Speaking of my being Dumbest Guy …
This weekend will mark my annual ritual of playing that role, at the Slapsticon Festival which runs Thursday to Sunday in Arlington.
The festival shows silent (with live piano accompaniment) and early-sound comedies, mostly short films (so even if you’re watching something that sucks, you know it’s not gonna suck for too long), and mostly focusing on stuff that’s not easily available on video and on comedians less known than e.g., Chaplin and Keaton. If you’re in the DC area and have any interest in movies, you should definitely come by and give it a whirl ($30 for a whole day of films; $16 for a half-day); and, incentive or disincentive, I’ll be there for all four days and every program.
This year’s program is here, and while I can truthfully say that with one exception all these titles are unknown to me … if the curiosity factor of what a Cecil B. DeMille comedy looks like doesn’t intrigue you … [VJM tries and fails for a sufficient metaphor of hopeless disbelief]. The biggest primetime “name” attraction is the Three Stooges, but it’ll be a program of “rarities,” rather than the oft-repeated episodes.
There are the annual cinematic acquaintanceships I look forward to restarting here since the video store hasn’t been kind to them: Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew (the creator of the family sitcom), Lupino Lane (a great pure athlete), Larry Semon (the most childish and clownish of them all), Lloyd Hamilton (the sickly, prickly stuffed shirt), Harry Langdon’s sound work (much better than its reputation), and 20s Sennett (much better than the better-known primitives from the 10s). And every year, there’s the annual “surprise” discoveries that happen (e.g., Stan Laurel solo, a lost Mabel Normand feature).
And after several years, there’s also the personal acquaintanceships that have started to develop. It’s an intimate enough festival to allow real interaction with programmers, print owners, longtime fans and some of the most eminent scholars in the field. Last year, I shared a couple of beers at the Holiday Inn with Paul Gierucki, the man who compiled the 4-disc Fatty Arbuckle DVD and he said IIRC that the long-thought-lost stuff that’s still turning up in archives around the world suggest that Arbuckle’s run of 1918-1919 work may have been the greatest stretch of work by any comedian on film.
But for now, Arbuckle’s last film, 1933’s TOMALIO will be playing Sunday morning, the last of the six Vitaphone shorts he made for Warner Brothers. Obviously, I can’t judge until I see it, but it’s a matter of historical record that those six shorts were impressive enough to earn him a Warners contract to star in a comedy feature, giving him the shot at both the real comeback he wanted and the vindication he deserved (though he died the day after signing the contract). I. Can’t. Wait.