Toronto Silent Film Festival: SURREAL SLAPSTICK


Revue Cinema Sun, Apr 14 4:00 PM




The moment filmmakers discovered cinema made anything possible, reality flew out the window. Logic and barriers were meant for the physical world, not the filmic. 


From as early as 1896 (think of that!), French magician/film director George Méliès — the central figure in Martin Scorcese’s HUGO — crafted more than 500 brilliantly bizarre fantasies that dropped cinemagoers’ jaws. Méliès not only invented surrealism in film, he unleashed it. 


The animation genius behind Betty Boop and Popeye, Max Fleischer, started his career with a series of Out Of The Inkwell cartoons — the first to mix live-action with animation. In each film Max plays the earnest animator whose impish creation, Koko The Clown, leaps from his pen’s nib to wreak havoc however, wherever he can. It’s a Fleischerian fever dream when cartoon craziness collides with Max’s efforts to make it all stop. 


Charley Bowers is an unsung creator or surreal sight gags extraordinaire — half Buster Keaton / half madman animator who, when he decides that pussy cats can grow from pussy willows, just makes it happen with precision stop-motion animation skills and a free-range imagination. In Now You Tell One, Charley weaves a fantastic tale so extraordinary that even the esteemed gentlemen of The Liars Club can’t believe it. And any film that introduces the protagonist with his head stuck in a cannon as he blindly attempts to light the fuse is okay with us. 


Lupino Lane was a British music hall star who became one of the leading comedians of the late silent era — separated from the back by his remarkably acrobatic body. While he generally played a somewhat foppish, monocled and down-on-his-luck gent, Only Me has Lupino portraying every single character — on the stage and in the audience — at a vaudeville show. It’s Lupino, Lupino, Lupino everywhere. Just try to count the number of Lupinos packed into 15 minutes. Bet you can’t do it. And if it’s reminiscent of Buster Keaton’s The Playhouse well, yes, guilty as charged. 


We’ve mentioned Buster Keaton a few times, so let’s get to the star of our show and the real thing. Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. continues to amaze 100 years after its making, thanks to its anything-goes ingenuity and the sheer brilliance of its execution. Buster is a forlorn projectionist who literally steps into the movie he’s showing to become a suave, master detective. How does he do it? You have to see it for yourself, with intricate camera trickery accomplished generations before CGI made the scene. No wonder modern filmmakers still pay homage to Buster today. He made the impossible possible.- Introduced by Programmer Chris Seguin 




Live accompaniment by Jordan Klapman


*JUST ANNOUNCED: Author Ryan Barnett will be in the house. Get your copy of his extraordinary graphic bio BUSTER KEATON: A LIFE IN PICTURES at the show and he'll autograph it.