Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

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Michael J Hayde
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Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby Michael J Hayde » Thu Nov 12, 2009 2:02 pm

To the Mafiosi:

My earliest recollection of silent comedy is viewing "Days of Thrills and Laughter" on TV and screaming at the scenes from "The Adventurer" and "The Cure." This led to discovering the complete shorts over NYC's WNET (pre-PBS), which ran a Chaplin program during summer months; mostly consisting of the Mutuals and a handful of Essanays. Then I got my first 8mm projector at age 9, and the rest followed naturally.

Do you all have similar tales? I ask because it's time to inoculate my nieces and nephews, but I want to choose wisely (my own children were thrust headlong into everything at once, which wasn't entirely successful). I have my favorites, of course, but I'm no expert. Given what children are exposed to these days as "visual comedy," if each of you were asked to choose three films that you were absolutely certain would win over the young silent clown novice, what would be your choices? I'm open to anything, no matter how obvious or obscure.

Thanking you in advance,
Michael

Brent Walker
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Re: Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby Brent Walker » Thu Nov 12, 2009 6:23 pm

Hey, is this the Michael J. Hayde that wrote "My Name's Friday," the Dragnet/Jack Webb book? I enjoyed that book immensely!

The Chaplin Mutuals are still a great place to start with kids, as are Laurel and Hardy silents. Really, though, I doubt you could go wrong by introducing today's kids to silent comedy the same way a lot of us were years ago--with the Robert Youngson compilations like THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY or WHEN COMEDY WAS KING.

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Re: Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby Michael J Hayde » Fri Nov 13, 2009 1:50 pm

Brent,

Yes, I'm the author of MY NAME'S FRIDAY. Thank you for the compliment; I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have a new book out that you might enjoy as much: http://www.bearmanormedia.bizland.com/id392.html

The Youngson compilations are probably a good start... I just wish they had used a little less Bevan and Pollard and included, say, Larry Semon - some great slapstick. Chaplin and L&H definitely appeal to kids; I think that's universal. It's less true with some of the other clips Youngson used.

Thanks again,
Michael

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby Richard M Roberts » Fri Nov 13, 2009 2:09 pm

Michael J Hayde wrote:Brent,

Yes, I'm the author of MY NAME'S FRIDAY. Thank you for the compliment; I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have a new book out that you might enjoy as much: http://www.bearmanormedia.bizland.com/id392.html

The Youngson compilations are probably a good start... I just wish they had used a little less Bevan and Pollard and included, say, Larry Semon - some great slapstick. Chaplin and L&H definitely appeal to kids; I think that's universal. It's less true with some of the other clips Youngson used.

Thanks again,
Michael


Are you kidding? One of the most memorable clips in WHEN COMEDY WAS KING is Snub Pollard in IT'S A GIFT. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by Snub's magnet-driven car. The mechanical gags in the Pollard and Sennett films work great with kids, and Youngson definitely goes for the surreal bits from these shorts. The fast-paced Sennett action has always worked well with kids as far as my experience goes.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Brent Walker
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Re: Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby Brent Walker » Fri Nov 13, 2009 3:50 pm

Michael J Hayde wrote:Brent,

Yes, I'm the author of MY NAME'S FRIDAY. Thank you for the compliment; I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have a new book out that you might enjoy as much: http://www.bearmanormedia.bizland.com/id392.html

The Youngson compilations are probably a good start... I just wish they had used a little less Bevan and Pollard and included, say, Larry Semon - some great slapstick. Chaplin and L&H definitely appeal to kids; I think that's universal. It's less true with some of the other clips Youngson used.

Thanks again,
Michael


I totally disagree--based on my own experiences as a kid, and also right up to the present -- having attending countless screenings where kids are in attendance, and the rapid-fire gag pacing of Bevan and Pollard films invariably go over great with the younger audiences. For me, the Snub Pollard IT'S A GIFT magnet car scene, as well as the Langdon spooky kitchen scenes from LUCK O THE FOOLISH, were the two things that really hit me when I first saw WHEN COMEDY WAS KING on TV when I was a single-digit kid (and still more interested in racing cars and toys than old movies). A little later I saw THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY, and the Billy Bevan-Del Lord clips were my favorite new revelation (I had seen L&H and Chaplin by that time), inspiring a long journey toward a Mack Sennett book. I would have love to have seen Semon in there as well, but I think Youngson was limited by the fact that Semon's Vitagraph clips were still owned by Warners at the time.

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Re: Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby Gary Johnson » Fri Nov 13, 2009 7:35 pm

Sennett shorts from the 1920's were made wholeheartedly for kids. In fact, it may had screwed me up as a kid making me think that every Sennett film was a wild roller coaster ride. I found out otherwise when I began watching Blackhawk films of Keystones made in the teens. We've already discussed this before but even though the Keystones were definitately more subversive for their times they were still much more sedate compared to their product from the twenties - which kids love.....me too!

But to give Sennett Keystone's their due it helped me get interested in film history at an early age. I learned to put all films into the context of their time.

Gary J.

