Exploring the Speed of Silent Comedy Film – test #3

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:


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So interesting! The two actors demonstrating the techniques are so good LOL!

Eric Schultz

That is really great, and they have the right timing to make it funny. It is an exercise with style. Thank you for doing all this. Back in the vaudeville days, the audience was far enough away from the comics so that one could hit or kick with a safe distance, but from afar it would look like they made contact. When it comes to film, they can shoot it like that, or use a longer lens (which “foreshortens”- squashes depth) for more closeup shots, so that they can still have a safe distance so that no one is actually… Read more »

Michael Schlesinger

When we did the Biffle & Shooster shorts, Will would actually slap Nick, but he would strike him right at the jawline, so the bone absorbed the impact and Nick felt almost nothing. The action was so fast that audiences never noticed, and the added sound effect completed the illusion.