Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Celebrate Pi Day by attending World Premieres of Laurel & Hardy restorations on April Fool's weekend!

It's March 14 and that means happy 3.14159265359 day. At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we consider Pi Day as good an excuse as any to watch movies in which pies are thrown.

As fate would have it, the film featuring the pie fight to end all pie fights shall be among new restorations of Laurel & Hardy comedies which shall premiere, rather appropriately on April Fool's weekend.

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy will get their due on both coasts, with shows in Los Angeles (American Cinematheque) and New York City (Film Forum). Archivist and filmmaker Jeff Joseph will introduce the shows at Santa Monica's Aero Theatre and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It begins March 30 at the American Cinematheque, which presented the previous group of UCLA Film & Television Archive's restorations in May 2016. This is excellent and timely, as UCLA's Restore Laurel and Hardy! fundraiser is ongoing and extends to April 14th.

The Los Angeles screenings start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 30th at the Aero Theatre on 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica.

Kicking off the program will be the new UCLA/SabuCat restoration of the silent comedy cornerstone The Battle Of The Century.

The famed L&H pie-throwing epic, about half of which was in the "lost film" category until a complete print was found in the collection of the late archivist Gordon Berkow, will be accompanied by a new score by Donald Sosin.

The Battle Of The Century will be followed by the 1929 early talkie Berth Marks, now with the original Vitaphone soundtrack heard by moviegoers when it was originally released theatrically on June 1, 1929.

The feature for the Friday night Aero Theatre program will be Way Out West (1937), restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Film Foundation.

Laurel and Hardy co-star with perennial nemesis Jimmie Finlayson, Rosina Lawrence and, as the femme fatale, Sharon Lynne, known by movie musical fans for her spunky delivery of Turn On The Heat, the memorable production number from the 1929 Fox feature Sunnyside Up.

The Saturday night show at the Aero Theatre includes the two short subjects The Chimp and The Music Box and the 1939 feature The Flying Deuces, which was produced by Boris Morros for RKO with much of the Hal Roach Studios crew and stock company.

Regarding the new restorations, the American Cinematheque program notes elaborate:

“The Chimp” (1932, 25 min.) When the circus where they work goes out of business, Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy are left with a flea circus and a chimp named Ethel - which, as bad luck would have it, is also the name of their landlord’s wife.“

"The Music Box” (1932, 29 min. Dir. James Parrott) In this Best Comedy Short Oscar winner, the Laurel & Hardy Moving Co. struggle mightily to push a piano up a huge flight of stairs. Photochemically preserved and restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

The Flying Deuces (1939, 70 min, USA, Dir: A. Edward Sutherland). Following in the footsteps of their earlier short “Beau Hunks,” the boys get into another nice mess when Ollie’s heart is broken by a Paris innkeeper’s daughter. To forget her, he and Stan join the French Foreign Legion, where the two tackle a mountain of dirty laundry, soft-shoe through “Shine On, Harvest Moon” and commandeer an airplane. Among Laurel and Hardy’s most enjoyable features, and now fully restored from 35mm elements.

The 5:00 p.m. Sunday show at the Egyptian Theatre, on 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, shall present the 1933 L&H feature Sons Of The Desert, directed by the ubiquitous William A. Seiter and co-starring Charley Chase and Dorothy Christy.

Among the Laurel & Hardy feature films, Sons Of The Desert, featuring a hilarious turn by fellow Hal Roach Studios star Chase as an obnoxious practical joker conventioneer, is certainly up there (with Way Out West and Blockheads) in the top two or three.

Sons Of The Desert will be preceded by the World Premiere of brand new restorations of Brats and Hog Wild (both 1930), two of the funniest of the Laurel & Hardy short subjects.

Brats now includes its original Vitaphone soundtrack; the existing prints tend to have the soundtrack used for the 1938 reissue.

Hog Wild, one of this blogger's favorite Laurel & Hardy 2-reelers, has been restored to its original Vitaphone aspect ratio.

Last, but not least, the East Coast part of the L&H weekend will be an April Fool's Day program at New York City's Film Forum. The Laurel & Hardy matinee show starts at 11:00 a.m. and includes Brats
, Hog Wild, The Chimp
 and Berth Marks.

We extend kudos, bravos, huzzahs and respectful tips of the brown derbies to the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Jeff Joseph, American Cinematheque, Film Forum,The Film Foundation, Laurel & Hardy: The Official Website and, for many of the frame grabs seen in this post, Dave Lord Heath of the Another Nice Mess: The Films Of Laurel & Hardy website.

