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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. I would agree silent films from 1912-1930 comprised comedy's golden era primarily because of the inventiveness of the pioneers of comedy such as Chaplin, Sennett and others.

 

2. While the gags during the silent era were very much visual, they were enhanced with the coming of sound. The addition of sound effects to physical (visual) comedy allowed comedians to expand the realm of comedic gags. This meant that comedy evolved greatly following the advent of sound.
 
3. I would hope that people would open their minds to the genius and creativeness of early film pioneers and they would learn to appreciate the fact that, if not for these early filmmakers, we would not have the film industry we do today. It's fascinating to me to watch silent films and marvel at the individuals who developed the plots, actors, equipment, and all of the components that lent themselves to the development of the film industry.
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1. I don't necessarily agree that the silent era represented comedy's golden age. Certainly, it was foundational, impacting comedic styles in films for decades. There is a tendency to view the films in aggregate, skipping over films that didn't measure up to the standards of the icons of early film comedy. But, comedy has evolved to encompass many different styles and forms, and this diversification has made it more difficult in many ways to successfully pull off a comedic film. I've sat through far too many good comedies that seem to get about 2/3 of the way through and then devolve into a slapstick routine which I always felt was taking the easy way out - closing off, rather than expanding the limits of comedic films. Expansion of those limits opens up comedy to a larger audience.

 

2. I would agree that the early era was all about the visuals - it was silent film, right? But, to say it's a form that has disappeared is a real stretch. It still provides a foundation for comedy today, but with sound, the necessity to make the entire point through action has ebbed.

 

3. Documentaries, compilations, et. al. serve different roles in appreciating this period in comedy. Documentaries provide a context and should be really targeted to the student of film, whether formal or casual. Not to say others won't enjoy them, but someone who's interested in Chaplin's work wants the context - what point was he at in his career? What was driving him? What was involved in his development of this or that gag or film?

 

On the other hand, compilations serve a role of preservation and exposure of many films or the body of work of a particular performer. The problem with "The Golden Age of Comedy", the first film TCM presents in this series, is that the announcer's play-by-play of the obvious visuals is intrusive. At the beginning of the film, it falls into the exposition category. As it goes on, it tends to be compelled by the producer's desire to fill up all dead air. 

 

 

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The Golden Era provided good clean fun. Today's comedy often involves gross out humor and sexual acts. This is not to disparage movies today; they are pushing the envelope of acceptability. Modern comedians often bend popular opinion in new directions.

 

It is remarkable how quickly moving pictures changed visual media, especially slapstick. Instead of simply adapting stage theater, early comic filmmakers took advantage of the world at large and exaggerated everyday life to the hilt.

 

Visual humor still persists today, but it often involves bodily functions. It would be interesting to see a compilation documentary that compares modern visual humor with old-timey slapstick side-by-side.

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I watched "Salute to Slapstick" last night and enjoyed watching some of the comedy bits, especially Laurel and Hardy trying to escape from jail by imitating painters and the traffic jam from "Two Tars".

But here are some of the other classic comedy routines featured on this show...

A man is blindfolded and is tricked into jumping headfirst into a swimming pool with no water

A dog is sucked into a vacuum cleaner, and although eventually is retrieved has been clean shaved

A man contemplates suicide by drinking a poisonous liquid

A man is left tied to a pole in a flooded room with rising water and eventually is completely submerged under water

A lady with a baby is convinced to enter a burning building.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't necessarily find anything particularly offensive to me. But on the other hand, I didn't find any of those skits particularly funny either. They claim this is the Golden Age of Comedy, and that is the best we have to offer from this era?

I got my first taste of slapstick comedy when I was a baby. Its surrealism and comic violence feel very comfortable to me, but some slapstick leaves me totally cold.

 

Slapstick, whether live-action or cartoon, is exaggerared, violent, cruel, and dangerous. Early slapstick is even more cruel, because it reflects the era in which it was made. Many aspects of life and humour in those those eras are unacceptable today: racism, ethnic stereotypes, mocking people with disabilities, misogeny, corporal punishment, domestic violence, police brutality & corruption, and cruelty to children & animals.

 

I find all of these things deeply offensive, especially the violence against children and animals, since they are unable to give or refuse their consent. I cringed at scenes in "Mickey" when a cat was kicked out of the way by one character, and then idly carried around by its tail by the heroine. I lost all empathy for the heroine at that point.

