There are a few sequences in Chaplin’s “The Pawnshop” (1916) where Charlie and co-worker John Rand engage in slapstick hitting fights. It’s almost a running theme throughout the film, and they’re executed with precision by two clowns who really know how to hit each other…and be hit by one another. It’s a technique that goes back way, way before moving pictures existed.
I’ve discussed the basic physical choreography of physical comedy slaps in the previous post, and this third video was an experiment in combining the slapstick slap with the speed-up of silent film. The idea is that you can actually be even more safe, with the slightly more deliberate speed of movement, and combine that with playing with the ability to create the illusion of a different set of laws of gravity and physics.
In the frame grab above you’ll notice the blurred movement captured in a frame by Filmic Pro’s adjusting the shutter speed for a lower frame rate. We may have taken this at 12 or 14 fps…I don’t remember. The point is that the adjusting of the shutter speed, capturing the motion blur the way a motion picture camera would, helps with the effect of the silent film look. Most apps or softwares maintain the normal faster shutter speed and just drop every 2nd, 3rd or 4th frame, resulting in a jittery look.
We took this a number of times, getting the speed and timing just right, with Joel and Danny embellishing the routine each time. This was one instance where we had to remind ourselves that everyone in front of or behind the camera could talk during the take. This made Joel’s and Danny’s cueing of one another much easier, and allowed Mark (or occasionally me) suggesting something we saw the potential for during the take.
Previous posts in this series:
- the Filmic Pro app website for info and purchase/downloading
- “Undercranking: The Magic Behind the Slapstick” – my article on the subject published in the October 2015 issue of the Journal of Film Preservation
- ”A Study in Undercranking” – my video about the technique made by Criterion Collection for their release of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid; available on disc and streaming
- My YouTube channel with silent comedy film undercranking deconstructions
- Parallel Exit physical comedy theater
- Joel Jeske’s website
- Danny Gardner’s website