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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Doozy #1: Comedy's Golden Age-The View from the 1950s

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1. Do you agree or disagree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 – 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age?" Why or why not?

 

Don't agree -- this period (1912-1930) this is the initial groundwork, sketches of what the greats in the 30's, 40's and 50's would be inspired to fully draw out with better technology, better storytelling and, not just sound but color.  The golden age has often been used to describe the 1950's of Television and again in the 1990's starting with The Sopranos -- better writing, more fleshed out characters that didn't always make sound choices and were faulty, self-involved, ego-driven....human.  The Golden age of film may have been when the Big Studios & Hollywood came into being, and with these early films, "Hollywood" didn't exist yet.

 

2. Do you agree with the film's narrator that in the silent film era the "gags were completely visual—a form of wit that has all but disappeared from the land, but which experts now agree were among the most imaginative and enduring comedy of all…?” Did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era?

 

Of course the gags were "completely visual" -- because the novelty and technology was seeing a "moving picture", and sound was not on the scene yet.  As far as visual gags -- that hasn't completely disappeared.  Look at all those high school/college humor movies of the last forty years.  Visual improved with visual effects as well -- sound only enhances the picture.

 

3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

To educate the modern eye of people today with where things started or came from or were inspired by.  That imagination and then visual execution of what is in the imagination is what film is all about. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It's hard for me to accept Comedy's Golden Age being limited to 1912 through 1930 when I think of all of the great comedies that followed.  I had no real exposure to silent films as I grew up and always thought of the time frame encompassing the films of The Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy as being the golden age of comedy.  

 

Despite the absence of dialogue in the silent films, the visual gags were augmented by sound effects and  funny musical scores, all geared to enhance the comedic effect.  With the advent of talking films, comedies continued to evolve.  It just wasn't outrageous sound effects that added to the comedy.  Now there was clever dialogue that enriched the comedic aspects of the story being told.  It seems to me that the silent film age was the foundation for the further development of comedy as technological advances were made.  And the process continues.

 

I think that documentaries are a good way of learning about film as long as viewers do more exploration on their own.  Documentaries about silent films often give the creator's point of view so they should be used as a starting point in the learning process, not the end point.  Just as you wouldn't  read just one book on a particular topic and think you have the whole story, it's the same with film documentaries .  Better to watch a number of them by different individuals in order to get as much background as possible.

 

 

 

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Nice  first  clip  on Mack Sennett    

 

Sennett  was  born  Micheal  Sinnott in Richmond  Quebec..  The father of  slapstick, the Keystone cops , Sennett's bathing beauties etc  was  Canadian. He moved to Connecticut when he was 17.  Lots of  us Canadians  down there in film including Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer,  Fifi  D Orsay even  Marie  Dressler  from TILLIE 'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE.

In 1985, there was a mockumentary called "The Canadian Conspiracy". It was a spoof exposé of a supposed plot by Canada to take over the American entertainment industry. The line I remember best is: "Lorne GREENE. GREEN Card. Coincidence???".

 

There are so many examples of Canadians in the American entertainment industry, especially in comedy, that the premise is almost plausible.

 

The act that appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" more times than any other? Wayne & Shuster. (Frank Shuster's daughter, Rosie" wrote for "Saturday Night Live" in the early years, and his cousin, Joe, co-created Superman.)

 

Who was responsible for creating "Hee-Haw" (a country version of "Laugh-In")? Frank Peppiatt & John Aylesworth, who had been the first comedy team on CBC TV. They included fellow CBC talent Don Harron (who played "Charlie Farquharson", and was the co-writer of the musical version of "Anne of Green Gables") and Gordie Tapp. Peppiatt & Aylesworth also created and produced Sonny & Cher's post-divorce TV variety series.

 

Billy Van and Peter Cullen (yes, the future voice of "Optimus Prime") were both on "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour", thanks to their work with Chris Bearde (the show's producer) on comedy shows at the CBC.

 

And the list continues with Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Michael Cera, Samantha Bee, Jason Jones...

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1. Do you agree or disagree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 – 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age?" Why or why not?

 

Not necessarily "greatest", but "golden age" yes - if we define the "golden age" of any art/entertainment form as the period of its first flowering.

 

 

2. Do you agree with the film's narrator that in the silent film era the "gags were completely visual—a form of wit that has all but disappeared from the land, but which experts now agree were among the most imaginative and enduring comedy of all…?” Did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era?

