case there's anyone out there who doesn't know it, The Slapstick
Encyclopedia is awesome — offering about eighteen hours worth of
silent comedy shorts on five DVDs. It's an education in silent comedy,
and the first lesson it teaches is that silent comedy could accommodate
a stunning range of talent and tone, from the subtle sophistication of
Sidney Drew to the certifiable madness of Charlie Bowers.
pantheon isn't seriously challenged, however — the work of Chaplin,
Keaton and Lloyd shines with a special radiance, as you'd expect — but
there are pleasant surprises at every turn.
Harry Langdon remains a
puzzlement to me, based on the two shorts included here, from his
Sennett days. I can't decide if his art is sublime or boring or, by
some mysterious alchemy, both at once. Langdon moves so beautifully
that you simply can't take your eyes off of him, even though you
desperately want to.
Charley Chase vehicle Fluttering Hearts, directed by Leo McCarey, has
a light but sure comic tone that never falters, and a short directed by
Roscoe Arbuckle after the scandal, The Iron Mule, is proof positive
of Arbuckle's exquisite plastic imagination.
collection is organized logically but flexibly, with shorts grouped
sometimes by studio, where there was a strong studio style at work (in
the cases of Sennett and Roach,) sometimes by artists noted for their
collaboration, sometimes by theme.
Chaplin appears in a volume devoted
to the influence of the English music hall, and it's fascinating to see
how much he took from its traditions, and also how magically he
transformed them. Lesser artists working from the same traditions —
even the wondrous Stan Laurel — simply inhabit another, more
circumscribed realm of cinematic possibility.
The Slapstick Encyclopedia ends with a grab bag called The Anarchic Fringe, which
presents several shorts of outright lunacy verging on the incoherent,
collection actually climaxes in the penultimate volume, The Race Is On,
which offers comedies involving various mad chases. Chasing Choo
Choos, with Monty Banks, cut down into a short from the climax of a
feature, includes the God-damnedest train sequence ever put on film.
Delirious, relentless, impossibly beautiful and beautifully impossible,
it's one of the most glorious passages in all of movies, and is as
close to a religious experience as one can have by purely cinematic
DVD set is marred by one irritation. There is no single listing by
volume and disc of all the shorts included. This will only bother you
when you decide to revisit one of the many treasures included — but
then again that's something you'll probably end up doing a lot. The
Silent Era website offers a complete listing of the films which is
worth printing and keeping with the box.
Here's a link to the list:
Check out other posts in the Slapstick Blog-A-Thon here.