Friday, March 09, 2018

This Sunday in Saratoga: Music from The Movies

Residents of the South Bay Area (Santa Clara County), there will be a very cool concert at the McAfee Performing Arts and Lecture Center in Saratoga by the San Jose Metropolitan Band this Sunday afternoon. The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival's own Robert Emmett shall precede the orchestral performance with tales of the intrepid movie soundtrack composers.

Headlining Cinema Magic II: Symphonic Band Music from the Movies, the San Jose Metropolitan Band has performed with guest artists Allen Vizzutti, Oystein Baadsvik, The Canadian Brass, and Eddie Daniels. For more info, see the San Jose Metropolitan Band website.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Wonder Of Technology. . . In Animated Cartoons

Instead of a brilliant, striking, insightful, penetrating essay for today's post - we don't have one - here are a few musings regarding inventions (a.k.a. The Wonder Of Technology) in animation.

We'll start with a cartoon starring Gandy Goose & Sourpuss, two characters considered guilty pleasures by Robert Crumb, Ralph Bakshi and here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog.

This cartoon-loving blogger has hoped that if an official Terrytoons Blu-ray ever gets released, the following Gandy Goose & Sourpuss opus, Post War Inventions, shall be included.

It is dreamlike, in bad taste and imaginative in the oddest way, somewhat along the lines of Terrytoons storyman's John Foster's crude but funny Van Beuren cartoons of the early 1930's.

Although the wildly imaginative and gleefully off-model animator most associated with Terrytoons, Jim Tyer, was working for Famous Studios at the time Post War Inventions was produced, the talented Carlo Vinci, auteur of Mighty Mouse action sequences, was there and doing excellent work. Vinci's dynamic animation frequently lifted otherwise routine Terrytoons out of the ordinary.

Briefly in the mid-1940's, Vinci would be joined by former Terrytoons animator and Disney ace Vladimir "Bill" Tytla, with, especially in the Mighty Mouse series, splendid results.

While wacky inventions had become an animation sub-genre in the 1933 "technocracy" era and already were the cornerstones of such very funny cartoons as Scrappy in The World's Affair and Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions, the granddaddy of all this was the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Rube Goldberg.

Rube Goldberg, of course, was the originator and master of ingenious inventions, many of which transformed what would be a simple task into something hilariously complex.

Goldberg, whose work is kept alive and celebrated today by his granddaughter Jennifer George, remains the uncrowned king of this genre, as well as the spiritual predecessor of the 21st century Maker Faire. Writer Paul C. Tumey, has devoted a segment of his website, The Masters Of Screwball Comics to the contraption-packed comic strips of Rube Goldberg and one segment entirely to Rube Goldberg's Cartoon Machine Inventions of 1913. Here's a rare glimpse of the cartoonist.

Over 100 years ago, Rube rocked the inventions - invariably extremely complex ways to accomplish simple tasks - with humor and ingenious fun. The concepts still work like a charm - and there's a Rube Goldberg Machine Contest annually.

While Rube Goldberg dabbled in animation, writing and directing a 1916 series, animated by George Stallings at the Barré Studio and based on The Boob Weekly strip, and also worked on live-action films (the wacky 1930 Fox feature Soup To Nuts, starring Ted Healy & His Stooges), it was his newspaper cartoonist contemporary Winsor McCay, who brought futuristic inventions and concepts into animated cartoons. The Flying House in particular is still a stunner 95 years after its production.

As far as inventions in movies go, the illustrator/cartoonist turned stop-motion animation innovator Charley Bowers frequently played an eccentric inventor, that is, when not playing a Baron Munchausen style "tall tale teller," when he starred in 18 "Whirlwind Comedies" produced for FBO and Educational release in 1926-1928.

From the WW1 era days of silents up through the early 1940's, the studio most obsessed with inventions would be that of Max and Dave Fleischer; small wonder, as Max & Dave were inventors themselves and always interested in advancing animation technologies. When it was, after the strict enforcement of the Production Code in July 1934, no longer possible to produce Betty Boop adventures in which the charming gal made of pen and ink (who could win you with a wink) spent her 7 onscreen minutes getting chased around by Harvey Weinstein style lechers, a genial inventor named Professor Grampy was added as one of the series' co-stars. He's a delightful guy who happily devises Rube Goldberg-ish devices from found objects, always enlivening the party in his appearances in Fleischer cartoons.

A favorite of all Fleischer Studio cartoons remains the following 1938 paean to the World's Fair and new technologies. If only, in 2018, robots were a tiny fraction as charming as those in this cartoon. . . as opposed to actual 21st century bots, invariably diabolical, evil and profane and working for the diabolical, evil and profane.

