Here's some excellent news in this year of unrelenting bad news: there are very cool classic movie related events and Blu-ray releases just around the corner.
The wonderful Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum presents an online version of Charlie Chaplin Days on June 26-28. Since 1979, Chaplin Days has been celebrated in the historic district of Niles now part of Fremont, California. Its origin goes back to 1915, when Charlie Chaplin came to town to work for the Essanay Film Company. During his stay he made five films, including his iconic film The Tramp.
While he was here he watched films in the Edison Theater (now home of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum), and discovered his leading lady, Edna Purviance, who answered an advertisement in a San Francisco newspaper for a job to work in motion pictures.
Although Chaplin only made a fraction of the over 350 films produced by Essanay during its time in town from 1912 to 1916, Chaplin’s name is the most remembered by the general public, and that tradition continues one weekend a year in Niles. The museum shows the films Chaplin made while in Niles a century ago and also stages activities, including a look-alike contest, while merchants display all things Charlie, and a grand time is had by all.
We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog have LOVED attending this in the past, but, alas, COVID-19 (lethal yet scoffed at, raging, totally ignored - and still frighteningly out-of-control in the United States) has put the kibbosh on going to see our friends at the museum to enjoy this terrific annual event.
Thankfully, the intrepid and creative Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum staff will be going ahead with an online version of Charlie Chaplin Days for 2020 -and raising it with an online Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival on July 24 - 26.
There will be excellent presentations about the silver screen phenomenon that was Charles Spencer Chaplin both on YouTube and via Zoom. Rena Kiehn of the museum discusses the 2020 Charlie Chaplin Days on the Nitrateville Podcast starting at 14 minutes in.
Here are the lineups of Charlie Chaplin Days presentations for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Further good news: the great films of the greatest comedy team. Laurel & Hardy shall at long last get an official release on Blu-ray.
"Two supremely brainless men, totally innocent of heart, and outrageously optimistic -- there is no one as dumb as a dumb guy who thinks he's smart." John McCabe
Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations, curated and presented by Kit Parker Films and The Sprocket Vault, shall dramatically increase the laugh quotient in this troubled world by its very existence.
All of the material on the four disc Blu-ray edition is also included in the six disc DVD version, in different configurations. These discs will all be region-free. All films - including the interview films, the trailers and the audio interviews -- have optional English subtitles.
The theatrical films (including The Tree in a Test Tube and That’s That) have optional commentaries by Hal Roach Studio and L&H scholars Richard W. Bann (for The Battle of the Century and The Music Box) and by Randy Skretvedt (all others). There are also wonderful interviews conducted by the aforementioned scholars with many who worked with Laurel & Hardy on these films.
The question I get regarding Laurel & Hardy is how they differ from other comedy teams.
My answer is that what significantly differentiates the skinny Englishman and the portly American from other teams, such as The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Wheeler & Woolsey, Clark & McCullough, The Ritz Brothers, Olsen & Johnson and (later) Abbott & Costello, Hope & Crosby, The Bowery Boys and Martin & Lewis is that the duo genuinely care about each other.
There is a bond, a warmth and an affection between Stan & Babe, however extreme the slapstick calamities caused by their own incompetence get. This blogger and classic movie fan doesn't get this sense at all from any of the other comedy teams, as hilarious as they frequently are.
The best example of this is the opening of their 1938 feature Blockheads, in which Ollie visits Stan at the home for disabled World War I soldiers. Ollie is shocked to find that his pal appears to have lost a leg and offers to take Stan home. A bit of a tragicomedy ensues, as Ollie's consideration and love for Stan, punctuated by his chum’s utter cluelessness, ruins his life! At one point he carries Stan in his arms. Little does Ollie know, Stan merely bent his leg in a way that concealed it and can walk just fine - but enjoys being carried! This is a sequence we can't imagine with ANY of the other aforementioned comedy teams, just L&H.
Another area where they differ from the rest is in how the team specifically practices the art of the gag. In Laurel & Hardy comedies, often the big laughs arrive right before and right after the punchline. In their early 1930’s films as HOG WILD, HELPMATES, TOWED IN A HOLE and BUSY BODIES, calamitous destruction, frequently caused by Stanley’s good-hearted but inept efforts to “help,” is invariably followed by Oliver Hardy looking directly at the camera prior in utter frustration and resignation.
Some of this subtle approach, in which the slapstick indignity is not nearly as important as the reaction to it, can be seen in the 1920's films of innovative silent movie comedians Lloyd Hamilton and Harry Langdon, but Laurel & Hardy take the mastery of a gag, preceded by anticipation of disaster and followed by a hilarious reaction, to new heights.
