Friday, April 24, 2020
During extended sheltering-in-place thanks to That Darn Pandemic, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are pleased as pomegranates to see fellow archivists, friends, historians, classic movie and animation buffs stepping up to the plate with much needed entertainment.
On Facebook Friday nights at 8:00 p.m. Sci Fi Bob Ekman, my friend and guru of the Kodak Pageant 250S, presents a weekly slice of the Psychotronix Film Festival. Do I miss my cohorts, Sci Fi Bob, Robert Emmett, Scott Moon, Gary "The Poster King" Hascall and the gang from KFJC??? F¶*^#¡£¢¡¶$£%&~≠ YEAH!! Is it fun to see hand-picked psychotronic flicks from the Sci Fi Bob Archives, projected in glorious 16mm straight from the booth at Derek Zemrak's movie palace in Orinda, California? Again, F¶*^$#¡£¢¶¡$%&~≠ YEAH!!!
We've mentioned the monthly Cartoon Carnival programs presented by Tommy Stathes quite a few times on this blog. These fun programs had been simulcast on Facebook, which was fantastic for us who could not make it down to Brooklyn to be there in person.
Now none of us are going anywhere, so Tommy will be presenting an all-new Cartoon Carnival online from home on Facebook tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. EST.
For more info, go to Tommy's Cartoons On Film webpage and read The 16mm Cartoon Carnival Goes Online from the always splendid Cartoon Research website.
And, speaking of cohorts from past movie events, horror host Mr. Lobo presents Cinema Insomnia on Facebook weekly, late nights on Saturday, starting at 10:00 p.m. EST.
The last streaming Cinema Insomnia episode featured one of the most misunderstood movies of all misunderstood movies, a Filipino horror flick that struck this viewer as a gorier (and only marginally more competent) version of Manos: The Hands Of Fate, but with even worse hairdos and tacky early 1970's fashions. Mr. Lobo and Miss Mittens co-host!
Sunday afternoons at 3:00 p.m. EST, silent movie experts Ben Model and Steve Massa present The Silent Comedy Watch Party on YouTube. To watch this Sunday's show, go to the YouTube channel. The past five episodes have, as all of the aforementioned watch parties, provided and continue to provide sorely needed LAUGHS!
Silent Comedy Watch Party logo by Marlene Weisman
Thanks to a very generous OK from Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films (Paris) to include short subjects he has produced for DVD/Blu-ray release, this Sunday's show includes a Lobster release from the Blackhawk Films Collection.
That would be His Wooden Wedding, one of the funniest comedy short subjects ever made, directed by Leo McCarey and starring the one, the only Charley Chase.
There are terrific comedies every week, representing the gamut of silent movie funmakers.
Opening for Charley is It's Me (1927), a comedy rarity starring Monty Collins and directed by Harry Sweet. This is from a transfer of the only known print, a very rare 16mm from the collection of cartoonist Kim Deitch, and unavailable on DVD. Also on the program, thanks to the EYE Filmmuseum, is She Cried, a 1912 Vitagraph short subject starring and written by Florence Turner, prolific star of movies in Great Britain and America. This was preserved by the EYE Filmmuseum (Netherlands), from a 35mm original print in the Jean Desmet Collection.
Previous episodes of The Silent Comedy Watch Party are up on Ben Model's YouTube channel. The episode show page is also up and features further details about the films. For more info, check out the main page for The Silent Comedy Watch Party, as well as Ben Model's podcast on Ben Model's Blog. E-mail: http://www.silentfilmmusic.com/email.
Friday, April 17, 2020
"The films are frequently bizarre and sometimes bewildering, but often hilarious, and certainly much better than they’ve been given credit for." Matthew Ross, The Lost Laugh
"It’s a sad but undeniable fact that these are among the worst two-reelers ever made." Leonard Maltin
"Even though Langdon's character in the Roach shorts is not too drastically different from his character in his feature films from the late 20s, I feel that with the addition of language, the effect of Langdon's man-child is heightened." Magnolia's Musings
"In these Roach films, Harry is exploring how he can retain the integrity of his established comic persona while working in the sound film medium." James L. Neibaur, author of The Silent Films of Harry Langdon: 1923-1928
"Some will see Harry's fearlessness and determination to stick with his bizarre little character as pure comedy genius. Others - and that would be many classic comedy buffs - will see a performer smashing boundaries and experimenting with offbeat ideas way beyond the point where the results are funny." Paul F. Etcheverry, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog
In one of those amazing accidents of fate, Laurel & Hardy's Hats Off still remains a lost film in 2020, but lo and behold, arguably the most controversial of all series produced by the Hal Roach Studios, the eight short subjects starring Harry "The Little Elf" Langdon, are now available on DVD. Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog applauds this release!