 

Evolved. Cary Grant was mentioned - just take the "torn dress" scene from BRINGING UP BABY. The perfect marriage of physical and verbal comedy. I laugh tears every time the moment KH realizes her back end is exposed. :lol:

 

 

3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

They kept them alive in the pre-home-video / TCM / Youtube etc era but also defined and limited which performers were prominent - the Big 3 of course, and maybe Langdon and Chase and Keystone Kops and Bathing Beauties, not much else that I know of.

 

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1. Do you agree or disagree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 – 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age?" Why or why not?

 

I would call it a golden age in the sense of it establishing a foundation.  Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin may not have been any better idealists, reformers, or politicians than many since them.  Their "founding father" status, however, places them on a special pedestal.  The silent era comedians were the pioneers of film comedy.  They laid the foundations that are still present.

 

Ironically, I had muted my TV while checking my e-mail and subsequently exploring these course materials.  When I looked up, Back to the Future was on and Doctor Emmett Brown was on the clocktower preparing to harness the lightning needed to get the 1.21 gigawatts necessary for the flux capacitor.  Sound was hardly necessary.  Christopher Loyd's exaggerated facial expressions and body movements coupled with other visual effects (lots of sparks at the right time) were all that were necessary.  The whole thing couldn't help but trigger an association with Harold Loyd's clock scenes in Safety Last!  As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.  The silent founding fathers live on.  Back to the future, indeed.

 

2. Do you agree with the film's narrator that in the silent film era the "gags were completely visual—a form of wit that has all but disappeared from the land, but which experts now agree were among the most imaginative and enduring comedy of all…?” Did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era?

 

 

I would say that the silent film era added an element of wit that otherwise might never have existed.  It was the silent film era, not the silent era.  Sound had existed from the beginning of time.  "Moving pictures" were a new novelty but audiences could still always go to live performances - complete with sound.  Comedy has been shaped by its presentation.  The source of the term "slapstick" is a good example.  To convey the impression of a severe blow in live performance without injuring the performers required an exaggerated sound.  In silent film, the gags, of necessity, had to be visual.  Therefore, the impression of this severe blow had to be conveyed differently,  Say, for example, by the performer receiving a swat to the butt being lofted into the air.  When sound came to films, the comedy of this exaggerated physicality remained.  If films had been complete with sound from the beginning, this facet of comedy may have evolved more slowly or not at all.

 

3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

I would say that impact is an understatement.  It could be said that they are the source of public opinion.  Indeed, that public opinion was formed and shaped by them.  In the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte's quote, History is a set of lies agreed upon, I basically have to rely on historians to tell me what it was all about.  I wasn't personally there.  If I had been, my memories themselves would have been distorted by time and influence.  To form an opinion, I'd have to do research.  Where would I turn for information?  Documentaries, compilation films, and essays.  It is, of course, possible to resist the biases of those sources and evaluate personally but, even so, any independent investigation is inevitably tainted by availability.  Even just seeking out every available clip is biased by which ones are readily available and which have been filtered out by time.

 

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1. Do you agree or disagree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 – 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age?" Why or why not?

 

I agree that this period was the golden age of comedy. As much as I love slapstick I also love the later comedies of the 30s and 40s. The likes of Animal Crackers, the Thin Man series, Our Man Godfrey, Dinner at Eight, Ninotchka, The Bank Dick, His Gal Friday, Tales of Manhattan, Blithe Spirit and so many other more sophisticated comedies. Those comedies that rely on clever dialogue, innuendo and double extendre. I appreciate the humor and historical importance of the early comedies but believe comedy reached its zenith in the period of the mid 1930s to 1940s. This comedy period still offered the traditional and refined slapstick of Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Chaplin, et al but also with the introduction of sound we also had the back and forth playfulness of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy and William Powell, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable and the searing wit of W. C. Fields along with many others. It was a veritable feast of comedy. One of my favorite comedies is a great example of this, 1938s, Merrily We Live starring Brian Aherne, Constance Bennett, Billie Burke, Bonita Granville and a cast of others. The movie which is a reworking of a 1930 movie, What a Man is a nonstop compendium of clever dialogue, silly gags and slapstick routines. I find the combination irresistible.

 

2. Do you agree with the film's narrator that in the silent film era the "gags were completely visual—a form of wit that has all but disappeared from the land, but which experts now agree were among the most imaginative and enduring comedy of all…?” Did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era?

