Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Available For The First Time Since 1917: The Misadventures Of Musty Suffer


"Take one hapless tramp who dreams of bathing in bathtubs of beer, suffers from tenacious hookworms, and regularly goes reconstructive surgery with blunt instruments but always lives to tell about it in the next episode, and you have The Mishaps Of Musty Suffer." Steve Massa



"It’s a most welcome addition because anyone who loves silent film comedy, clowns, circus, vaudeville, performance art, avant-garde film or surrealism will inhale this DVD and booklet." Ben Robinson




The World War I years saw quite a phenomenon in comedy filmmaking with the unprecedented rise to international stardom of Charlie Chaplin.



Although Vitagraph's marital farces known as Bunnyfinches, co-starring corpulent John Bunny and priggish Flora Finch, had been extremely popular with moviegoers in 1910-1914, Chaplin Mania swept the world, much as Beatlemania would a half century later.



The new goal for all comedy film producers since, granted, there was only one Chaplin: out-Mack Sennett Mack Sennett - and be quick about it! Henry "Suicide" Lehrman left Sennett and took over-the-top Keystone Cops chief Ford Sterling with him to Universal. Hal Roach started his new company to make wacky comedies and enlisted former Sennett supporting player Harold Lloyd to star as "Lonesome Luke".



Vitagraph, bastion of sophisticated farce, hired cartoonist Larry Semon to write and direct fast-paced, insane comedies for resident headliners Frank Daniels and "fat comic" Hughie Mack.



The result of Keystone's popularity would be something tantamount to silent comedy punk rock: louder, faster and shorter. Leading the "how low can you go" brigade - the appalling yet weirdly funny antics of Kalem's scummy bum team, "Ham & Bud", L-Ko scoundrel-star Billie Ritchie and Lehrman's frenetic Fox Sunshine Comedies (debut film: Hungry Lions In A Hospital).



Yet, the wildest, the loudest, the most surreal and the funniest of them all may well have been the Mishaps Of Musty Suffer series, produced by George Kleine for Essanay in 1916-1917 and starring rubber-faced circus clown and Zeigfeld Follies performer Harry Watson, Jr. The humor is as wild and crazy as it gets - frequently more along the lines of a Tex Avery MGM cartoon than 1916 Sennett-style knockabout, but periodically throwing in some 19th century vaudeville for good measure.



The Mishaps Of Musty Suffer DVD by Undercrank Productions includes new HD transfers of Musty's mayhem-filled misadventures, preserved by The Library Of Congress and featuring jaunty musical scores by Ben Model. There's also an informative 47 page booklet penned by scholar Steve Massa outlining everything you every wanted to know about Musty Suffer but were afraid to ask.



This is the first time the Musty Suffer films have been available to be seen the general public after their theatrical release 97 years ago. The off-the-wall humor and sight gags prove wonderfully cartoony and in some respects quite Monty Python-esque in their utter outrageousness.



For more info about the films and the DVD, check out this review by Ben Robinson, as well as the official Musty Suffer website.



The DVD and the companion guide are available on Amazon.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Born April 17 - Silent Movie Great Fay Tincher


Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog wishes a Happy Birthday to silent screen comedienne par excellence Fay Tincher, born in Topeka, Kansas on April 17, 1883.



Although she retired from films in the late 1920's (and never looked back), in her World War I era heyday, Fay was arguably the top comedienne in movies other than the iconic Mabel Normand.



Fay's movie career spanned stints with Komic Comedies, Triangle, Christie, and Universal. Her screen popularity took off in 1914 with her scene-stealing antics as Ethel, the outrageous stenographer in Komic Comedies' Bill The Office Boy series.



The few Fay Tincher starring vehicles that still exist are very, very funny. Unfortunately, the only one available on DVD is the following Christie Comedy, which was part of Kino Video's Slapstick Encyclopedia set.



Fay was on record as finding the Christie Comedies a bit too slapstick-oriented for her taste. This may be due to various injuries suffered doing stunts as rugged Rowdy Ann on her western comedies series, as well as an impression on Fay's part that she would get to star in featurettes at Christie Comedies and pursue storylines more in the genteel farce category. She made her last film for the Al Christie Studio in 1920.



Fay was cast as "Min Gump" in Universal's The Gumps series, based on the popular comic strip, in 1923; these, unfortunately, turned out to be her last films (one Gumps comedy, Andy's Stump Speech, has been posted on the National Film Preservation Foundation website).



Fay gives it her all onscreen, as usual, but wasn't given much to do in The Gumps films, which ran through 1928.