All eight Harry Langdon Hal Roach 2-reelers, including the heretofore lost films Hotter Than Hot and Sky Boy, which still only exist as silents - the sound discs have yet to be found - are on this 2-DVD collection.
As remains the case with Andy Kaufman's standup comedy, flavored coffees, It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Carolina Reaper peppers, the solo records of Syd Barrett, reality television, Carrot Top, tenor banjos, avant-garde modern jazz and Worcestershire sauce, there are no half measures regarding Harry Langdon's 1929-1930 series - and his approach to comedy in general. The response to the Hal Roach talkies starring Harry Langdon, invariably, even among diehard classic comedy buffs, remains either "this is A SCREAM - FREAKIN' HILARIOUS!" or "this is the worst thing I've ever seen!"
We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are strongly of the former persuasion and consider it a given that Harry's approach is unconventional and unusual.
Rule of thumb #1 for appreciating the Langdon cinematic universe: accept that Harry's mind does not work in anything remotely resembling a conventional way - and just roll with it!
Count this blogmeister among those who laugh out loud throughout the infamous "sandwich and apple" sequence in The Head Guy, even though it is longer than the long version of Light My Fire by The Doors. Harry's m.o. is to build the tension in a scene by extending it - and this elicits quite the cathartic belly laugh when that tension is finally burst.
Having seen utter drek masquerading as comedy produced in the silent and early talkie eras by the likes of William M. Pizor Productions, Josh Binney/Florida Film Corporation, the Stern Brothers and the Al Christie studio, this writer begs to differ with the opinion that the Hal Roach sound Harry Langdon short subjects represent a nadir in the short comedy field.
They are not even the worst 2-reelers produced by Roach - that would be The Taxi Boys comedies which feature Ben Blue, a manic, over-the-top performer whose m.o. throughout is "hey, look at me - ain't I funny?"
Had the opportunity to view six of the Langdon Roach comedies on Turner Classic Movies and was pleasantly surprised, given that quite a few film historians have described them as train wrecks.
Especially enjoyed the hilarious The Big Kick, much of which plays essentially as a silent and includes both way-out concepts and several scenes of astonishing pantomime by Harry. Was ROFL through an indescribably funny scene involving a row of mannequins, who Harry mistakes for real-life humans.
The western comedy The Fighting Parson, enlivened by Harry's singing, banjo playing and dancing, is another standout in the series.
The Shrimp exemplifies the "little guy turns tiger and turns the tables" sub-genre, along with the Laurel & Hardy comedies Early To Bed, One Good Turn and A Chump At Oxford, and delivers on the premise. Harry's transformation from bullied nebbish to tough guy is quite extraordinary.
These were among the first season of talkies produced by The Lot of Fun, along with the 1929 films starring Our Gang, Charley Chase and Laurel & Hardy. All experienced an adjustment period from silents to sound films, with such part-talkies as Our Gang a.k.a. Hal Roach's Rascals in Boxing Gloves proving to be particularly awkward and primitive in sound technique, but nonetheless quite funny.
Today's post is titled Langdon vs. Microphones at The Lot Of Fun not because Harry was uncomfortable working in sound films, but because the experience of hearing his addled-brain man child character as well as seeing him remains fundamentally different from watching The Little Elf in silents. Harry's essential characterization is in utter uncensored, unvarnished, undiluted and unabashed form in the Hal Roach talkies and we hear his circular dialogue with himself.
What's different about the Hal Roach series as compared to most of his silent starring vehicles, with the exception of the darkest of them, Long Pants, is that Harry appears to up the "strange behavior" quotient just a tad. They present the character Harry developed in stage and vaudeville at its most out-there, discombobulated and cosmically befuddled. Now, when the Hal Roach series was produced, this characterization was not necessarily anything new or unheard of; Harry can be seen muttering onscreen in the 26 Mack Sennett silent short subjects he starred in.
While the criticisms of how weird and unsympathetic Harry's character is in the Hal Roach series compared to the more Chaplin-esque Little Elf who successfully evoked pathos in the silent features The Strong Man, Tramp Tramp Tramp and Three's A Crowd are well taken, if one is familiar with such latter-day standup comedians and comic actors as the aforementioned Andy Kaufman, Bobcat Goldthwait, Martin Short, Emo Phillips and the Saturday Night Live performances of Kristen Wiig, by comparison, Harry's space cadet character in his 1929-1930 films doesn't seem all that weird. Compared to Jiminy Glick, Harry looks like Cary Grant - and Jiminy would agree!
