I debated trying to make individual posts for all the films included on this collection, but opted instead for the much lazier general overview. In 1998 David Shepard and company restored another batch of silent films to prepare for home video release. The focus was largely to inform people that there were more comedians than Chaplin in the silent era. It's quite remarkable to think of how many popular screen comedians there were in the early days, many of which predating Chaplin by several years. Draws to mind all those funny men that were contemporaries of the Marx Brothers that few younger audiences have any recollection (Red Skelton, Jimmy Durante, etc.) I only picked up the first two volumes for now and it's a little upsetting that director information isn't really listed on any of the films. Most likely these were the results of producers (Volume 2 is all Mack Sennett), but in the early days a director wasn't exactly a position of great importance. The star system was largely in place by now and this meant marketing the newest comedic talent that appeared. The earliest included on the first volume is Ben Turpin, a 40 year old janitor who rose the ranks to become a very recognizable funny man (complete with abnormal mustache). Turpin stars as Mr. Flip, who as one would imagine has his share of misfortunes. In Mabel's Dramatic Debut there's a rare on screen appearance from Mack Sennett himself, and one of the annoyed movie theater patrons is none other than Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. By 1913 he was already making fun of the melodrama that Griffith was producing. Like many, Sennett got his start working for Griffith, and tried to take his improvisational mode when making his own films, which he later discovered proved inefficient and expensive.
The one drawback is that Max Linder's 1921 feature Be My Wife is shown here in a very abridged version. I would have preferred the entire film, and if that wasn't possible leave it out entirely. Sort of spoils it for when I get around to the rest of the film, knowing how it'll end. Linder tells a somewhat tragic story in his own life, but illustrates the extraordinary power of cinema. To think he changed his name so his stage career would be shamed upon. The film features some great gags, including a fight with an imaginary intruder that Linder stages. However in 1921 the film proved disappointing and shortly after Linder would return to France a defeated man, overshadowed by his imitators.
Now it would be great to say that these films didn't showcase that rampant falling down and annoying befuddled looks that so often plague films of this kind, but that'd be a lie. The husband and wife team of Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew are great and made a specific point of not dumbing down their antics, believing the average movie goer didn't need that much comedic emphasis. They were right, and Fox-Trot Finesse remains enjoyable today. A story of one man's wife who can't stop doing the fox trot and driving her husband to fake an injury just to get away from dancing (until she writes a letter to send for his mother to come look after her injured son). There are a few other somewhat modern adaptations as well. The Harry Langdon film Saturday Afternoon is possibly the best picture on the first two volumes and is making me want to go out of my way to see much more Langdon work. The newly composed music is hit and miss, and a great deal of it has horribly annoying slide whistles thrown into the score (the same they were sporadically used in Keaton's shorts released by Kino). It drives me nuts and helped to ruin Mr. Flip. Look forward to the upcoming volumes.