Well, we at The Lens are starting to feel as though we are turning into something of an official press organ for Vaudeville. We don’t mind it — after all, we pepper our conversations with phrases from Variety, which, at one point, actually was the press organ for vaudeville.
So here we go, one more time: Twin Cities Prepares to Panic the House with Dumb Act Moving Pictures. Specifically, we are talking about the forthcoming From Vaudeville to Cinema series at the Oak Street Cinema, beginning tonight with So’s Your Old Man. Here we have a rarely seen silent film featuring the battered, every irascible presence of W.C. Fields, who made his early fortune juggling cigar boxes in vaudeville palaces throughout the country, and made his later fortune sneering at children and dogs. As though this exercise in slapstick inventiveness were not pleasure enough, the film will be accompanied by live music from Karl Eilers. And, as though this wasn’t plenty enough to drag us out of the sunshine and into the darkened theater, the film opens with a short by Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton.
Alas, Arbuckle disappeared from the screen following a rather notorious scandal. He was the O.J. Simpson of his day, accused of having murdered a woman with a Coke bottle – I’ll spare you the grizzly details, except to say that he was repeatedly found innocent of the charges. Buster Keaton, as any cineaste will tell you, went on to be one of the most ingenious comics of the silent era, known as “The Great Stone Face” for his utter impassiveness in the face of complete chaos.
In these early shorts, however, Keaton is quite lively, playing a delighted second-fiddle to Arbuckle’s extraordinary physical comedy. Arbuckle fills every second of the frame with little bits of comic business, most astonishing: The man could roll a cigarette with a snap of his fingers. Without looking he could fling cuts of beef across a room so they landed on the ends of meathooks. Perplexingly, he also looked dynamite in a woman’s dress.
Oak Street will alternate a silent film, shown on Monday nights, with a related sound film, shown on Tuesday nights. Tomorrow will feature The Great Ziegfeld, to which we say: Oh, happy day! Not only is this Oscar-winning film great fun, detailing the rise of Flo Ziegfeld, who brought chorus lines of pretty girls to Broadway, but it features a stellar performance by the greatly personable William Powell, then at the peak of his charm. Aw, we’re going to shut up now–go and see a movie already!
See the From Vaudeville to Cinema schedule at www.oakstreetcinema.org