Among Harry Langdon's short comedies, these, in this writer's opinion, are a great deal better than many of the Columbias, which attempt to replicate the Three Stooges slapstick formula with all comedians on the lot, but are far surpassed by the subsequent Educational Pictures series.
We hear those will be remastered later this year and on DVD in 2021.
Harry essentially plays his character silent and lets his perennial onscreen foil and offscreen best friend Vernon Dent do the talking in these 1932-1933 comedies. In such classic 2-reelers as The Hitch Hiker and Knight Duty, this works beautifully.
Unfortunately, the 1934 Paramount short subjects produced by the same crew as the 1932-1933 Educational series at this juncture are lost films.
The lineup on the two DVDs is as follows:
Hotter Than Hot - Released to movie theaters in the United States on August 17, 1929
Sky Boy - Released on October 5, 1929
Skirt Shy - Released on November 30, 1929
The Head Guy - Released on January 11, 1930
The Fighting Parson - Released on February 22, 1930
The Big Kick - Released on March 29, 1930
The Shrimp - Released on May 3, 1930
The King - Released on June 14 1930
Commentaries by author, film historian and Harry Langdon expert Richard M. Roberts
La estación de gasolina (Spanish language version of ”The Big Kick”)
”Hal Roach Presents Harry Langdon” (1929)
”Hal Roach Studio Auction”(1963)
Supplemental music composed and performed by Andrew Earle Simpson
Harry Langdon At Hal Roach: The Talkies 1929-1930 is a followup to previous DVD releases by The Sprocket Vault of Hal Roach studio films featuring director-writer-comedian Charley Chase and the series co-starring Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts.
All of these releases are fantastic additions to the classic movie buff's DVD/Blu-ray collection and also offer an opportunity to introduce young people, very unlikely to see them unless they or a friend has TCM, to the world of classic movies and early sound era comedy. Just add the Marx Brothers Paramount films Blu-Ray to start that process! Those who are interested will be fans for life.
For more info on Harry Langdon, read Little Elf: A Celebration of Harry Langdon by Chuck Harter and Michael J. Hayde.
As well as William Schelly's terrific biography.
Last but not least, for the cool vintage graphics (frame grabs, posters and lobby cards) throughout today's post, we extend respectful tips of the Max Linder top hat to the review of the infamous The Head Guy that was a fantastic read on Magnolia's Musings: the Black & White Comedy Cinema Review, Langdon scholar Tim Greer's Feet Of Mud and Dave Lord Heath's Another Fine Mess: The Films Of Laurel & Hardy websites. Nice work, all of you - and thanks again!
Sunday, April 12, 2020
It's a very odd Easter in 2020, one without family and friends getting together over some asparagus and cream cheese quiche (or was that bacon, caramelized onion, Rogue Cheddar and Monterey Jack quiche?) washed down by Bing Crosby's favorite, "a bit of the bubbly" or some Dansk Påskebryg and Påskebockbryggeri (no My Dinner With Andre Cold Duck, please), followed by watching the 1948 MGM musical Easter Parade on 21st century big screen TV and Blu-ray.
Yes, there will be Easter services without congregations today. Andrea Bocelli will sing to an empty cathedral. Late-night television hosts Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Fallon, Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden and Bill Maher are all doing their shows from home.
We can Zoom, Facetime or Skype, tell jokes and swap shamelessly salacious showbiz stories via our newfangled 21st century devices!
Between ribald, apocryphal and entirely unsubstantiated showbiz anecdotes, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog post animated cartoons on Easter. The temptation is to post Bugs Bunny in Easter Yeggs EVERY YEAR.
The gold standard of Easter cartoons, arguably one of the very best ever helmed by director Robert McKimson, can be seen in its entirety here and on Volume 3 of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection. It never fails to get big laughs from me!
During a global pandemic, this animation aficionado is more than happy to check his brains, cynicism, tendency to criticize and snotty bad attitude at the door and just ENJOY an ultra ultra ultra cute cartoon, so this year's Easter selection is a Walt Disney Silly Symphony from 1934. Let Jon Lovitz be The Critic - dig some Funny Little Bunnies!
Was that Silly Symphony unbearably cutesy? This animation buff does not think so, not at all - far from it! Found this Easter-themed cartoon pleasant, fun, likable, charming and far superior by efforts by all the other animation studios efforts to emulate it back in the mid-1930's.
The Disney cartoons were released on DVD and are still available on that format, albeit a tad pricey.
Many of us classic movie buffs at would love to see the Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony series released on Blu-ray, even if it's just by single volumes arranged chronologically (1928-1931, 1932-1934, etc.).
While there are a slew of terrific books about the Walt Disney Studio and its history, here are three we love at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog. All take a deep dive into the studio's animation and are highly recommended.
