One of the Siren’s new movie books this year is King of Comedy, by Mack Sennett. The Siren doesn’t know that much about the very early days of silent film, so she can’t attest to Sennett’s reliability as a memoirist. Judging by Sennett’s style, he seems to be more of a yarn-spinner than a meticulous recorder of an important historical era in the development of the cinematic arts.
He’s funny as hell, though, so who cares.
Here is Mack Sennett, working his way up in Little Old New York, not too long after the era of The Strawberry Blonde.
I hung around the Bowery, picked up an acquaintance here and there through boardinghouse connections, and got a job. At first I was handed a broom and told to sweep out. My rise was sudden. One night they needed a gifted fellow to play the hind legs of a horse, and so I made my debut in this character part.
My vis-a-vis, you might say, was a young and handsome man named Stu Krauss from North Carolina...Stu Krauss moaned when I was made the hind legs of the horse. “I have been the front legs for two months,” he complained, “and I had hoped for promotion. Now you come along and grab the star part of the act.”
I thought that over.
“I don’t get you,” I said.
“Anybody can be the front legs,” Stu said. “The front legs is--or are--[Stu was educated] the straight part. The hind legs do all the acting and get all the applause.”
I thought that over.
“I guess talent will come out,” I said. “I have been recognized.”
“Indeed you have,” said Stu. “The minute you appeared I said to myself, ‘Here is a man who is destined to be the rear end of a horse.’ “
I thought that over.
“I shall try to be humble,” I said.
Above, a picture of Mack Sennett with the love of his life, Mabel Normand, taken from a swell fan site called Looking for Mabel Normand; it has lots of pictures and abundant film clips, too.
Speaking of film history, These Amazing Shadows, in which the Siren can be briefly glimpsed during a segment about The Wizard of Oz, continues to be screened around the country. The Siren’s favorite part of These Amazing Shadows consists of the details about restoration and the Library of Congress archives. Peter Nelhaus recently caught it in Denver and saw director Kurt Norton speak. Raquelle at Out of the Past saw it, also liked it, and sneaked a cellphone shot of the Siren on screen. She says she hopes I’m not mad. I’m not. I just want my readers to know that my skin is not gray in real life.
Further screenings are being held around the country, and the film is still available through video-on-demand. It will be available on DVD through PBS Video and is scheduled to screen on PBS around December 27.
Further to the Siren’s George Stevens Resurrection Drive in partnership with Raymond de Felitta, the estimable Glenn Kenny has started a Tracy-Hepburn Project in which Glenn plans to watch all of their co-starring films. And he's watching them with his better half, Claire, known to Glenn’s readers as “my lovely wife” or “MLW” for short. The first selection was Woman of the Year, and Glenn and Claire agree with the Siren that it's a neglected masterpiece and a landmark in the positive portrayal of career women on screen. Just kidding. He and Claire had pretty much the same problems with it that the Siren did. It's a witty exchange, and the Siren is looking forward to Keeper of the Flame, which is up next.
Michael Phillips, the artist formerly known as Goatdog, can be heard here discussing his horror-film series coming up in Chicago. Michael's series, Shock Theater from the Cinema Dementia Collection, will be running a double feature at the Wicker Park Arts Center in Chicago on the first Friday of each month, starting in June. There's an extensive profile of Michael, a razor-sharp man and devoted cinephile, here at the Shadows and Screams blog.
Finally, the Siren’s longtime blog pal Flickhead has an affectionate post about a new three-disc Blu-Ray set of the three films that Sophia Loren made with Vittorio de Sica. Flickhead puts them in the context of their time, discusses the ebb and flow of de Sica's reputation and most importantly, assures us that Sophia and Marcello Mastroianni look great on Blu-Ray.