The silent clowns

Those readers of mine who are interested in silent film (about which I recently wrote here) will note the 20th anniversary of The Silent Clowns Film Series, a monthly schedule of screenings shown at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and named for Walter Kerr’s 1979 landmark study. “We present monthly, year-round showings of the silent movies of Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Lloyd, and many others, all with live musical accompaniment by renowned silent film accompanist Ben Model. Every program features a spoken introduction and Q&A by film historians Bruce Lawton and Steve Massa,” says the web page for the organization — and the screenings, delightfully, are free. This Saturday at 2.30pm, the series will present a rare showing of the 1926 Raymond Griffith Civil War comedy Hands Up! The feature will be preceded by the Harry Langdon short subject Saturday Afternoon of the same year.

The anniversary was marked last month on the NYC-ARTS television series. You can see that story below (once you get through the five minutes or so of commercials — ahem, I mean “sponsor acknowledgements,” of course).

It’s a gift

As much as I adore Metrograph, the repertory cinema at 7 Ludlow Street celebrating the first anniversary of its opening this month, they really must stop dropping films into the schedule that they’re not telling anybody about. Poking around on its web site this morning, I found that they’ll be showing a 35mm print of the W.C. Fields 1934 masterpiece It’s a Gift next week — on Wednesday, March 15, at 5.30pm, to be precise. This after screening another great Fields comedy, The Man on the Flying Trapeze, just a few months ago, and at the same time as they’re running this Buster Keaton retrospective.

“In the more enlightened days of the 1930s, W.C. Fields became a household name by playing a cranky alcoholic who detested children,” says Metrograph. What more do you need to know? These comedies are rarely revived on the big screen, so I suggest you make your way down there (and enjoy a drink at the Metrograph bar before or after the show — Fields would). I wrote about the comedian himself here and here.

Friday roundup

Over the past few weeks, it was old jokes and older as I took a look back at the National Lampoon and noted the premiere of a Buster Keaton retrospective at Metrograph, opening this weekend.

The lovely photo of schnapps above is just a reminder that you’ll need something to knock the cold off the weekend. I’ll be warming up myself at Cafe Katja this afternoon. In the meantime, prost.

The great stone face

Beginning this weekend and running through the month of March, Metrograph at 7 Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side is featuring four classic silent films from Buster Keaton in new restorations from Kino Lorber and Lobster Films. Steamboat Bill Jr. launches the series this Saturday and Sunday at noon; College follows on Sunday, March 12; the film generally considered his masterpiece, The General, will be screened on March 18-19; and the series concludes with Three Ages on March 25-26.

It’s a rare chance to see these films on the big screen, so set some time aside. More information and tickets are available here.

Around and about

In idly searching about for current assessments of National Lampoon‘s continuing influence, I came across a few relatively recent stories of interest.

In this New York Times article from 2005 (written by Jake Tapper, now the rather well-known CNN correspondent), Stephen Colbert and others discuss the role of the Lampoon in the development of their own satiric visions. Like myself, The Simpsons executive producer Al Jean (born 1961), Jon Stewart (born 1962), and Colbert (born 1964) read the Lampoon as teenagers, perhaps one generation younger than the Lampoon‘s editors and writers. But despite that generational gap, something stuck:

Al Jean, executive producer of The Simpsons on Fox, talks about the subversive power of [Michael] O’Donoghue’s “Vietnamese Baby Book” of 1972, which chronicles a child’s first year in My Lai with dark wit (“baby’s first word: ‘medic”‘). Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s Daily Show quotes from O’Donoghue’s influential 1971 essay sending up hackery, “How to Write Good.” (“All too often the budding author finds that his tale has run its course and yet he sees no way to satisfactorily end it, or, in literary parlance, ‘wrap it up,”‘ O’Donoghue wrote. “Observe how easily I resolve this problem: ‘Suddenly, everyone was run over by a truck. The End.”‘)

Mr. Jean, who worked for the magazine in the 1980’s, added that Saturday Night Live, which absorbed writers, performers and attitude from the Lampoon, often received the credit for changing comedy that the Lampoon truly deserved. … Mr. Colbert credits the Lampoon with introducing satire that not only eviscerated its subjects, but also did so in the style of its target, like the magazine’s letters to the editor, none of which were ever real, or myriad magazine parodies.

A few years ago in Counterpunch magazine, satirist and editor of The Realist Paul Krassner reviewed Douglas Tirola’s documentary about the magazine, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, with a few idiosyncratic observations of his own. But first, he quotes Michael Simmons, the son of Lampoon publisher Matty Simmons, who edited the Lampoon for a few years in the 1980s, a decade after its glory days had come and gone:

[Simmons:] “I’ve wondered if the Lampoon’s ‘everything’s a target’ philosophy set the stage for the post-irony we’ve endured for the last twenty or so years. Not that I’d have it any other way — one can find the absurdity in most endeavors. But when everything’s equally absurd, what’s left to satirize? A world in which Donald Trump is considered a serious presidential candidate is a self-parody, and I’m not sure satire can out-do reality in a case like Trump’s. I was a Lampoon editor from 1984 through 1989. We knew the golden era had passed.”

Nonetheless, the 2015-release timing of Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead succeeds in presenting the war on taboos that contrasts so blatantly with the current reincarnation of political fucking correctness.

So sayeth Krassner. More on the Lampoon — which deserves a closer look — to come.