 

I love slapstick, but there are many slapstick films and performers that I either don't find funny, find only mildly amusing, or actually hate. For example, I don't care for the Three Stooges, because I don't care *about* them as characters. There's no real background to them as characters, and the plots of their films are just slender threads to hang their ritualized schtick on.

 

Laurel & Hardy (my favourite slapstick performers) use ritualized schtick too, but their characters and plotlines are stronger, and their gags don't happen "just because"; they flow from the characters' needs/desires/personalities, and from the situations. I think it's partly this extra motivation for the gags, partly the strong empathy and sympathy I feel for the characters, and partly that I can willingly suspend my disbelief and imagine myself in their surrealistic world that feels so comfortable to me.

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I agree with Agee and Youngston's statements about the silent films are its "golden age". The reason why I agree because the silent films started everything from 1912 - 1930. The silent era introduced us to a new entertainment. The slapstick movies from the silent era started with gags that we still see today.

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I agree with the assessment that mavfan presents ...it was silent so visual comedy was a necessity and slapstick has evolved but it's still valid...ever hear of Chevy chase pratfalls...or what about Steve Martin and his silly arrows thru his head...love it. It's slapstick with a cerebral edge. So it's a golden age but not comedy's greatest age, necessarily.

And why is it that Chaplin, Langdon, Keaton, and Lloyd are named as greats...but no max sennet and he was featured throughout the entire clip. If it wasn't for him....

 

 

 

1. I don't necessarily agree that the silent era represented comedy's golden age. Certainly, it was foundational, impacting comedic styles in films for decades. There is a tendency to view the films in aggregate, skipping over films that didn't measure up to the standards of the icons of early film comedy. But, comedy has evolved to encompass many different styles and forms, and this diversification has made it more difficult in many ways to successfully pull off a comedic film. I've sat through far too many good comedies that seem to get about 2/3 of the way through and then devolve into a slapstick routine which I always felt was taking the easy way out - closing off, rather than expanding the limits of comedic films. Expansion of those limits opens up comedy to a larger audience.

 

2. I would agree that the early era was all about the visuals - it was silent film, right? But, to say it's a form that has disappeared is a real stretch. It still provides a foundation for comedy today, but with sound, the necessity to make the entire point through action has ebbed.

 

3. Documentaries, compilations, et. al. serve different roles in appreciating this period in comedy. Documentaries provide a context and should be really targeted to the student of film, whether formal or casual. Not to say others won't enjoy them, but someone who's interested in Chaplin's work wants the context - what point was he at in his career? What was driving him? What was involved in his development of this or that gag or film?

 

On the other hand, compilations serve a role of preservation and exposure of many films or the body of work of a particular performer. The problem with "The Golden Age of Comedy", the first film TCM presents in this series, is that the announcer's play-by-play of the obvious visuals is intrusive. At the beginning of the film, it falls into the exposition category. As it goes on, it tends to be compelled by the producer's desire to fill up all dead air.

 

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I watched  "Comedy's Golden Age" and while it was fun to see some of the lesser known performers, I thought that the narration was condescending and isolating the gags from their original framework weakened their impact. I don't think that the compilation format really worked here.

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1) The documentary title, "The Golden Age of Comedy" is primarily a marketing tool to get folks to watch film someone already had in the can. So, the documentary's claim that 1912 to the 1930s was the Golden age,  and so implying that the best is past, is bogus. We need to keep in mind that the silent era was making great movies and that they humor was mostly visual because that was all the studios had to work with -- silence. But even that claim is not entirely true. Very quickly most movie makers included live music and even sound effects with the "silent" presentations.  More importantly though, the "greatest age" claim is silly unless you want to accept that slapstick (or really any other silent film) has to be silent to be great, thereby negating the possibility of any sound film being greater. And the slapstick films that were made after sound came in didn't and still don't rely completely on their ability to have sound alone.  Like color, or better lenses or 3-D today, new cinematic technologies don't devalue previous films just the way the films of yore don't negate the power of later films. What is important is the evolution of the art and how each new technology and generation of movie makers use those tools to expand, enhance and empower of the medium.

