A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Slapsticon 2010 and Anne Marie’s Adventures

I’m back from my self-imposed exile. Actually, it was just a short vacation to attend a silent comedy film festival in Rosslyn VA, but the term “self-imposed exile” just seems so much more interesting.

As for my vacation, I spent four days in a dark theater with dozens of other diehard silent film comedy geeks. There were many highlights, but among the more noteworthy was the re-premiere of a Keystone comedy that was one of Charlie Chaplin’s earliest appearances. The film has not been seen in over 90 years and, indeed, had escaped the notice of most film historians over the years. The film, The Thief Catcher was not listed on any of his filmographies until it was rediscovered this year.

Anne Marie was left to amuse herself on her own. The novelty of knitting in a hotel room overlooking Key Bridge only lasts so long. Her first adventure was taking Amtrak to Richmond to meet up with some friends she met on the Internet. Her day started with a bang — although to this day she doesn’t realize what happened.

Our usual daily routine when we are at home begins thusly: I prepare a pot of coffee, or happy juice as she calls it, before she wakes up. There is hell to pay if the happy juice is not ready when she rises. This particular Friday morning, however, I did not get up in time to prepare the coffee in our room. At the very moment I informed her of this, a 3.6 earthquake rocked the Washington DC metropolitan area. I have since concluded that there was a direct connection between Anne Marie's response about her late coffee and the earth tremor.

I take full responsibility for my actions. Sorry, DC; my bad!

One of Anne Marie’s Richmond friends was celebrating his 40th birthday, and the party started as soon as they met at a diner early Friday afternoon. From there, they went to another restaurant with a bar where they downed cosmos like glasses of water. She told me later that she had fun, and indeed the photos posted on the internet show that they all had (the celebrants numbered about four by the end of the afternoon) a good time.

Anne Marie is featured in two of the photos, posed as she drank. They are not the best photos taken of her; the angle of the shot makes it appear that my wonderful wife does not have a normal human nose, but rather a crystal shot glass surgically implanted between her eyes. I suppose this could be overlooked and, to be fair, the photographer may have had a few cosmos under his belt while taking the picture.

Meanwhile, I was laughing my ass off at a fragment of a Stan Laurel short: When Knights Were Cold. The scenes demonstrated not only Laurel’s great talent, but also his influence on more recent comedy. For example, the coconut shell-clapping knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail could be traced to a Knights gag in which the hero and a hundred or so knights pursue each other while wearing paper mache horses around their waists.

Similarly, another scene from Knights had a surreal and anachronistic touch when a jazz combo was shown providing music for a medieval wedding. This reminded me of the scene in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles where Cleavon Little happens upon the Count Basie Orchestra performing in the middle of the wild wild west. In these respects, Laurel was ahead of his time and above the usual slapstick so common in comedies of his day.

On Sunday, Anne Marie ventured out into the heat/humidity of Washington on the hunt for dim sum. She took Metro to Chinatown, a neighborhood found in many American cities that is the cultural and residential center for those of Chinese descent. It was usually here where one would find shops, banks, offices and restaurants that catered to the local residents. Traditionally one could find the very best restaurants offering Chinese dishes in this neighborhood. Not anymore...

Anne Marie was disappointed to find very few Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, and the only one featuring dim sum was closed on Sundays! Sadly, very few people venture to Chinatown any more to sample Szechuan or Cantonese cuisine. Who needs to travel that far when every other neighborhood has their own Chinese carry-out or, worse, Chinese buffet within a few blocks of where everyone lives. Furthermore, she was horrified to see every chain restaurant (Fuddruckers, Ruby Tuesdays, etc.) imaginable located where some wonderful Chinese restaurants should be. While talking about this later over dinner with some fellow Slapsticon attendees, one of them pointed out that the location of the Verizon Center (the NBA venue in DC) near Chinatown was probably a major influence — good, bad, or worse — in bringing these chain eateries into Chinatown.

Meanwhile...I was laughing my ass off at a very good Harry Langdon short, I Don’t Remember. Slapsticon is good in that it features many films that aren’t seen very often. One example is Langdon’s work at Columbia during the late 1930’s. His pursuit of a winning Irish Sweepstakes ticket down the gutter, through the sewer, and out to the ocean drew a rousing response from the Slapsticon audience.

Among the other highlights from this year’s festival was Harpo Marx performing in the silent film medium for which he was ideally suited. Unfortunately, a small role in Richard Dix’s Too Many Kisses is the only silent film in which he appeared. The role is touted as the only time you see him move his lips on the screen, but this fact is overhyped. When the great moment comes, he is standing sideways to the camera, making it difficult for the audience to see his mouth move. I know, I’m nit-picking. Still, Harpo is a treasure no matter what!

Another rare screening was the only sound feature in which Charlie Chase starred, Modern Love. It showed the usual Chase genius at work, grappling with the idea that a wife could have a career outside the home even as his job is lost to bankruptcy. As an added bonus, the film featured a wonderful scene-stealing turn from perennial Roach favorite Anita Garvin.

The films were fun, and the camaraderie was rewarding. But now the vacation is over and it’s back to work. Now where do I start: a gubernatorial candidate decrying Pennsylvania’s unemployed as unwilling to return to work; conservative bloggers embarrassing Fox News and the Obama administration (!); or the new additions to the English language courtesy of our favorite conservative from the Great White North...hmmm...

(Thank you for reading. Please remember that silence on the screen is golden, but in real life it should be used wisely.)


Anonymous Easily Amused said...

Please, write on any or all of the above topics ASAP. Need an antidote to some of the other bloggers in the room.

July 24, 2010 at 1:01 PM  

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