grin.

Günter Buchwald accompanied on the piano. His playing sounded both classical & jazz inflected & fit the period but did not follow the action closely. The event was introduced by Executive Director Stacey Wisnia. Critic Leonard Maltin, a conspicuous attendee at the festival in the past, this year introduced the films via a pre-recorded video.

There were many children, & I heard parents around me reading the intertitles aloud. The little ones were definitely paying attention. The restaurant scene in Chaplin's The Immigrant begins with Eric Campbell trying to get Chaplin to remove his hat. When Edna Purviance later sat next to Chaplin, a little girl behind me yelled "You're not allowed to wear hats!"

§ Kings of (Silent) Comedy
Musical Accompaniment by Günter Buchwald

Felix Goes West
Directed by Otto Messmer, USA, 1924

Mighty Like a Moose
Directed by Leo McCarey, USA, 1926

The Love Nest
Directed by Buster Keaton, USA, 1922

The Immigrant
Directed by Charles Chapiin, USA, 1917

Stan Laurel Home Movies

2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Sunday, July 21, 10:00am
Castro Theatre

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