 

2) No, the gags in the "Golden Age" films are not completely visual. First, see my comments above about added music and sounds, second, the audience had the ability to image and "hear" the sounds the gags were making even though it didn't actually "hear" them. And, no the films and slapstick didn't disappear, they evolved.

 

3) I suspect that the impact of documentaries like "Golden Age" and compilation films had on their contemporary audiences was first to provide the audience to remember and enjoy the gags in them, second to reinforce their thoughts and feelings about the films covered in them. However, as I mention in #1 above, most of the commentary in the documentaries,etc, are essentially interpretation meant to increase nostalgia for the films and thereby create a secondary market for them.

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I actually DVR'd The Golden Age of Comedy, but didn't make it all the way through--I found it boring.  I would have preferred that it had been presented in more of a documentary style and less clip show.  I understand that it was produced by the same person responsible for the news reels that used to show before feature films, so perhaps that is why the format didn't work for me.  

 

Anyway, to answer the questions posed by Dr. Edwards:

 

1) No.  I do not think that the silent era represented the Golden Age, nor do I think there are other eras that are more Golden than others.  I think it is possible for there to be multiple Golden Eras for any medium.  With the silent era, there were a lot of gags that were innovated during this time which most likely influenced future comedic movies and television shows.  Lucille Ball said that she actually spent time with Buster Keaton who taught her how to properly execute physical stunts and gags.  While Lucy's brand of comedy was definitely influenced by Keaton, she also put her own stamp on her stunts and in turn, developed her own brand of comedy.  Later, in the 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore, undoubtedly influenced by her predecessors like Lucille Ball and Nanette Fabray, found her niche in the comedy world and developed her own shtick.  This level of influence would continue through future generations.  I don't think that the Silent Era is necessarily the "Golden Age" (which implies to me that it was the apex of film comedy), I just think it was a pioneer and that every era since then has evolved from what Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, et. al., first put on our screens a century ago. 

 

2) I also disagree that visual gags have disappeared since sound entered the film scene in 1927.  While silent movies definitely did rely heavily on visual gags (as obviously that would be the main way to tell a story), I think this trend continued into sound films and later into television.  To use Lucille Ball as an example again, much of her comedy relies on visual gags.  While she had the advantage of utilizing sound in her brand of comedy, much of the humor of the show involves her visual stunts and her facial reactions.  Desi Arnaz, hands down, has some of the funniest facial expressions in television history.  Later, other comedians, like Steve Martin, used visual humor in addition to telling jokes.  Laugh-In also utilized a combination of visual stunts and the jokes that were told. If anything, the addition of sound in the latter part of the 1920s allowed comedians to add another layer of humor to their visual stunts.  If they can follow up a pratfall with a snarky quip or a sound, then it can enhance the humor.  

 

3) I think that documentaries, compilations, essays, etc. can only bring more understanding and exposure to the world of silent film.  Back in the 1910s and 1920s, studios weren't concerned with trying to preserve their films for future generations.  People like Mack Sennett were just concerned with finishing film A while they quickly slapped together film B for production in the next week.  More films = more money.  Many of the silent films are considered "lost."  This is due to film disintegration, fires, and purposeful destruction of negatives by the studios trying to clear out room in their vault.  Once talkies rolled around and became popular, silent films were seen as passe.  Nobody thought that anyone would be interested in them.  When documentary filmmakers find these lost films, or old footage of silent movie production, or whatever, it can be a very interesting insight into the early days of Hollywood film production.  Silent film production is unlike any other type of filmmaking.  Not only does everything seem to have been done "on the cheap," but everything seems very primitive looking--even in comparison to films made in the late 1930s.  Even if someone is not a fan of silent film (they are an acquired taste), there is always room for knowledge and there is always something that can be learned and appreciated in a documentary.  At the very least, perhaps a documentary or compilation film or what not, can re-vitalize interest in a particular subject. 

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 1. I can see where this era would be considered the Golden Age of comedy because the unique ideas, experimentation and implementation of those ideas created films that became the foundation for slapstick comedy in movies from that period onward.  

 

2.  I do think the gags were visual, but in silent films, it was the images that were used to convey messages to the viewer. This is true in dramatic silent films as well.  Even though the technology improved, elements of these gags can still be seen in films. Unfortunately, in  today’s movies, comedy relies so much on gross-out humor that I believe these gags have to a certain extent disappeared. There are a few films out there that attempt to use the old silent movie gags, but they seem to be few and far between.