The last series produced by the Fleischer Studio, the successful animated adaptation of Joe Shuster's Superman comic strip, is dominated by both futuristic inventions and stark raving mad scientists.

Never to be outdone on anything, ever, Tex Avery created a series on the "big, bold, beautiful tomorrow" extending for several cartoons, beginning with The House of Tomorrow. A plethora of Avery's patented ingenious sight gags exist alongside a plethora of mother-in-law jokes. TV Of Tomorrow strikes this blogger as the funniest and most prescient of the series.

Disneyland's epic Tomorrowland may have gotten the last word on this "great big beautiful tomorrow" business, but these four gag and invention-filled cartoons by Tex Avery come closest in the 1950's to the antic spirit of Rube Goldberg.

Friday, February 23, 2018

On DVD soon: Marcel "Tweedy" Perez, volume 2

"Perez stands out among his vastly talented peers by combining the expressiveness and charm of Max Linder with the goofiness and aggressiveness of André Deed." - Anthony Balducci

While comedian Marcel Perez, The International Mirth Maker, died in 1929, rather astonishingly, he's back - not physically but on films seen on DVD, here in 2018. The second volume of The Marcel Perez Collection officially goes on sale on Tuesday, February 27.

Among the earliest screen comedians (along with Ferdinando "Tontolini" Guillaume, Max Linder and André Deed), Perez starred in 221 films, first in Europe as "Robinet", then in America. It would be an understatement to say he was a hard-working physical comic.

Marcel Perez was an actor, director and former circus clown whose considerable acrobatic physical humor mojo, inventive mind and original approach added up to a unique and very funny mixture of diverse approaches to comedy. There's a sleight of hand recalling the graceful deftness of Max Linder while also a more cartoony sleight of hand that brings to mind both the earliest European screen clowns and a key contemporary, the popular American silent movie comedian who quite literally was the son of a professional magician, Larry Semon, known as Ridolini to those who saw his films on European television.

Silent movie aficionados were stunned that there were enough existing films starring Marcel Perez to comprise a FIRST collection - and, lo and behold, rather amazingly, given the ultra-rarity of his screen work, eight more Marcel Perez films, unseen since their original release in the teens and 1920's, managed to turn up. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog were happy to be among those who supported the Kickstarter that led to the first collection of Robinet and Tweedy comedies getting released on DVD in 2015 and equally pleased to participate when, last June, a successful Kickstarter fundraiser backed the second DVD release of Perez comedies.

Known as Marcel Perez, Michel Fabre, Fernandea Perez, Manuel Fernández Pérez, and Marcel Fabre, he headlined comedies under a slew of different character names (Robinet, Bungles, Tweedy, Tweedledum, Twede-Dan) and also directed features, including The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola.

Thanks to Steve Massa's book Marcel Perez: The International Mirth-Maker, plus invaluable research by author Sam Gill, Rob Stone of the Library Of Congress, as well as the late, great silent film historians and scholars Cole Johnson and Bob Birchard, there's at least a solid, well-defined outline of Perez' background and career in motion pictures. This is no small feat, given Perez' penchant for changing screen names and moving around internationally between production studios and distributors.

Perez' stunts were balletic, his tumbling impressive and his sight gags imaginative. Co-stars and leading ladies Nilde Baracchi and Dorothy Earle are very good as well. It's highly likely both Linder and Chaplin were checking his films out. Ben Model of Undercrank Productions, the producer of the two DVD collections, wrote at length about Perez in his Silent Film Music post on February 12, Buster Keaton’s Leap to ‘One Week’, and Marcel Perez’s Jump from “Split-reelers” to 2-reelers and on February 19, Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Perez, and a Pair of Drowning Ladies.

In the Undercrank Productions press release, Model elaborates: “What continues to impress me in seeing more of Marcel Perez and his films is how inventive the humor, storytelling and filmmaking is considering they’re from 1916-1922. He’s doing stunt work and surreal gags before Keaton or Larry Semon did, and one of the shorts – A Scrambled Honeymoon (1916) – opens with a gag sequence that is nearly directly copied in a Chaplin short made the following year. It’s been a thrill working with the Library of Congress and MoMA on the disc, as well as being supported by fan crowdfunding, to be able to restore Perez’ reputation and renown. Hopefully it won’t take another three years for more of his films to turn up, and I’ll bet there’s more of them out there.”

The DVD presents new digital scans of archival 35mm materials preserved by the Library of Congress and the Museum of Modern Art film department.Volume 1 of the Marcel Perez Collection received an award in the "Special Mention" category on July 3, 2015 at the Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna.