She also did not receive any opportunity to work behind the camera, writing stories/gags and directing as Fay had previously. Transitioning from triple threat actress-director-writer to supporting player for the last five years of her movie career may well have prompted her to get out of show business.



Today's tips of the esteemed Max Linder top hat go to Andrew Grossman's 21st century look back at Fay's rootin' tootin' cowgirl films (written for Senses Of Cinema), the prolific Trav S.D for his splendid Stars Of Slapstick blog post on her stage and screen career, and Steve Massa, whose magazine articles and subsequent book Lame Brains And Lunatics: The Good, The Bad And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy did much to put the careers of Fay Tincher and other comedy greats back on the map.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Happy 125th Birthday, Charlie Chaplin!



Before Bing Crosby, before Sinatra, before Elvis, before The Beatles, there was an international pop culture sensation named Charles Spencer Chaplin, born April 16, 1889.



100 years after the release of his first Keystone films in February of 1914, Charlie is still making us laugh, rocking the house at film festivals from Pordenone to San Francisco.








Classic movie buffs can hope that Unknown Chaplin, the outstanding documentary by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, will ultimately receive an official U.S. release.



The film buff's wish list would include Turner Classic Movies and the Chaplin Estate joining forces on such a DVD and Blu-ray release.



Until then, silent comedy fans will be busy reading Michael Hayde's excellent new book, Chaplin's Vintage Year: The History Of The Mutual Chaplin Specials.



For all the great movies, thanks again, Mr. Chaplin.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fundraiser For A San Francisco Institution


It was announced a month ago that arguably the best DVD rental store on the face of the earth, Le Video, in San Francisco's Inner Sunset district, would be, barring a rapid infusion of cash, closing by May 15th. Luckily, a fundraiser was quickly organized via Indie A Go-Go.



As their website notes, not just the killer collection is at risk, but the tradition of the brick and mortar video store and the key role it plays in film discovery, education and social interaction.



Le Video has been a San Francisco institution for over 30 years and features a collection of cinematic rarities from all over the world (and from every era) that cannot be touched by Netflix, Amazon and/or other various streaming video services.



The good news is that LeVideo made its initial goal of $35,000. There are 26 more days in the fundraiser - and Mr. Blogmeister wholeheartedly supports raising the ante!


Friday, April 04, 2014

Stop-Motion, 20th and 21st Century Style: George Pal, Aardman Animations


The Puppetoon Movie, a compilation put together by Arnold Leibovit in 1987, is now available again on a limited edition Blu-ray.



Saw The Puppetoon Movie on the big screen back during its late 1980's theatrical run and was thrilled and delighted to find that it included Mr. Blogmeister's favorite Puppetoon ever made, the charming and romantic Together In The Weather, starring Punchy & Judy.



Reviews thus far include a thorough and well-written piece on the DVD release by Francis Rizzo III for DVD Talk.



There's also Jeremy Arnold's comprehensive article about George Pal's career, The Puppetoon Movie On Blu-ray, on the Turner Classic Movies website.



Here's a clip from the Puppetoon DVD, including a commentary by stop motion animator Bob Baker, who worked with Mr. Pal on the series, and historian/archivist Steve Stanchfield.



Channel Four, known for some pretty darn wonderful documentaries on music, produced this top-notch look at George Pal.





Even in the era of wall-to-wall CGI, this blogger finds Pal's imaginative special effects in such films as War Of The Worlds still positively mind-blowing after six decades.



The latest scoop from Animation Scoop - there's a new feature film forthcoming from a studio much beloved by Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, the incomparable Aardman Animations. Since Mr. Blogmeister adored the Aardman features Chicken Run and Wallace And Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, this is truly jolly good news among this week's reeking current events stench. Of course, ranking high on the short list of all-time favorite films is The Wrong Trousers.



When a October 10, 2005 fire at the Aardman Animations warehouse, the hope was that the company would be able to return from the damage. This blaze wiped out just about all the original sets for the Wallace and Gromit films and panels of original storyboards. . . as fully "up in smoke" as a 35mm nitrate camera negative of a Gale Henry or Alice Howell Universal comedy!



Well, they did make it all the way back, thank Wensleydale, and the official trailer for the upcoming Aardman opus, to be released in 2015, is here - the epic, the sensational, the big screen spectacle topping the special effects and severed-limb packed "300" movies. . . the Shaun the Sheep feature film!



While this will not be a horror flick that crosses Shaun Of The Sheep and Shaun Of The Dead, one sincerely hopes that the next feature from Aardman proves itself at the box office as an enormous international hit and Aardman gets to make more features (maybe even starring Wallace & Gromit). So today, the respectful tip of the Jack Buchanan top hat goes to the outstanding creative artists of Aardman Animations!