 

3. I think that documentaries, compilation films and essays have brought these films to the attention of generations that grew up after the silent films were made. The films are being watched and read about and dialogues are taking place that make people have a better understanding about how unique and significant these films were, and the amount of influence they have had on comedy films.

 

 

 

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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?

 

*Yes, I think the spirit of creativity combined with the excitement of a new art forum really helped incubate comedy in that there were no established rules, traditions or expectations. It was a pure and freeform artistic era.

 

Also, without Keaton, Chaplin, Arbuckle, Lloyd etc... there would not be a rich tapestry for future film comedians to mine or be inspired by.

 

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, although I would point out that the gags were not simple or contrived. Many were drawn out, carefully planned. I think many were also done with a sense of improvisation as well stemming from having to work with what  they had at the time. 

 

​I think it evolved with the silent era and into the talkies and age of color etc... Comedy is an ever evolving medium.

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

 

​*I think they help. I think silent film has appreciation has been lost to younger generations with is tragic. I think these compilation films give a 'greatest hits' feel to the genre that makes it easy to understand for the general viewer.

 

But as someone who loves film, I appreciate the overview format.

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1.  Film scholars would probably agree that the silent era consitutes the "golden age of comedy."  Ask the average Joe on the street and he would probably say Mel Brooks' movies or Will Ferrell's movies.

 

2.  I disagree that the jokes were entirely visual.  Many of the silent comedies had very clever title cards which would provide a laugh.  The comedy evolved in the sound era.  It didn't have to rely almost solely on visual humor.  With the addition of dialogue and synchronized sound effects and music, it "took the heat off" delivering humor in a strictly physical way.  It didn't disappear, of course, but you could say that it mellowed, or matured.

 

3.  The Youngson compilation films that were made in the 50s and 60s were my entree to the works of the silent comedians.  I saw them on TV in the 70s and probably never would have encountered my favourite silent comedian - Charley Chase - if I hadn't watched them.  It almost seems like some enterprising documentary producer should revisit these once again.

 

As a kid, I watched Chaplin on TV - he would be on the tail end of the Saturday morning line up.  Today a kid would have to seek them out intentionally as the kids' cable channels wouldn't touch Chaplin (or anything in black and white) with a ten foot pole.

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I think it would be fair to call the silent film era the "Golden Age" of film comedy, from the classical perspective, because so much of the basics of film comedy came up during that period. "Greatest Era" I find a little more trouble agreeing with.

Our favorite comedies tend to come from our formative years, usually films we experienced as teens and young adults. I believe that's why we're so split on what the greatest era is - it varies with the viewer.

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Considering this era the "Golden Age" of slapstick seems kind of 'extreme?' Yes, without Keaton, Chaplin, and others, there would be future slapstick in ages to come. Personally, I was never a big fan of the silent slapstick. Yes, they has their funny moments and no one cannot deny the comic genius of Chaplin, Keaton, and Arbuckle and many others. But, personally I like to hear the slapstick, a la the Three Stooges. It would have been interesting to work with these gretas of the Silent Era, to see where they get their ideas and just to see their genius at work. I have watched these movies for this week and some were good, others just seemed to 'bore' me for lack of a better word. I do not deny the genius of these great omedians, but this silent slapstick was just not for me.

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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 tend to agree. What I love the most about silent comedies is how universal they are. They were made in a foreign country (to me, at least), 100 years ago and they still can make a modern-day Brazilian like me laugh out loud. They play with this sense of humor that has a bit of childish innocence and a very human side, and this makes the films resonate with people from all over the world, from any time. Of course, each comedian had its own persona and approach to comedy, but it was probably the best of times for comedy.

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 think the physical comedy has disappeared. It has come to share the screen with other types of comedy. In my opinion the perfect balance between physical and non-physical comedy was achieved in the Marx brothers' films: Groucho brought the nonsense and verbal comedy, Harpo was responsible for the physical comedy, Zeppo would be the normal guy trapped in a humorous situation and Chico would be the musician or versatile sidekick.

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

It's curious to see how “The Golden Age of Comedy” was a product of its own time – 1957. If my only contact with silent cinema was this documentary, I'd think Laurel and Hardy are the most popular duo in the planet and Ben Turpin was the greatest comedian who ever lived. Three of the four kings of comedy, Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, are not included in this documentary. I have no doubt that Laurel and Hardy still were very popular with 1950s audiences, that's why they are prominently featured in the documentary.