 

I don't agree that the gags of this period were completely visual. As another commenter mentioned previously that when he turned off all the sound (music, sound effects like clapping, etc.) the gags weren't as funny. So these early gags were not a wholly silent medium. I do agree, however, that the gags were among the most imaginative and enduring because we still see them and their influence in today's comedies. They have merely evolved to the likes of Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, Carol Burnett, Monty Python, Chevy Chase, Adam Sandler, Jack Black et al.

 

3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

I believe they are integral to keeping the love of these masterpieces in the public consciousness, of promoting their place in history and of winning over new converts, comedians and consumers alike. They are very important as are classes such as this one that not only helps previous aficionados see with fresh eyes but wins over those who may have in the past underappreciacted or misunderstood this artform.

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Re the week two "Breakdown of a Gag" video discussion, I will tell you upfront that is is virtually impossible for me to be objective about the great Buster Keaton.

 

Could not agree more. I am shameless when it comes to my adoration of Keaton.

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3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

A lot, although perhaps not as much as later comedians reaching out to the comics who inspired them. I remember being introduced to Buster Keaton through the NFB's The Railrodder and the accompanying documentary Buster Keaton Rides Again in a long ago summer day camp.

 

https://www.nfb.ca/film/railrodder/

 

https://www.nfb.ca/film/buster_keaton_rides_again/

Gerald Potterton, who directed those two Keaton films for the National Film Board of Canada, was a huge slapstick fan. He'd visit with Keaton and with Stan Laurel, and discuss slapstick and its heyday.

 

Though Potterton is best-known for animation ("Heavy Metal", "The Smoggies", "My Financial Career"), he made a couple of silent slapstick shorts for the NFB, in the 1960s.

 

The best, and one of my very favourite films, is "The Ride". It's a perfect blend of a slapstick chase and Canadiana. It was shot near Montreal, and Potterton himself plays the Chauffeur, as well as writing and directing.

 

The second is "The Quiet Racket", and stars Ted Zeigler. It was scripted by Alan Hackney, and directed by Potterton. For a "silent" film, the soundtrack is very loud, with plenty of urban noise and a jarring 1960s rock score complete with grating vocals.

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Gerald Potterton, who directed those two Keaton films for the National Film Board of Canada, was a huge slapstick fan. He'd visit with Keaton and with Stan Laurel, and discuss slapstick and its heyday.

 

Now I get to correct you. ;) The doc. is by John Spotton.

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1. Do you agree or disagree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 – 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age?" Why or why not?

 

I would have to say that I agree with some of their information given, but I also disagree too. 1912-1930 would be the beginning of the "golden age", but the "greatest era" would be the '30s and '40s. The greatest time would be the late 30s and early 40s because there was time to evolve with slapstick in movies and make a comedy without repeating any gags. 

 

2. Do you agree with the film's narrator that in the silent film era the "gags were completely visual—a form of wit that has all but disappeared from the land, but which experts now agree were among the most imaginative and enduring comedy of all…?” Did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era?

 

I agree with the narrator that all the gags we saw are visual in the silent era because it was a time where they were just learning about films and needed people to do stunts. They did just like they did in vaudeville shows, just with a camera in front of them and they could make it anyway they wanted it. Slapstick is still around and even when the sound films started coming out, comedy was still there. Editing in sounds and pictures evolved, so that part of comedy changed after a while, making less people do dangerous stunts or getting hurt.

 

3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

The impact of films and essays about the silent film era made people more interested about what happened during that time and could possibly appreciate the actors knowing how the films had to be made during that time. Everyones opinion is highly thought of because it helps move on to future plans to making films and comedy better.

 

 

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I disagree with so much of what Kalast has to say (like the nonsense about painting and the equal nonsense about his son's nostalgia, and there was more) that I would have a difficult time agreeing with him even if I wanted to on any point. However, since his piece was so loosely written, and never actually stated the premise that the silent era comedies were or were not the greatest, I couldn’t say. If he believes this, one way or the other, he certainly hides it well behind a number of ideas he would like to either shatter or promote. As for Agee, long a favorite of mine, I agree.

The narrator of the clip is speaking directly to the point about the advent of sound so, of course, the silent era gags were “completely visual.” But they did not “disappear” as visual entities and, when they evolved, they didn’t merely evolve to include sound gags but the visual elements themselves evolved, both intellectually and technically.

