Programming shorts to a theme is often useful if you need to draw a potential audience’s attention or if you have a hard time making choices from a long list. And sometimes it just happens without any planning at all. Case in point: this Sunday’s edition of The Silent Comedy Watch Party; it streams live at 3pm EDT on April 5.
When Steve Massa and I were plotting out programs with MoMA Dept. of Film Curators Ron Magliozzi or Dave Kehr for one of the several iterations of the Cruel and Unusual Comedy series we’ve done since 2009, we were kids in a candy shop. There were literally hundreds of rare comedy shorts to choose from. All had been preserved by MoMA during the 1970s as part of a repatriation project undertaken by Eileen Bowser.
The advantage we had was that the whole concept was to group these obscure comedies made by obscure comedians by the aspect of society these silent clowns were holding up their fun-house mirrors to – law enforcement, the medical profession, alcohol, treatment of kids or animals, gender, and on and on. We needed the hook, because the films were unknown, and who’d ever heard of Hank Mann or Marcel Perez or Gale Henry (at that point)? We were looking to showcase the preservation work Eileen and the Dept. of Film had put in to saving these films.
This Sunday’s thematic link on The Silent Comedy Watch Party didn’t occur to me until I was writing up the email I sent out to my list earlier today. Steve and I had had the Cliff Bowes rarity Cheer Up (1921) in the back of our minds, since we picked something else over it for our first two episodes. We needed a good 1920s one-reel to open for episode 3 and this was it, we figured.
We also wanted to run a Keaton short, now that we had the OK from Kino to include one, and One Week (1920) was at the top of our list. We were also considering Cops but there’s that “the end” title at the end that we thought might not be great to have onscreen right now.
We’d also wanted to run one of the Musty Suffer shorts. They’re a little weird, and so one of our favorites Outs and Ins (1916) gets slotted into the middle of the show. It’s one of the “whirls” where Musty works in an automat that Magritte or Dali might have dreamt up.
In writing the sentence that listed three shorts for folks on my email list and coming up a few-word descriptor for the shorts I realized what Steve and I had inadvertently done. In both Cheer Up and One Week, our lead comedian does something many comics did in 1920s comedies that point their lenses at suburban expansion – get married and move into their new home. Both shorts are quite different in construction and gags, and both are funny and inventive. The Bowes short has a rival exacting revenge on Our Hero when it comes to the new home, but in a very different way and there’s one gag I’ve never seen anyone do.
Okay, the Musty Suffer short has no link to any of this, but that’s fine. Because often with themed shorts programs there’s a danger of redundancy where by the third short you’re going “okay, I get it, there are lots of gags you can do with an automobile”. So, on our program Musty serves up food n the film and on our bill-of-fare works as a palate-cleanser, a Dada “sorbet” if you will, between the two slices of new-wife-new-house bread on the program.
The Silent Comedy Watch Party episode #03 streams Sunday April 5, 2020 at 3pm EDT on YouTube. We’ll leave the show up for later viewing but if you’re available to, I hope you’ll gather around whatever your screen is so we’re all watching these slapstick gems together.
Help us spread the word about the fun with the links below by posting them on social media or emailing them around. I don’t know your friends, but you do. See you online!
- The main website for the show is www.silentcomedywatchparty.com (just bought the URL – it even has that new domain smell!)
- Visit or subscribe to my YouTube channel, where you’ll find the show waiting for you, as well as a slew of other silent film rarities.