And, thinking about a “product of its time”, we must consider that the new French cinephiles and intellectuals were the ones responsible of the rebirth of many films and icons in the 1960s, like Louise Brooks and Buster Keaton, who earned a new interest thanks to them. If the documentary was made in the 1960s, it'd feature more Buster and Chaplin and Lloyd. If it was made today by a common guy, it'd feature more Chaplin. If the Tumblr or Twitter fandom made a documentary, Buster Keaton would probably be the most praised comedian. 

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I disagree with the idea that the golden age of comedy was the silent era. It was great there is no doubt. Every era in the history of film has produced a number of excellent comedies and comedians. I grew up with Little Rascals, Abbott and Costelleo, and Lucy and Ethel. That was my Golden Age. But show me Laural and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin or WC Fields which are not my "Golden Age" and I will admit they were golden. I think I agree with others that when you are a comedy fan the "Golden Age" changes.


 


However, I have to admit that the silent era was when comedy was in its purest and simplest form. Comedy flourished and dominated the silent film industry because it didn't need sound as much as the other genres and was somewhat sidelined when sound came because these other genres had the chance to develop much more than it.


 


I don't think visual comedy has disappeared. Visual comedy is timeless. Once sound came along the silent film era and the comedy form expanded. Did it get better not always. No matter what decade it will always depend on the quality of the comedian whether male, female or animal.


 


There is no doubt that documentaries and other tributes to the silent film era and the old Hollywood films. Anything remains current if kept in the public eye/memory. Film Revivals, Cons, Classes and Lectures, and of course now the internet allow the past to be viewed.


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Jim Carrey is another good example. I posted about the giant banana scenes in Woody Allen's Sleeper and was hoping others would write about other examples. Thanks for your post.

Here is a scene from Woody Allen's 1969 comedy, Take the Money and Run. Mr. Allen plays Virgil, a convicted bank robber serving 10 years:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8g24ml5cPc Not much dialogue needed in this joke.

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1. I agree with Agee and Youngson that the silent era was the golden age of film comedy but not necessarily its greatest era. Many of the tropes and templates of comedy were created and developed there but the genre evolved with the times. This is similar to what happened with comic books. I have always heard that Mack Sennett was a jerk and shameless self-promoter but give him his due: he helped create so much we take for granted.

2. Visual comedy evolved and developed in the sound era and didn't disappear. It was refined and perhaps superseded with sound. Silent comedians (and silent actors in general) had to be more demonstrative to make up for the lack of sound.

3. Those documentaries and remember acres have kept silent comedy alive for future generations. They have created impressions for those who weren't around originally.

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I agree with Youngson. Yes visual comedy has evolved but my heart will always pay homage to the silents greats!

The documentaries are a great introduction to slapstick and the silent era! :)

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1. I agree with Agee and Youngson that the silent era was the golden age of film comedy but not necessarily its greatest era. Many of the tropes and templates of comedy were created and developed there but the genre evolved with the times. This is similar to what happened with comic books. I have always heard that Mack Sennett was a jerk and shameless self-promoter but give him his due: he helped create so much we take for granted.

2. Visual comedy evolved and developed in the sound era and didn't disappear. It was refined and perhaps superseded with sound. Silent comedians (and silent actors in general) had to be more demonstrative to make up for the lack of sound.

3. Those documentaries and remember acres have kept silent comedy alive for future generations. They have created impressions for those who weren't around originally.

I agree with this post. These films were indeed fantastic, but I find it limiting to think of them in terms of nostalgic heraldry. Comedy, like any craft, takes precision and workmanship, and masters learn both from classical and modern works.

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I do positively agree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 to 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age".  This is mainly because the visual treatments of gags without sound and in "full-figure framing" view (with no cut away or very few) tends to elicit and encourage solely true personal (i.e. 'unspoiled') reaction from the viewer(s).  With the advent of sound and close-ups or special effects, the viewer(s) may be led to a gag's meaning or influenced by.