The Walt Disney Film Archives: The Animated Movies 1921–1968 by multiple authors
Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney by Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman
Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series by Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman
Very much hoped to find an anti-Easter cartoon comparable to Small Fry (1939), the Max Fleischer Color Classic starring a juvenile delinquent fish who smokes cigarettes and hangs out at the undersea pool hall, to no avail.
The Color Rhapsody cartoon titled The Foolish Bunny, directed by the formidable Arthur Davis, produced by the Charles Mintz Studio and theatrically released on March 13, 1938, stars a cheeky bounder of a juvenile delinquent rabbit prankster who never graduated from bunny kindergarten; Van Eaton Galleries found production drawings from the cartoon. It is, uncharacteristically restrained, tame and (horror of horrors) not in bad taste.
Rather unbelievably, story man Sid Marcus, the same guy responsible for the extremely wacky and uninhibited classic pre-Code cartoons The Beer Parade and Fare Play, as well as the zany early 1940's Color Rhapsodies The Mad Hatter and Red Riding Hood Rides Again, did not go for broke with crazy ideas here. Unfortunately, the delinquent rabbit in The Foolish Bunny doesn't smoke cigarettes, blow up buildings, wear women's clothing and talk like a cross between Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Stander and the Dead End Kids! While there's a bit involving the ill-fated school headmaster and a beehive, in general, this is one of the tamer cartoons to emerge from the Mintz Studio crew led by Art Davis and Sid Marcus. Makes one wonder if Harry Cohn called Sid Marcus personally and asked him not to make weird sick cartoons!
Back to Bugs Bunny, everyone's favorite Easter Rabbit, a couple of years after Art Davis and Sid Marcus made The Foolish Bunny (and a few years before they joined the Warner Brothers cartoon studio, Davis as a top animator for Frank Tashlin and Friz Freleng), Tex Avery's crew got the character of a wascally wiseguy rapscallion rabbit right. With key assists from the brilliant animator Robert McKimson and ace character designer Robert Givens, Bugs Bunny was redesigned with a touch of Max Hare, a touch of Brooklyn and more than a touch of cool. Add Mel Blanc's inspired voice acting and . . . both bingo and VOILA, behold the star of the Oscar-nominated A Wild Hare (1940).
There had been several previous unsuccessful attempts at a proto-Bugs Bunny - Hare-Um Scare-um, directed by Ben "Bugs" Hardaway and using the early, unrecognizable and irritating "scwewy wabbit" prototype in Hardaway's 1938 Looney Tune Porky's Hare Hunt. While the character was indeed first known as "Bugs' bunny", the Hardaway version of the Oscar-winning rabbit in Porky's Hare Hunt and Hare-Um Scare-Um seems much more akin to the character Ben helped develop subsequently for the Walter Lantz Studio, Woody Woodpecker.
Chuck Jones' first fledgling efforts with the character, Elmer's Candid Camera and Elmer's Pet Rabbit, were false starts and over a year away from his stylistic breakthrough as a director, The Draft Horse. These two cartoons were closer to hitting the bull's eye with the scwewy wabbit than Hare-Um Scare-Um, but Bugs lacks charm, good looks, élan and savoir faire. At least Jones and crew, to their credit, got the character of Elmer Fudd exactly right.
Curiously, the magician's hat rabbit in an earlier Merrie Melodie cartoon, Prest-O Change-o, also directed by Chuck Jones, is a lot more elegant than the aggressively goofy rabbit in the Ben Hardaway & Cal Dalton cartoons and gets closer to what would be Bugs Bunny than the chortling bucktoothed variation in Elmer's Candid Camera is.
Directors Avery, Friz Freleng and Bob Clampett would put their spin on the character seen in A Wild Hare over the next year. The cartoons aren't all brilliant - All This & Rabbit Stew is a turkey of turkeys and one of the worst cartoons ever made at Warner Brothers - but the Groucho-seque wiseguy quality of Bugs, understood and expressed by the animators and voice artist supreme Mel Blanc, was established and would carry the day for Warner Bros. cartoons right up to the early 1960's. Bugs was the face of 1940's silver screen comedy and Hollywood cartoons.
Closing today's discussion of Easter bunnies and Oscar-winning rabbits in Cartoonland, we wish all of you a Happy Easter 2020! Enjoy the family and friends one CAN'T spend in-person time with because of the need for social distancing. Cocktail parties, toasting each other via Zoom? Sure! Talk on the cell phone, wiped down with 100% isopropyl? Go for it! Quality time via Facetime or Skype? Absolutely! Swapping shamelessly salacious showbiz stories? You bet!