Clearly, revivals based wholly or in part on these texts and films have been the basis of renewed interest in silent film for more than six decades. Without them, silent film—not merely the memory of them, but the actual film stock—would probably no longer exist.

 

I was appalled by the Kalast post (and the comments that were attached, with one exception) never once mentioning a female comedian, despite the thrust of the piece being going beyond the “Big Three” and the existence of people like Mabel Normand, Jobyna Ralston, Olive Thomas and others.

The silent era took something that had always been true about comedy, the effect of timing, and used the techniques of cinema to create artificial time changes that made new comedy forms. By doing so, the greatest comedy so far was put on film. To date it has only been “improved” upon by being intellectualized, categorized and specialized.

 

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1. Do you agree or disagree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 – 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age?" Why or why not?

 

I agree that this period was the golden age of comedy. As much as I love slapstick I also love the later comedies of the 30s and 40s. The likes of Animal Crackers, the Thin Man series, Our Man Godfrey, Dinner at Eight, Ninotchka, The Bank Dick, His Gal Friday, Tales of Manhattan, Blithe Spirit and so many other more sophisticated comedies. Those comedies that rely on clever dialogue, innuendo and double extendre. I appreciate the humor and historical importance of the early comedies but believe comedy reached its zenith in the period of the mid 1930s to 1940s. This comedy period still offered the traditional and refined slapstick of Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Chaplin, et al but also with the introduction of sound we also had the back and forth playfulness of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy and William Powell, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable and the searing wit of W. C. Fields along with many others. It was a veritable feast of comedy. One of my favorite comedies is a great example of this, 1938s, Merrily We Live starring Brian Aherne, Constance Bennett, Billie Burke, Bonita Granville and a cast of others. The movie which is a reworking of a 1930 movie, What a Man is a nonstop compendium of clever dialogue, silly gags and slapstick routines. I find the combination irresistible.

 

2. Do you agree with the film's narrator that in the silent film era the "gags were completely visual—a form of wit that has all but disappeared from the land, but which experts now agree were among the most imaginative and enduring comedy of all…?” Did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era?

 

I don't agree that the gags of this period were completely visual. As another commenter mentioned previously that when he turned off all the sound (music, sound effects like clapping, etc.) the gags weren't as funny. So these early gags were not a wholly silent medium. I do agree, however, that the gags were among the most imaginative and enduring because we still see them and their influence in today's comedies. They have merely evolved to the likes of Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, Carol Burnett, Monty Python, Chevy Chase, Adam Sandler, Jack Black et al.

 

3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

I believe they are integral to keeping the love of these masterpieces in the public consciousness, of promoting their place in history and of winning over new converts, comedians and consumers alike. They are very important as are classes such as this one that not only helps previous aficionados see with fresh eyes but wins over those who may have in the past underappreciacted or misunderstood this artform.

With sound came the age of "wit" to the screen, and the extension of the "golden age" in the "screwball comedy." All the stars you mention and more could not have accomplished a thing without the models from the Golden Age and the theater--and all of their writers learned at the feet of masters in the silent era and earlier.

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I would agree that this silent film era could be called "The Golden Era" because of its timeframe in history. To some it is the "greatest era of comedy". It's certainly a precursor to screwball comedy which I prefer.

 

Since the early language of cinema was visual, this era of cinema provided a new language through sight gags, facial expressions and movement. As the pictures began to talk, less emphasis was put on the visual language and more on the spoken. This was s practical end to the means--the use of sound equipment and renovated theaters had to be paid for.

 

Documentaries and compilations of this period are essential in preserving a part of cinematic history and the history of those years from 1912-1930. They should never be forgotten.

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1. Do you agree or disagree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 – 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age?" Why or why not?

 

I do not agree.  While Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold LLoyd, and even Fatty Arbuckle were were very funny, I don't think anything is or was as funny as Jack Benny's incredulous look while pausing and saying "Well!"  Also, Milton Berle as The Thief Of Badgags, or Groucho's "Strange Interlude".  Or later comics; Steve "Scuuuse Me" Martin, Billy "Mahvelous" Crystal, or even Martin :I Must Say" Short.  

2. Do you agree with the film's narrator that in the silent film era the "gags were completely visual—a form of wit that has all but disappeared from the land, but which experts now agree were among the most imaginative and enduring comedy of all…?” Did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era?

