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Dr. Rich Edwards

Breakdown of a Gag, Episode 3: Lloyd's Painfully Funny Prop

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For the Painfully Funny course, Vince Cellini and I shot an 8 episode web series that will break down some of the famous gags we will be watching in OUCH! A Salute to Slapstick.


 


In this episode, we compare and contrast a similar gag, shot on location at Coney Island, from the films CONEY ISLAND (Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, 1917) and NUMBER, PLEASE? (Harold Lloyd, 1920).


 


Breakdown of a Gag, Episode 3 is available now. 


 


Go to Weekly Module #2 to view the latest episode, or watch it here: https://vimeo.com/181820487


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I think everyone will have a better understanding of their styles and performances the larger body of work studied from each of them. Clearly props and sets contributed to the gags immensely. Pretty neat to see the evolution of Keaton and Lloyd. The only comedian I've seen most is Chaplin, but it's interesting to read their styles and popularity influenced one another further assisting advances in slapstick's evolution...

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Interesting to see how the same prop was used in different ways in these two films.  The theme of the unsuspecting victim and the element of surprise plays out in both films.  

 

Thanks for pointing out that Buster Keaton was not ALWAYS deadpan in expression and how Harold Lloyd continued to build on the gag, using what was also available at the Island.  

 

You did get me wondering just how much Coney Island played a role in early film, so like every other post in the course to date - I went exploring.  

 

Found this link:  

 

http://www.westland.net/coneyisland/articles/movielist.htm

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In this part we see how the same prop is used for 2 different gags by 2 different performers. It must have been a struggle sometimes to come up with ideas that were fresh. The next level of this is when we see the same prop used for different gags by the SAME performer, in the same film. In other words, how many funny gags can I come up with for this prop?

 

A good example would be the pie fight from Battle of the Century with Laurel and Hardy. Each pie gag is done in a slightly different way. How many ways can we make throwing a pie different and funny?

 

Even more extreme example is the conveyor belt from Modern Times. It is a very simple set up: tightening two nuts on each piece. But look how many gags Chaplin can mine from it. A whole segment of film can be built around one single prop.

 

Jackie Chan, greatly influenced by Keaton, does the same thing. In a comic fight scene the prop is an aluminum ladder. And we see gag after gag after gag - all different. Just how many gags can you get from one prop?

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I thought that was a well thought out and explanatory video about the use of the same gag but with a different payoff. The first clip was simplistic and straightforward in Coney Island (1917), Roscoe gets hit by a mallet by Buster Keaton in a supporting role and ends up knocking him out cold, the payoff was that he won a cigar as a prize. In Number Please? (1920) the gag was similar in which Harold Lloyd would be hit on the head with a mallet but, as Richard had stated in the video, he becomes disoriented and he gets up and sees himself in front of the house of mirrors in which he looks at himself in the mirror and believes that his head and body has become swollen. What makes me feel fascinated about Lloyd is that he is representing the average man with those bespectacled circular glasses that are see through and I also like his charm and charisma as well.

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"Number, Please" was actually shot on location at (I think it was called Ocean Park) on Venice Beach in California. Los Angeles was almost always Lloyd's venue. Dr. Edwards was absolutely spot on about Lloyd being much more the middle-class comedian. I've always had the sense that, after Lloyd failed at becoming the middle-class version of Chaplin (Lonesome Luke) he became the MORE middle-class version of Keaton, who was already very much in the everyman/working class/middle class vein, but without Lloyd's more upbeat qualities.

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I agree that Lloyd did take the carnival game gag to the next level by using the other carnival attraction of the distorted mirror image. These two clips definitely show that all of these great silent film comedians had truly begun to develop their own style and personality by this time.

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Ouch!  The mallet used on Arbuckle and Lloyd...definitely feel the pain!  It's nice to see the amusement park as the setting; where else could one have comical mishaps?  The development of the gags are still simple but yet advanced so as to really get a big laugh from the audience.  Lloyd's reaction shots to his "distorted image" in the mirrors are priceless.  The angles are wonderful capturing his facial reactions.  And to see Keaton laugh in "Coney Island" was funny.  I've only seen his stone-faced persona and to see his humorous reaction to Arbuckle's hit was great.  While watching this, I got to thinking about the old black and white POPEYE cartoons that used these gags in an animated form; of course with animation that slapstick got even more exaggerated.  But, that could be the topic for another course.

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I think that Fatty Arbuckle is one of those comics lost to history because others will surpass him in their innovative ways.  That is why this is a great segment to watch for me.  We see Fatty doing his bit, we see the early makings of Keaton, but then the artistry of Lloyd.  Everyone who has every watched an old movie set at a carnival or gone to one is familiar with these games, but Lloyd does take it the next step because he allows us to continue along with him.  Anyone would be confused and unsure of what was going on after the hit he took - but rather than doing the normal "scratch my head, I feel ill" -he goes to the mirrors and works with the concept of "oh my what has happened" - which takes Fatty's idea in a new direction for a new audience.

