George Carl, funny dancing and comedy.

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The drunken audience member

cheerleader falls.

There is an age old com­edy tra­di­tion of a show being dis­rupted by an unruly audi­ence mem­ber, usu­ally one who is drunk. Before going into movies, Char­lie Chap­lin found his fame on stage by play­ing a drunken the­ater goer in a play called “The Mum­ming­birds.” He sat in a box near the stage, and was able to draw more atten­tion than the “real” show going on.

This sort of inter­rupted per­for­mance was used by Dis­ney for a hand­ful of short car­toons. In The Orphan’s Ben­e­fit, it is mish­cievous chil­dren mak­ing trou­ble. In Magi­cian Mickey, Don­ald Duck tries to ruin the show.

Early cir­cuses were basi­cally dis­plays of trick horse­back rid­ing. A audi­ence mem­ber who appeared to be ine­bri­ated would stum­ble into the ring and get on a horse. Some­how he would not only stay on the horse, but he could turn unin­ten­tional som­er­saults too.

What brought this to mind was the fol­low­ing video. Will Fer­rell plays a man upset about his divorce. He has got­ten drunk, and is at a pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball game. He is on the court at half time to do one of those half court free throws for prize money. But when he throws the ball he nails a cheer­leader in the face. The stunt woman does an admirable pratfall.

Here is a longer ver­sion if you are interested.

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Fun Factories

I am cur­rently read­ing The Fun Fac­tory by Rob King. For my pur­poses it’s the most use­ful book I have found on the topic of Mack Sen­nett and his Key­stone Stu­dio. It’s not about the per­son­al­i­ties who worked there, but about how their style of com­edy and how it was influ­enced by changes in Amer­i­can soci­ety.  I will prob­a­bly pull sev­eral blog posts from the book.

I like stu­dio his­tory, and from read­ing this book, it’s obvi­ous things don’t change all that much. Sennett’s finan­cial back­ers brought in Thomas Ince to orga­nize the studio;

Ince’s involve­ment is cru­cial to the present analy­sis. In invit­ing his super­vi­sion, Kessel and Bau­man were plac­ing Key­stone within the sphere of influ­ence of a film­maker who was tak­ing pio­neer­ing steps in the effi­cient orga­ni­za­tion of film pro­duc­tion. Ince was at the fore­front of the spread of pro­duc­tion line prac­tices that had begun to take hold in the film indus­try, the model for which was the depart­men­tal­ized sys­tem of “sci­en­tific man­age­ment” first pro­posed by Fred­er­ick Winslow Taylor’s exper­i­ments in indus­trial efficiency.”

But this wasn’t the sort of thing the Key­stone pub­lic­ity mentioned.

..the stu­dio occa­sion­ally released “behind the scenes” films depict­ing the Eden­dale lot as a space of comic dis­or­der and chaos.

They also tried to present actors as being no dif­fer­ent than their on screen char­ac­ters. It was part of the illu­sion of being a wacky free­wheel­ing place to work.   But Sen­nett and Ince kept tight con­trol over pro­duc­tion. Sen­nett had a tower office built on the cor­ner of the lot, where he could keep an eye on every­thing and every­one.  He had spent some time work­ing in a boiler factory.

The para­dox here is that, through­out their careers, Sen­nett and their film­mak­ers con­sis­tently repu­di­ated their all­ie­gance to this sys­tem, prefer­ing to pro­claim their car­ni­va­lesque defi­ance of the indus­trial virtues of effi­ciency and work discipline.

It’s not so dif­fer­ent with ani­ma­tion stu­dios.  Hey, we’re mak­ing car­toons here! It’s gotta be FUN! Seri­ously, there is often a lot of money at stake, and artists are noto­ri­ously dis­or­ga­nized, so it’s under­stand­able that con­trols have to be in place.  I have been for­tu­nate to work mostly at stu­dios where the atmos­phere is com­fort­able, but not all of them are like that. Some of them are mis­er­able places.  And many of those have flashy web­sites with recruit­ing pages that make it look like par­adise.   It’s all marketing.

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Some history of character walks

I didn’t start off writ­ing a post about char­ac­ter walks, but that’s where it ends up.

Pop­u­lar cul­ture has been the breed­ing ground for many things that get devel­oped into “high­brow” cul­ture.  I recently learned a bit of trivia about the Com­me­dia del ‘Arte that I had never heard before.   While dri­ving home the Fri­day evening, I lis­tened to the NPR pro­gram Fresh Air.  It was a rebroad­cast of Terry Gross’s inter­view with Jen­nifer Homans, author of Apollo’s Angels, a his­tory of bal­let dance.    Here is the piece of the tran­script that caught my attention.

GROSS: So how did danc­ing en pointe, danc­ing on your toes, start?

HOMANS: That’s one of the most inter­est­ing moments in the his­tory of bal­let because it’s really a point at which pop­u­lar tra­di­tions feed into a sort of high oper­atic, high bal­letic art.

Marie Taglioni is the bal­le­rina that we most asso­ciate with the ori­gins of pointe work. And she was work­ing in Vienna, and in Vienna, she was work­ing at the opera house, but a lot of Ital­ian troupes were pass­ing through. And these sort of Com­me­dia dell’arte or acro­batic troupes often, you know, did tricks.

And one of the tricks that they did do was to climb up on their toes and parade around. And this kind of trick was then incor­po­rated into clas­si­cal bal­let, most notably by Taglioni, and sort of given an ele­vated form so that instead of just stomp­ing around en pointe, it became an image of the ethe­real or some­body who can leave the ground or fly into the air, whose point of con­tact with the earth is only slight. So, you know, this is a kind of ele­va­tion towards the angels and God. And so a trick becomes a kind of high aspiration.

The com­me­dia actors had very demand­ing styles of move­ment, and walks in par­tic­u­lar were used to express char­ac­ter.  Here is a quote from another source:

Hens, chick, rooster, capons, ducks, pea­cocks, all the farm­yard bipeds make us laugh, their walks absurd par­o­dies of man’s own gait.  [The actors] are not iden­ti­fied so much by the color and cut of their cos­tumes as by the walk, the ges­ture, the man­ner in which each uses his ‘feath­ers’ to express pride, joy, anger, and sor­row, alter­nately swelling and droop­ing, preen­ing and ruf­fling, as he picks his way like a strut­ting fowl, ever vul­ner­a­ble, across the stage before the appre­cia­tive eyes of the audience.

That ver­bal descrip­tion is inspir­ing since it describes walks in a way very dif­fer­ent than what ani­ma­tors are accus­tomed to.  Ani­ma­tion walks tend to be util­i­tar­ian, they are sim­ply to get a char­ac­ter from point A to B in a man­ner that seems real­is­tic for the char­ac­ters body and mood, as well as the sit­u­a­tion.   A wacky walk might be so dis­tract­ing from the story, and the direc­tor would nix it pretty quickly.Tex Avery would some­times cre­ate totally fresh char­ac­ter walks, the likes of which we hardly ever see any­more.   I’ve just watched a Jerry Lewis movie, and real­ized Jerry’s run was one of his sig­na­ture actions that will always belong to him.   A big part of Johnny Depps pre­sen­ta­tion of Jack Sparrow’s char­ac­ter was his effem­i­nate swag­ger, some­thing the Dis­ney exec­u­tives orig­i­nally hated.   That’s the way to start a character.

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Harold Lloyd: The Third Genious

From the PBS Amer­i­can Mas­ters series:

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