While The Marcel Perez Collection volume 2 primarily consists of his films produced in the U.S. in 1916-1923, the DVD begins with his first film, The Short-Sighted Cyclist (1907), in which he more than lives up to the title and both crashes and somersaults off that bike repeatedly for the entire running time.

The remainder of the titles are his American films, beginning with three Eagle Comedies produced in Jacksonville, FLA in 1916. The cast in this series comprises Marcel as Tweedledum, Nilde Barrachi as Tweedledee, supported by Billy Slade and prolific stage and screen actress Louise Carver, later a frequent player in Mack Sennett comedies. These would appear to be the broadest of Perez' American films, unless additional cartoony, slapstick-oriented ones - for example, the four missing Vim Comedies also produced in 1916 and featuring Oliver Hardy as a supporting player - subsequently turn up.

Lend Me Your Wife (1916) The stone broke Tweedy stands to inherit millions on the condition he is married. As the only suitor is Tweedy's grotesque landlady (played with relish by Louise Carver), he's desperate to find someone - anyone - to pose as his wife.

Some Hero (1916) In a sendup of "damsel in distress" serial plots shot in downtown Jacksonville, Tweedledum executes a series of truly way-out acrobatic rescues of Tweedledee from unshaven, sleazy no-goodniks.

A Scrambled Honeymoon (1916) Featuring Louise Carver as the kind of mother-in-law Ernie K. Doe sang about. . . hell bent to accompany Tweedledum and Tweedledee on their honeymoon.

There are two entries from his series produced by Jester Comedy Company, many shot at the former Cliffside Park Studio of Kalem in Cliffside, New Jersey. Perez stars as "Twede-Dan" and these films reflect a further evolution of his comic style and approach to storylines.

These were produced in 1918-1919. First up is Oh, What A Day (1918), in which Tweedy's daydream of taking his girl out for a bit of fun at the beach evolves into some very wacky chases on land and sea. Partly shot at Coney Island's Steeplechase Park, this is among the funniest and most inventive of the surviving Perez comedies.

None other than the most prolific William A. Seiter, who also worked with Laurel & Hardy (Sons Of The Desert) and Wheeler & Woolsey (Diplomaniacs), directed Oh! What a Day (1918) and other Jester Comedies.

This co-stars the one holdover from Perez' European films, Nilde "Robinette" Barrachi, a talented comedienne whose retirement from the silver screen not long after this remains another one of those Movieland Mysteries. After returning to Europe to play roles in Cuor di ferro e cuor d'oro and La morte che non uccide for Ambrosio Film, where she previously starred in numerous comedies as Robinette, it would appear that Ms. Barrachi did not make any more movies. A question for cinema detectives remains whether Nilde had another, post-Marcel Perez career in 1920's Italian cinema. . . or just bailed on showbiz and did something else for a living.

The second Jester Comedy on the DVD is Chickens in Turkey (1919), co-starring leading lady and future wife Dorothy Earle and Pierre Collosse, whose heavy roles in the Perez comedies are along the lines of those played by Babe Hardy at Vitagraph. The plot of a yacht featuring a bevy of babes - as well as Twede-Dan in drag - kidnapped by a sultan appears to be a nod to the popular Sennett Girls of the late teens.

The last three subjects on the collection are from Perez' last starring series, the Mirth Comedies, featuring "Tweedy", released by Reelcraft in 1921-1923.

Pinched (1921)

Wild (1921)

Friday the 13th (1923) - fragment only

The Marcel Perez Collection volume 2 offers another opportunity to see the work of a graceful and talented silver screen comedian who blended the European and American approaches to what Roscoe Arbuckle termed "good ol' slapstick." For more info, read Mark Voger's review, Silent Comic Gets Last Laugh on, as well as Fritzi Kramer's article, Unboxing the Silents: The Marcel Perez Collection Volume 2 on Movies Silently and check out the Undercrank Productions website.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day = Jack Benny Day!

February 14 turns out to be both Valentine's Day and the birthday of Benny Kubelsky, a.k.a. Jack Benny, a fellow who has made this blogger laugh all his life and continues to make him laugh!

Well, the dyed-in-the-wool comedy geeks at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog (right now listening to Marty Allen tell jokes and talk about Groucho Marx on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast) could not let that birthday go!

Jack's radio shows are available online via and a splendid playlist on David Von Pein's Old-Time Radio Channel on YouTube.

Here are some super interviews with Jack, the first with Johnny Carson, known to go into Jack's mannerisms on The Tonight Show.

For more info, read the following overview of Benny's show business career that author Trav S.D. has penned on his Stars Of Vaudeville blog, as well as just one of many terrific posts about Jack Benny and radio from Don Yowp's blog, Tralfaz.