The set includes nine hours of exclusive bonus materials -- thousands of stills, many of which are from Oliver Hardy's personal collection; press sheets and other Hal Roach Studios documents; audio interviews with cast and crew members; filmed interviews; original trailers -- and much more.
Credits for Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations are as follows. Kudos, bravos and huzzahs to all who contributed to this release.
- Film preservation by Richard W. Bann, The UCLA Film & Television Archive, The Library of Congress
- Digital restorations produced by Jeff Joseph/SabuCat and performed by Thad Komorowski/Cineaste Restoration.
- A.R.T. by Point 360.
- Final Conforming and Clean Up by The Finishing Touch.
- DVD and Blu-ray element assembly, design and authoring by Tiffany Clayton.
Feature: Sons of the Desert
The Battle of the Century, presented nearly complete with original amber tint and a new score by Donald Sosin.
Berth Marks, with original 1929 soundtrack and 1936 reissue soundtrack
Sons of the Desert Publicity Portraits • Scene Stills • Deleted and Candids • Posters and Publicity • Early Script • Dialogue Continuity • Contracts and Documents
Battle of the Century (including Press Sheet and publicity material)
Berth Marks including production stills, press sheet articles, music cue sheets, poster and lobby card art.
Portraits in Costume
Early Career: Stan
Early Career: Babe
Anita Garvin Interview
Joe Rock Interview
Roy Seawright Interview (all filmed by Randy Skretvedt, October 1981; in color)
Ship’s Reporter interview with Babe Hardy, June 10, 1950
Sons of the Desert trailer (in Spanish)
Brats, with original 1930 soundtrack and 1937 reissue soundtrack
Hog Wild (from full aperture 1:33 source)
One Good Turn
Me and My Pal
Brats • Hog Wild • Come Clean • One Good Turn • Me and My Pal (all including production stills, press sheet articles, music cue sheets, poster and lobby card art)
Babe Hardy’s Vim Comedies Scrapbook
L&H with Hollywood Friends
Catalina July 1934
Audio Interview excerpts 1973-1981 from Randy Skretvedt (accompanied with photo galleries):
Billy Bletcher, actor • Joe Rock, producer • Hal Roach, producer • Anita Garvin Stanley, actress • George Marshall, director • Roy Seawright, special effects designer • Venice Lloyd, widow of cameraman Art Lloyd • Richard Currier, film editor • Bert Jordan, film editor • Walter Woolf King, actor • Lucille Hardy Price, Babe’s widow • Marvin Hatley, musical director (including performances of “Ku-Ku,” “Honolulu Baby,” and “Will You Be My Lovey-Dovey?”)
The Music Box
Their First Mistake
The Midnight Patrol
Helpmates • The Music Box • The Chimp • County Hospital • Scram! • Their First Mistake • The Midnight Patrol • Busy Bodies (including production and candid stills, press sheet articles, poster and lobby card artwork, call sheets and production reports, music cue sheets)
A Short History of the Hal Roach Studios
Snapshots from the 1932 UK Vacation
Feature: Way Out West
Short subjects: Towed in a Hole
The Tree in a Test Tube
Way Out West: Portrait Stills • Scene Stills • Candid Stills • Pressbook Articles and Artwork • Poster and Lobby Card Artwork • Original 1913 Sheet Music • Script and Synopsis • Dialogue Continuity, Music Cues, etc. Towed in a Hole • Twice Two • (including production and candid stills, press sheet articles, poster and lobby card artwork, call sheets and production reports, music cue sheets) • That’s That • The Tree in a Test Tube
Portraits out of Costume
Laurel & Hardy and Golf
Odd Publicity Shots
Stan in Retirement
Marvin Hatley music tracks (from Sons of the Desert, Them Thar Hills, Way Out West, Block-Heads, A Chump at Oxford and Saps at Sea) Original Trailers for Beau Hunks, Pack Up Your Troubles, Babes in Toyland, Way Out West, The Flying Deuces, A Chump at Oxford and Saps at Sea
We thank everybody involved with making this set a reality and also tip our battered brown derbies to the gentlemen in the following photo from the set of BELOW ZERO (1930): Stan and Babe, flanked by director James Parrott and fellow Hal Roach Studio star (and James' brother) Charley Chase.
Thinking of Stan, Babe and the Parrott brothers brings to mind the question, how do you thank someone for a million laughs? Buy the L&H: The Definitive Restorations Blu-ray, which is available for pre-order now and officially released on June 30.