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I watched the movie Coney Island last night. I got a major kick out of seeing Buster Keaton laughing. Indeed it was unusual because he's usually straightfaced. I have not seen the movie with Harold Lloyd. I am looking forward to it. Harold Lloyd went a little farther with the Coney Island bellringing gag. It was very funny and indeed very charming. I am loving this journey through the locks slapstick silent era and soon we will go into Groucho Marx! Loving this course. I don't really have much to offer this one. Sorry.

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"Number, Please" was actually shot on location at (I think it was called Ocean Park) on Venice Beach in California. Los Angeles was almost always Lloyd's venue. Dr. Edwards was absolutely spot on about Lloyd being much more the middle-class comedian. I've always had the sense that, after Lloyd failed at becoming the middle-class version of Chaplin (Lonesome Luke) he became the MORE middle-class version of Keaton, who was already very much in the everyman/working class/middle class vein, but without Lloyd's more upbeat qualities.

I believe you are right that "Number Please" was shot in Ocean Park, near the border between Santa Monica and Venice, California.  You can see "Ocean Park Dancing Pavilion" and "Pickering Pleasure Pier" on signs on the pier in one of the shots.  Also background signs for "Venice Red Hots" and "Sunkist California Oranges."  Here's a photo of the pier:

http://digital.smpl.org/cdm/ref/collection/smarchive/id/1586

 

Another Harold Lloyd film, "Speedy", was indeed shot partly on Coney Island.  You can see some of the same rides, such as "Witching Waves" both in "Speedy" and in the Arbuckle film "Coney Island."

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The work of Lloyd and his use of two props get a reaction of cause and effects and a motion of a comedy of errors, all without talking. Amazing!

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I'm more familiar with Chaplin and Keaton, so it was really nice to see an episode focusing on Lloyd. I recently read a book called "The Silent Clowns" that examined the styles of the major silent comedians, and if I remember correctly, it took Lloyd much, much longer than Chaplin or Keaton to develop his particular on-screen personality he is known for today: middle class, elegant, charming, with those fantastic glasses. Luckily for us, he finally found his style and gave us some wonderful films. Safely Last! is superb. I thought he did a great job building off of Arbuckle and Keaton's "high-striker" gag and making it a bit more clever.

 

I've seen people describe Lloyd as the second "greatest" silent comedian, second only to Chaplin. If this is the case, I would think he would be more well known. As it is, I don't know anyone who even knows Lloyd is. I got my undergraduate degree in film studies a couple of years ago, and he was never even mentioned. Has he become less popular recently? The world needs to know of his talent!

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Buster Keaton laughing in a film!  GREAT!!!!!!

The gag with Keaton and Arburckle is simple, passes through hit, laughter, the new hit and the prize. Humor is hit and the reaction of the characters.

Harold Lloyd shows us another kind of situation, is the common man to which things will happen, shows expressive, disoriented look in mirrors.  In both cases, I think that, to show the exhibition of Coney Island, (also in Speedy, Lloyd stroll through Coney Island) artists were trying to locate in a common environment so that people identify with them.

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I believe you are right that "Number Please" was shot in Ocean Park, near the border between Santa Monica and Venice, California.  You can see "Ocean Park Dancing Pavilion" and "Pickering Pleasure Pier" on signs on the pier in one of the shots.  Also background signs for "Venice Red Hots" and "Sunkist California Oranges."  Here's a photo of the pier:

http://digital.smpl.org/cdm/ref/collection/smarchive/id/1586

 

Another Harold Lloyd film, "Speedy", was indeed shot partly on Coney Island.  You can see some of the same rides, such as "Witching Waves" both in "Speedy" and in the Arbuckle film "Coney Island."

 

You are correct. I was thinking about Coney Island in Speedy. The game is the same, but you are right, it is two different parks. Thanks for pointing that out!

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Though the gags are similar, the personalities of both Keaton and Lloyd's onscreen personas are what set them apart. "Coney Island" is a bit more crude in its humor, and rough in its physical comedy, much like the overall work of Arbuckle and Keaton. "Number, Please?", on the other hand, shows Lloyd's "boy in glasses" character as he is known to be -- innocent, gullible, sweet. Lloyd's glasses character keeps moving, always, rarely stopping to analyze, focus, or observe.

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In the Fatty Arbuckle/Buster Keaton version the audience is invited to watch great gag. Keaton's laughter incites a whack on the head by Arbuckle who wins a cigar and moves on. Harold Lloyd takes us along with him as he continues to the curved mirrors in a dazed state and incorporates this additional prop to further enrich the original gag. Evolution in action.

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Harold Lloyd is my all-time favorite, and this is only a matter of degree because it’s almost impossible to compare him, Chaplin, and Keaton. His characters are likable, and he seems to like the other characters. There’s not as much animosity among the characters in Lloyd’s films because Lloyd’s characters want to please and want to be liked. In this sense, he reminds me of Carl Reiner and The Dick Van Dyke show.