 

The film's narrator was correct as well that the "gags were completely visual" in the silent era.  Visual gags have not disappeared.  They are currently used in combination with sound, etc.  For example, in the film, (It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1963), all the greedy characters are looking for the buried treasure under a giant "w", the viewer sees the visual as palm trees shaped as a "W".  But, the greedy characters don't notice this because they are running around under these palm trees like a chicken without its head.

 

Documentaries, compilation films and essays such as "The Golden Age of Comedy", 1957, encourage future audiences to review the silents for the origins of slapstick and how well it was developed and done.

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Sorry, I've just watched Daily #1 and just gone through most of the comments. I'll just add a couple responses:

(1) Golden Age? There is no such thing. There are things to discuss and talk about why some things are funny to some people. And BTW to call something a golden age you have to compare it to all the other "ages" and have to have some standard you are comparing them by.

(2) Importance of being silent. As some point out they had to be silent. And silent comedy persists independently (mime for example, and Mr. Bean)and as a component of other forms. But I think sound was always a component of most comedy. (1) in live performances where there is the actual sound of what was being done physically (2) the sound of fellow audience members laughing and reacting, (3) the music played during films. Even though some theaters shows films without music, there is a reason that there was music played during showings of silent films, it enhanced the experience and the humor. I think Charlie Chaplin wrote much of the music to accompany his films. And BTW, notice that the Golden Age TV show insisted in adding music to clips that it selected.

(3) Documentaries. Documentaries that really explore something or someone are interesting. But I hate the compilations of gags that take them out of context. And the narration drives me up the wall.

CHarlie

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Daily Dose #1 was fantastic, and I am truly enjoying being exposed to all of these treasures!

 

1) I would agree that silent films are certainly ONE of the greatest comedic eras.  Up until a couple of weeks ago, I was blown away by the genius of the Marx brothers and would have voted that time period as the greatest comedic eras.  As I learn more and am exposed to more and more comedic films, my own personal views may change, but without having read all of Agee and Youngson's work or their research (and having seen only a limited number of silent comedic films at this point), I can only say for sure that I really do LOVE this era, and I am eager to see more films.

 

2)  I don't think visual gags have completely disappeared.  I tend to be a "multi-tasker" while watching movies, often doing other things....sometimes my husband laughs out loud at something that was purely visual in a movie, I missed it because nothing audible was going on, and then he has to go back and rewind so that I can see it.  Clearly, they are not as frequent as they were in the silent film era, but those directors that are aware of the effect are definitely still using them.

 

3) Documentaries, compilations, and essays have a profound effect on the silent film era.  They keep this era from dying out!!  Without these brief glimpses into the characteristics of what makes this era fantastic, people like me may NEVER realize the importance!

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1) Was the silent era a golden age of comedy? Absolutely. This is not to say that Melissa McCarthy isn't just as hilarious as Buster Keaton. It's just that Keaton was part of the group of groundbreaking geniuses that made the genius of McCarthy possible. Keaton was one of the inventors. And he's still my personal favorite among those inventors. I still feel something of the "newness" of this form of comedy when watching Keaton's films. Melissa McCarthy and Jim Carrey feel like they are refining and distilling some of the comic invention Keaton bequeathed. 

 

2) Is the comedy of silent film purely visual? NO. A lot of it is visual, though. But it leans on the kinds of narrative irony and verbal punning of other kinds of live comedy like live theater and radio. Those zingers in the intertitles are hilarious in themselves. And when the outdoorish girl in The Balloonatic steals a kiss from Buster in the final moments of the film -- calling up memories of the kiss he may have tried to steal from her in the tunnel of love at the beginning of the film -- the fun isn't purely visual. Silent comedy definitely leaned hard on it's silent gags. But it was much too sophisticated to rely on these gags alone.

 

3) I think that documentaries and narrated compilations definitely distort and water down the brilliance of silent comedies -- assuming audiences haven't seen the films in their entirety before. For example, if you watch something like Youngson's Days of Thrills and Laughter, you walk away with a certain sense of Snub Pollard as a sort of weird Chaplinesque knockoff. That's assuming you haven't already watched It's a Gift in its entirety. That film  brilliantly takes a Keatonesque fascination with homespun technological invention and weaves it together with a real social and economic situation (ie, fluctuating gasoline prices and the demand for affordable fuels). In Youngson's compilation, Pollard's film seems sort of primative, but the film is anything but primitive. It is oddly relevant to today.

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