 

I do agree with the first sentence, in that the gags were visual completely. Without dialogue, actors and actresses had to rely on visuals, the "yikes" hop before running from an authority, the pie in the face, Buster Keaton sitting on the locomotive to think, unaware it is moving.  But, this is not dead.  Lucille Balls running barefoot through the grapes, Harpo's mirroring in Duck Soup, and John Belushi on the ladder spying on the girls in Animal House all come to mind.   

3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

I would hope more than some.  I remember the impact "That's Entertainment" had on MGM Musicals.

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With sound came the age of "wit" to the screen, and the extension of the "golden age" in the "screwball comedy." All the stars you mention and more could not have accomplished a thing without the models from the Golden Age and the theater--and all of their writers learned at the feet of masters in the silent era and earlier.

Absolutely. It's one reason I love, Merrily We Live...it is the best of both worlds and its gags pay homage to the giants whose shoulders it stands on.

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I suppose we have now drifted into dangerous territory. So be it. Even before the recent “Daily Dose” there were posts mentioning the idea that some people could not find the humor in silent comedies without the “sound” of the trombone or whistle slide. Turn off the musical accompaniment and the funny gets lost. It has to be mentioned that silent films were silent. That was not a misnomer. When people saw those films, more often than not, the only sounds they heard were the sounds from the audience members, or from the projectionist. An examination of Rick Altman’s work reveal’s how sparse musical accompaniment was before 1912, and how disorganized it remained afterwards as standardization began. There normally were no sound effects and certainly no musical accompaniment unless you found yourself in a major city (and most did not) and even then in a larger theater (and most did not). This was certainly the case until the mid-1920s at least. In the earlier days, before 1908, one didn’t even get to see these films in an audience. They were seen on machines. Yet these films were remarkably, fantastically successful. So, the idea that some sound would have been necessary to create the comic effect for the overwhelming majority of the movie-going population is arguable, to say the least. That said, we cannot deny that some, being human, have a different sense of humor; but, perhaps, that is a sense created in today’s environment, more geared toward aural effects. I do not know the answer to that question and would not venture a guess.

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I would have to say it is indeed the Golden Age as it was the early years of film, and many still considered film a novelty and thought it wouldn't last. Boy, were they wrong.

 

Performers would go over the top in acting as they had no dialogue that was heard, and the slapstick was easy to recognize with all the visual techniques and the lively musical accompaniment further fueled the laughs from the crowds. A good organist, pianist or orchestra would have them wanting more.

 

Not all the visual gags have disappeared. Just last week in "The Lady Eve" we saw Henry Fonda take numerous falls in front of or because of Barbara Stanwyck. The dialogue that followed would make the gags even more fun. It is slapstick evolving. Nowadays today there is still slapstick. A lot of it is uncouth to my sophisticated, discerning eye and often gross just to get a rise out of the audience.

 

These documentaries are a must watch to learn and appreciate the films of yesteryear and to show how far we have come in film and comic history.

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  "Golden" signifies promise and success and designates a rich and lush quality. So I do think this era and the big four golden boys of this era, Chaplin, Keaton, Langdon and LLoyd, are good choices of a golden age in comedic film history. The sets, the routines, the tempo and hidden themes these films convey seem to have hit a chord with the public, then and now. The kick in the pants to an authority figure by Chaplin in one scene may reflect a hidden wish many of us would find funny yet never compelled to do in real life. That is what makes it so novel to the audience, little guilty pleasures brought to life on the screen for which someone else takes the fall. The golden hue of these films brought a freshness to not only a new visual art form yet bespoke many unspoken wishes or thoughts many of us harbor, both small and large, and reflected them back to the audience.  We were not only laughing at the actors in their mishaps on screen but maybe a bit at ourselves and might even in the process feel a bit sheepish about some of the revelations reflected back to us.

  The idea of visual comedy is not completely correct since in many of these scenes the principals are talking yet we are the ones who can't hear the dialogue. For this, the actors had to be clever and convey these "words" into pure actions for us their "non-hearing" audience. This is where the true art seems to take place in silent films, the characters are acting and citing dialogue with each other but in turn they created another level of a purely visual and oftentimes hyperbolic way to get their intent across the screen to the audience. A truly creative and unique venture it was for the golden boys of this silent era.