 

And I think we see a little bit of this even in this short clip. In Number Please? Lloyd is the only one who gets hit with the mallet, and it’s an accident because he trips while trying to catch his dog. In Coney Island, Keaton hits Arbuckle by accident, but Arbuckle wants retaliation. He gets it and the cigar, and the bit is done. The rest of Lloyd’s bit in Number Please? comes from his disorientation and misunderstanding, and from the way that he “elongates” the gag (pun alert!) for viewers.

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Watching episode 3, I loved how Cellini and Edwards defended Keaton, especially in terms of his face. In "Coney Island", it was very refreshing to see him laugh, and I think that gave him more elevation. You usually see his serious side, and I think the episode showed that he wasn't a stereotypical straight man in silent comedy.

 

I think that Harold Lloyd had as much as physicality as both Chaplin and Keaton. He also had charm and sensitivity, and it definitely showed in the mirror bit in "Number, Please?" 

 

I think it was very innovative to use the same prop in two films, because it is shown as an important aspect of both films. It has a purpose, and it does what it needs to do. It adds to the humor and style of the gags in both films. Keaton and Arbuckle used the mallet one way, and Lloyd used it another way. In both films, the mallet becomes even more essential to the two clips.

 

I can say Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd each had their own unique flair and style, but they each have the most important thing in common: they made us laugh, then and now. Their contributions to film remains essential and really groundbreaking in it's history.

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I'm more familiar with Chaplin and Keaton, so it was really nice to see an episode focusing on Lloyd. I recently read a book called "The Silent Clowns" that examined the styles of the major silent comedians, and if I remember correctly, it took Lloyd much, much longer than Chaplin or Keaton to develop his particular on-screen personality he is known for today: middle class, elegant, charming, with those fantastic glasses. Luckily for us, he finally found his style and gave us some wonderful films. Safely Last! is superb. I thought he did a great job building off of Arbuckle and Keaton's "high-striker" gag and making it a bit more clever.

 

I've seen people describe Lloyd as the second "greatest" silent comedian, second only to Chaplin. If this is the case, I would think he would be more well known. As it is, I don't know anyone who even knows Lloyd is. I got my undergraduate degree in film studies a couple of years ago, and he was never even mentioned. Has he become less popular recently? The world needs to know of his talent!

I think it has to do with Lloyd's films being much less available than those of other comics.

 

Lloyd controlled the rights to his films, and was extremely selective about licensing them out after their initial release. Part of this was to protect his work. He saw other people's films copied from copies until the images deteriorated into a blur, butchered into compilation films that totally destroyed the original structure, and mocked with the addition of obnoxious new soundtracks and smarmy commentary, and he dudn't want it to happen to his films.

 

It was also a very shrewd business decision. By tightly controlling the supply, you increase the value of your product. (This is how the DeBeers cartel keeps the price of diamonds---one of the commonest stones on the planet---so high.)

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It was quite refreshing to see Buster Keaton laugh during "Coney Island" as all the films I had seen him in before were of his stone face expression. This film obviously appealed to the working class with Arbuckle getting his revenge on Keaton by whacking him in retaliation and then winning a cigar (an exploding cigar, perhaps?)

 

Harold Lloyd's appeal to the middle class showed in both his outfits and the fact that he did not retaliate against those who whacked him on the high striker/strongman game. Instead he goes the different route and ends up over at the fun house mirror. These are times when I wish the things that happened in cartoons existed in real life--there would be birds and stars spinning around his head.

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I think it has to do with Lloyd's films being much less available than those of other comics.

 

Lloyd controlled the rights to his films, and was extremely selective about licensing them out after their initial release. Part of this was to protect his work. He saw other people's films copied from copies until the images deteriorated into a blur, butchered into compilation films that totally destroyed the original structure, and mocked with the addition of obnoxious new soundtracks and smarmy commentary, and he dudn't want it to happen to his films.

 

It was also a very shrewd business decision. By tightly controlling the supply, you increase the value of your product. (This is how the DeBeers cartel keeps the price of diamonds---one of the commonest stones on the planet---so high.)

 

I think Lloyd might have damaged his reputation (in the last 20 - 30 years of his life) and earning potential by NOT making the films available. I think it hurt his reputation in that he was forgotten many. Only by releasing the compilations in the 1960's did the public really become aware that he, and his films, were still around. And the compilations hurt some of the jokes of the films as you didn't see the entire build-up to the gag. He could have remained in the public eye by re-releasing his films through out the years.Keaton, by his films being released in the 1950's, experienced a career revival while still performing. 

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It is interesting to see the variations on a single gag.

 

I don't know how well Arbuckle would have fared if he hadn't been railroaded off the screen. He was funny as heck, but short on story.

 

Lloyd's glasses character was an everyman that folks could relate to. His humor was more gentle, and I always root for him to succeed.  

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I had never seen either of these gags, but it was interesting to see the variation. The first one I found I liked the details within it more so than the latter one. I thought the characters were more intense in the first one, and on key. These slapsticks are amazing with the talent of actors. 

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