AAARDVARK VIDEO (& DVD) NIGHT 2005
Greetings folks, and welcome to another fun-filled evening of freshly-squeezed merriment, courtesy of the Jazz video (& DVD) archives.
GEORGES MÉLIÈS — THE DEVILISH TENANT (1909)
Méliès is best known today for his early science-fiction classics like A Trip to the Moon (1902) and Voyage across the Impossible (1904), but he also used his special effects genius to make comedies, of which this beautifully hand-coloured film is an example.
FATTY ARBUCKLE & BUSTER KEATON — OUT WEST (1918)
Next to Chaplin, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle was the world's most popular comedian in the late 1910s. His humour was not as subtle as Chaplin's had by that time become, but he was a highly agile performer (despite his enormous size) and more importantly he was genuinely interested in the cinema as a distinct art-form. By 1917 Arbuckle had been given his own studio (called Comique) and had more-or-less complete creative control over his work. He had his nephew, gangly Al St John, as a regular co-star, and his two-reel comedies were hugely popular. And then a 22 year-old vaudevillian called Buster Keaton happened to pay a visit to the studio, and the rest (as they say) is history. Keaton was fascinated by the new medium and happily let Arbuckle sign him up for a fraction of the amount he'd just been offered to appear on Broadway. Within a few months he was not just Arbuckle's co-star but also (uncredited) co-writer and co-director. They made 15 short films together before Arbuckle was signed up to a new deal at Paramount and Keaton took over the Comique studio, re-named it Buster Keaton Productions and began his solo career. Those 15 films (at least the ones that still survive) are fascinating to watch — full of the madcap chaos of Arbuckle but interlaced with surreal yet sombre moments that could only have been thought up by Keaton. It's interesting also to watch the Keaton persona develop — the famous Stone Face has yet to become fully fossilised, and it can be an unsettling experience to see it break into an occasional grin!
NIFTY NURSES (1934)
We tend to think of acts like the Marx Bros being unique — an oasis of silliness amid otherwise conventional humour. But in fact there was much, much more silliness around at the time — but most of it has been long forgotten. Here's a typical example —
an average two-reeler from Educational Pictures, a bargain basement studio remembered today solely for being the only studio willing to employ Buster Keaton after he was sacked by MGM in the early 30s. The star of this short is Billy Gilbert, most famous as one of Laurel & Hardy's regular co-stars, and the humour comes not from the script but from the sheer oddness of the whole thing…
WALT DISNEY — PLUTO'S JUDGEMENT DAY (1935)
There's a tendency for Disney's short comedies to be unjustly neglected, while endless praise is heaped onto his early features like Pinnochio and Dumbo (which personally bore me rigid). Cartoon fans often just dismiss Mickey Mouse as being really dull and Disney's shorts as being no match for those of Warner Bros. The latter is a rather unfair comparison — they mean, of course, the Warner Bros shorts from the 40s and 50s, while Disney's shorts were mostly made in the 30s (and are generally a lot better than Warner's output at that time). And okay, Mickey's no Bugs Bunny, but he works very effectively as a straight man to Donald Duck, Pluto and Goofy (kind of like Disney's version of Kenneth Horne, only with a rather higher voice!). Pluto in particular is an exceptionally fine piece of characterisation, and he's the main subject of this short, which demonstrates just how imaginative and visually striking this underrated body of work could be.
THE GOODIES — RADIO GOODIES (1970)
In decades to come, people will look back on 2005 as a kind of golden age — the year which saw not just Doctor Who back on television, not just a complete DVD release of all the Quatermass serials, not just Eric Sykes finally writing his autobiography (it's out in September, folks!) but also the most amazing event of all — yes, the Goodies reunion! So while the magnificent three are performing together again live on tour in Australia, let's sample one of their first classics. This is the last episode from the first series, and shows just how quickly they got their act together - it's still not quite the classic formula that would rule the airwaves for the next 12 years, but it's pretty darn close…
SPIKE MILLIGAN — THERE'S A LOT OF IT ABOUT (1982)
After Q9 in 1980, the BBC gave Spike one final throw of the TV dice before telling him to clear off for good. Inexplicably they wouldn't allow him to call his last series Q10, so it became There's a Lot of It About, and indeed there was. Otherwise it was business as usual (indeed this first episode in the series specifically refers to the old Q cast being rounded up once more), the only exception being that Spike allowed two new writers, Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, to write some additional material for him. The two would go on to co-write Alexei Sayle's Stuff and Whoops Apocalypse, while their solo projects included Renwick's One Foot in the Grave and Jonathan Creek and Marshall's 2.4 Children (well everyone has their bad days). Anyway, it's all in the classic Spike tradition, with some notably topical attacks on Thatcher's government, and lots of unashamedly un-PC nonsense.
AAARDVARK IN READING (2003)
As ever, we end with some of the insane burblings to eminate from our last re-onion, chez Hodson — far too long ago!
Written by Matthew H Jarron — a smile, a song and a stuffed gibbon