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Re: Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby David Kalat » Mon Nov 16, 2009 6:13 pm

This is a terrific question and a fun discussion, but there is a possible trap inherent in the phrasing of the question. If you want to introduce today's young people to silent comedy, asking "what worked for YOU?" may be the wrong place to start. I, like most everyone else in this group, grew up in a different media envirnoment than today. I spent a lot of my childhood watching I LOVE LUCY reruns and gentler, slower-paced TV comedies whose actual joke content was pretty sparse. I had three channels on my TV, and I didn't know what I was missing. Late at night, I'd stay up with my dad and watch old Universal Gothic horrors--in hsort, I was acclimated to a different pace and atmosphere than my kids today take for granted.

That being said, my kids of course are used to silent comedies--and both Ann and Max are thrilled to come to Slapsticon each year, not the normal vacation jones of 12 and 9 year olds these days.

I have actually done a presentation at various elementary schools of "The Origins of Film," and had the experience of showing silent comedies to kids--and I do it with the 16mm projector, a fold out screen, the whole AV routine. I've done this for various grades from 2nd through 5th.

I always show THE IMMIGRANT--but most kids are impatient through it. Which bugs me, because it's one of my favorites, but when I move on to Harold Lloyd in a 2 reel condensation of HOT WATER, that just kills. They always prefer Lloyd. I've tried Buster Keaton ONE WEEK and Laurel and Hardy BIG BUSINESS. And the truth is, HOT WATER gets the biggest response.

One other thing--the kids love it. I've had kids run across me and remember me from like two years earlier, and ask me how they can get silent comedies on DVD.

I truly believe that today's kids CAN appreciate silent comedy, and all they really need is exposure. The films themselves do all the work.

Chris Seguin

Re: Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby Chris Seguin » Thu Nov 19, 2009 9:25 am

A friend of mine's 4-year old said to him the other day...."You ever see those guys who go nuk nuk nuk?"

Introducing kids to silent comedy might actually start with sound comedies. The Stooges still remain the most aligned to today's sensibilities in terms of pace, noise, action, energy, etc. Dip their toes in the water with those, then perhaps move onto Laurel & Hardy. From there you could possibly slide them into one of the Youngson L&H anthologies, to prepare them for "silent" comedy. Then Chaplin Mutuals (THE CURE worked for me), early Harold Lloyd, Pollard, Bevan, Semon, etc.

I don't have kids so I can't even imagine if this would work, but it it worked for me (well, 40 years ago).

Chris

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Re: Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby Michael J Hayde » Mon Nov 23, 2009 2:50 pm

Some very helpful stuff here, folks - thank you!

Richard: I love the ITS A GIFT sequence, too... but I didn't see WHEN COMEDY WAS KING (or GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY) until I was in my late teens. My outstanding memories of DAYS OF THRILLS AND LAUGHTER, the only Youngson I saw in my single-digit years, were of the Chaplin sequence, "Wild and Wooly," "Kill or Cure," and the Houdini segment. Snub Pollard was fun to look at, but he always seemed to be REACTING to the situations (like the absurd movie theater at the opening), not CREATING them as he does in IT'S A GIFT. I don't know why that mattered then, but it did.

Gary: I would personally love to see more of Sennett's 1920's stuff (other than Langdon, which is readily available). I agree about the Keystones; great as they are, most of them seem to be about husbands, wives and lovers, and other relationship intrigue that goes over the head of most pre-teens.

David: I see your point. All of my children have been exposed to I LOVE LUCY, Jack Benny, et.al; but then their dad is a radio/TV historian & author. They all know how it was when my wife and I were growing up, mainly because it's been forced down their throats. But they don't object when I put L&H or Chaplin on - they've been conditioned. Not so for my nieces and nephews.

Chris: "Those guys who go nuk, nuk, nuk" - from a FOUR-year old? That's priceless! When I was a child, the Stooges were BANNED from our home by my mother, who HATED them and didn't want me emulating them. I suspect my sister feels the same way. Her hubby's an OUR GANG fan, and I've gotten him the Roach talkies set, but I'm not sure if he's successfully shared with his kids.

So, to sum up, I was considering a compilation of killer silent shorts, but I guess I should dial that back for a couple of years and start 'em off with the Youngsons. Thanks again, everyone!

Michael

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Re: Initiating the Young (or "What Worked for YOU?")

Postby Paul E. Gierucki » Mon Nov 23, 2009 3:35 pm

Although I'm late to the topic (sorry, have been busy working on the new projects) I completely agree with Chris. Best to start them off slowly.

Some of my earliest memories are of laughing hysterically while watching Laurel and Hardy on TV with my uncle. While growing up I subsisted on a steady viewing diet of Stan and Ollie, The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals (long before I knew them as Our Gang) and Popeye cartoons. Not long afterward I discovered Abbott and Costello. W.C. Fields. Then came the Marx Brothers. It was around this time that I also discovered Buster Keaton by way of a PBS screening of The Haunted House. This sent me off in search of more. Books, particularly those by Leonard Maltin, and documentaries, Robert Youngson's best, inspired me to seek out the rest.

If kids are exposed to B&W white sound comedies and cartoons early enough they will have an easy transition to viewing silents. It's a natural progression. Or is it a reversion? Whatever the case, this worked for me -- and I have successfully indoctrinated my nieces and nephews in the same fashion.

Just my two cents.


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