Slapstick Summer Series: Laugh Olympics | An Obstacle Course (1906)

In honor of tonight’s Opening Ceremonies — Guy’s Une course d’obstacle.

I Believe It’ll Bring a Lot of Good Thoughts — To Your Heart

Bob Ross remixed by Symphony of Science’s John Boswell, aka melodysheep, for PBS Digital Studios.


Slapstick Summer Series: Passing the Torch | The Race for the Sausage (1907)

The similarities to The Policemen’s Little Run, released earlier the same year, are obvious. Each have their own merits and choosing one over the other ultimately comes down to personal preference.

More significant than the movie itself are the circumstances revolving at the time around the film’s production company, Gaumontand co-Directors, Alice Guy and Louis Feuillade. Guy, serving as Gaumont’s Artistic Director since 1896, first bought scripts from Feuillade beginning in 1905, and then finally convinced him to give directing a shot as well.

Still, most of the Gaumont films from this period, such as The Race for the Sausage, were either explicitly directed or closely supervised by Guy. In preparation for her upcoming move to the United Stated to serve as Production Manager for Gaumont’s New York operations — and to be with new husband, Herbert Blaché — Guy was also molding her successor. When the time came for her to bid France a farewell, she suggested Feuillade as her replacement. By late 1907, Guy-Blaché was living on a different continent, and Feuillade was Gaumont’s new Artistic Director.

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Slapstick Summer Series: A Vehicle for Comedy | The ‘?’ Motorist (1906)

Perhaps the most fantastic slapstick of the century’s 1st decade, the influence of Melies is obvious [note: R.W. Paul, producer and cinematographer of “The ‘?’ Motorist”, built the 1st camera used by Melies].

However, unlike most works by his fellow cinemagician, Walter R. Booth’s “Mad Motorist” is not constrained to the theater-style setting. Alternating between studio sets and external shots, the chaos is taken to new heights, literally. Seriously, man, it’s out of this world.

Slapstick Summer Series: Don’t Sleep on These | The Rolling Bed (1907)

Let’s say you’re Louis Feuillade and you want to top two previous movies centered around mattress hi-jinks (Guy’s The Drunken Mattress and Melies’s The Tramp and the Mattress Makers). How would you go about doing this? Why, utilizing the entire bed of course! With the shortest run-time of the three, we are reminded that bigger isn’t always better, and in this case, smaller is actually bedder. <- Oh yes, I went there.

Slapstick Summer Series: Semi-Meta | A Fall from Five Floors (1906)

As one might expect, the pioneers of motion pictures (being photographers themselves) often used the photographing process itself as a plot device within their films. With the evolution of prank-based comedies towards slaptick, a natural transition existed for these meta-ish films to introduce situations whereby the intended targets of still-shots instead remain in motion, resulting in chaos for the cameraman [anyone with kids can easily relate to this dilemma].

Melies was not the first to explore this subject [see Guy’s At the Photographer’s and two films by Porter: Photographing a Country Couple and The Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken], but his Une chute de cinq étages is surely the most elaborate and entertaining of the bunch. “Toro! Toro!” anyone?

Slapstick Summer Series: Multilevel Comedy | The Irresistible Piano (1907)

Alice Guy continues her exploration and expansion of the slapstick genre by moving from horizontal space (as utilized in the “chase” films) to vertical space. In Le piano irrésistible, music seeps through walls and ceilings to charm all those within hearing range. On a related note, Guy also worked with up-and-comer Louis Feuillade to provide multi-floored comedy involving the world’s worst cleaning man.

Slapstick Summer Series: Ladies, Please! | Those Awful Hats (1909)

Although rudimentary and often too-easily dismissed, Those Awful Hats is a must-see for all fans of early cinema and film history. Reasons being (in no particular order):

  1. We’re treated to a live-action PSA of the famous theater slides which asked women to remove their giant hats so as to not obstruct the view of those behind. (And you thought cell phones were annoying) 
  2. It’s not just one of the oldest surviving films directed by D.W. Griffith, it’s also one of his rare comedies.
  3. That energetic man with the checkered jacket, top hat, and cane? Yeah, that’s Mack Sennett. Three years later he would found a little something known as Keystone Studios.

Besides, that giant hat-grabber is EPIC!

Slapstick Summer Series: The 1st Pie Face | Mr. Flip (1909)

Mr. Flip, played by cross-eyed comedian, Ben Turpin, is quite the ladies’ man…and by “ladies’ man”, I mean borderline sexual harasser who constantly receives his just desserts [sp]. Speaking of which, this film (directed by Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson) includes the earliest known use of the pie-in-the-face bit in a movie.

Slapstick Summer Series: Vaudevillians | Robetta and Doretto, No. 2 (1895)

Short recording of 1890s vaudeville slapstick act, “Robetta and Doretto”, performing one of their routines (Chinese Laundry Scene). It’s funny that even in these plot-less few seconds we glimpse elements familiar from the earliest slapstick movies.