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I think that era was the golden age of one kind of comedy: comedy that was almost entirely visual in nature. With the advent of sound, new comedic elements could either be added or made the focus of a film. You could get witty dialogue and repartee, verbal puns, topical humor, and the verbal setup of the slapstick gag that wasn't really possible in the silent film. So there have really been multiple golden ages as I see them. The slapstick gags never went away but sound could in many ways amplify them. I hope we will go into some of the transitional comedy of the early '30s. I think the sound films of Harold Lloyd in the early '30s don't get enough credit. He was able to add significant verbal elements to his 'glasses' character and see the opportunities of sound earlier than someone like Chaplin did. Laurel & Hardy also showed how sound could add to comedy.

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Absolutely. It's one reason I love, Merrily We Live...it is the best of both worlds and its gags pay homage to the giants whose shoulders it stands on.

I'm with CYNTHIA V; As an art form the silent era was the best. But as for being my "favorite" give me the 30s...

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Now I get to correct you. ;) The doc. is by John Spotton.

Thanks!

 

Though, I could go meta, and argue that Potterton was directing Keaton in both "The Railrodder" AND the documentary of him directing Keaton in "The Railrodder". But that would be silly.

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I suppose we have now drifted into dangerous territory. So be it. Even before the recent “Daily Dose” there were posts mentioning the idea that some people could not find the humor in silent comedies without the “sound” of the trombone or whistle slide. Turn off the musical accompaniment and the funny gets lost. It has to be mentioned that silent films were silent. That was not a misnomer. When people saw those films, more often than not, the only sounds they heard were the sounds from the audience members, or from the projectionist. An examination of Rick Altman’s work reveal’s how sparse musical accompaniment was before 1912, and how disorganized it remained afterwards as standardization began. There normally were no sound effects and certainly no musical accompaniment unless you found yourself in a major city (and most did not) and even then in a larger theater (and most did not). This was certainly the case until the mid-1920s at least. In the earlier days, before 1908, one didn’t even get to see these films in an audience. They were seen on machines. Yet these films were remarkably, fantastically successful. So, the idea that some sound would have been necessary to create the comic effect for the overwhelming majority of the movie-going population is arguable, to say the least. That said, we cannot deny that some, being human, have a different sense of humor; but, perhaps, that is a sense created in today’s environment, more geared toward aural effects. I do not know the answer to that question and would not venture a guess.

It is my opinion, that in order to evaluate a film, it is necessary to see it in its original format as presented at the time of release. To see an edited version with sound effects, enhanced color, or music added, makes a big difference. The value of a film is best preserved in its original form. If improvement is deemed necessary, it is best to remake it with a new vision, but leave the original as is.

As you say, Silent films were silent.

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The period of 1912-1930 I believe to be the golden age of comedy. These productions were milestones creating innovative direction, achievement and prosperity. It gives future films the encouragement to say if they can do that, let's try this.

 

These films are forever the most imaginative and enduring and will never be duplicated in today's day and age. The industry grows and can never be a child again. They are completely visual for all walks of life to enjoy and experience. I do enjoy them just as much without sound. For instance I checked out the Library of Congress site and found loads of 1-2 reel films, no sound, still hysterical. I love the baboon, donkey, kitten, dog act. The gag involving trying to ride the donkey and the donkey triumphs in the end. Can you imagine living in this time period; how you couldn't wait for the next machine down at the drugstore to feature its next film short. The line had to be down the block with all ages discussing, talking, laughing, being a community. No, I'm afraid those days are gone.

 

I am so thankful this course is available and all the resources as well. In today's world if it wasn't for essays, documentaries etc, people keeping this alive, it would surely be lost in the wave of new technology. It's hard enough getting my young adult children to watch slapstick or TCM for that matter. Sure they all know the little tramp but have they actually watched it, do they know anyone else? My guess is no, not really. We have to educate our young people, plant seeds. I started by letting my kids watch looney tunes like I did. Even though the PTA said oh that's bad for them, violent. We built on film from there and it's worked thank goodness. They finally enjoy a good Black and White and laugh with me watching old comedies. As for popular opinion the films speak all on there own, I have never needed the background commentary and have enjoyed them my whole life. Now I like digging in a bit more and this is where I find it meaningful.

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They may not be purely "the golden age", but these first gags were the home, the example to follow, and this is very important .  These early films showed an essentially visual humor, but, early silent film was accompanied by music in the cinema where films were exhibited, that increased the visual effect. The appearance of the film sound you added others ingredients, as them dialogues that so brilliantly knew exploit the Marx Brothers.

Finally, these references documentary served for those new generations of spectators knew to those big artists

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