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Posts Tagged ‘“Richard M. Roberts”

 

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One activity that is particularly satisfying to me is making available a beautiful video version of a favorite film. Even better is to couple it with an excellent commentary track. Both are the case with “When Comedy Was King” and easier said than done.

In 1958, I saw “The Golden Age of Comedy,” Robert Youngson’s masterful silent comedy compilation at the Hill Theatre in Monterey, California – laughed until my sides hurt. I’d go so far as to say Kit Parker Films would never exist, certainly not in the form it has, had it not been for that night in 1958 as this turned me into a silent comedy buff overnight and inspired me to collect 8mm (later, 16mm) prints of silent comedies from the legendary Blackhawk Films.

Two years later “When Comedy Was King” also by Youngson, was released.   This time I saw it at the State Theatre in Monterey, and it was just as funny as its predecessor! Saw it many times later in 16mm, television, VHS and DVD, all lacking the vibrancy of the 35mm presentation at the State.

Earlier this year I contacted Sonar Entertainment, owner of WCWK, and made a deal to acquire DVD rights. Then came the time to examine the film elements: What a mess! A reel of this, a reel of something else, and the quality ranged from poor to marginal. Then, finally, Sonar’s ever-helpful Maura Grady sent us 9 cans of film, which weren’t properly labelled; they turned out to the original negative!

Our film-to-digital maestro, Doug Horst, did a masterful high definition transfer, and we were off and running. There were still several issues to work out, but they weren’t insurmountable, just time consuming: The images were a checkerboard of light scenes and dark scenes, endemic in working with original negatives. However, fortunately Tiffany Clayton, always up for a technical challenge, “timed” (the industry term for adjusting light and dark scenes) and did other digital clean up as well. Our HD transfer captured more image on the sides that had ever been seen on a video or television release. The only other issue was lack of a sound track, so Tiffany sweetened up the track from an older video release and synced it perfectly.

Next up, I wanted to provide a commentary track. Film historian, author, filmmaker and raconteur Richard M Roberts was up for it, and as my vote for Dean of Silent Comedy, he was the perfect person for the job. Richard was also influenced by the works of Robert Youngson as well, and created a commentary that intermixed his insight on the comedies themselves along with their performers, directors and producers. He also interspersed a long overdue biographical tribute to Robert Youngson himself. I asked Richard if he would allow us to use three rare comedies from his personal collection as a special feature. He agreed, but insisted they have a musical accompaniment, the cost of which would put an already over budget project further into the red. When it comes to quality, Richard doesn’t negotiate, so I bit the bullet and retained Donald Sosin, a leading silent movie composer. Glad I did.

You can buy it today for $14.99 exclusively from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MFX85QA

THE SPROCKET VAULT presents the restored high definition video release of Academy Award-winning Documentarian ROBERT YOUNGSON’s wonderful 1960 Comedy Compilation WHEN COMEDY WAS KING which showcased some of the funniest comedy scenes by famous comedians of the Silent Era, including Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin, and two of the great silent comedy producers, Mack Sennett and Hal Roach.

Remastered from the original 35mm negative and presented in its original full edge-to-edge 1:33 theatrical aspect ratio, audiences can once again enjoy classic comedy sequences from films like BIG BUSINESS (1929) with Laurel and Hardy, COPS (1922) with Buster Keaton, the only surviving footage from Harry Langdon’s THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS (1924) and the other classic comedies. Thanks to Robert Youngson’s perseverance, the film source material of most of the comedies originated primarily from the sparking clear original camera negatives, not the jerky, flickery fourth generation copies that are so often shown.

THE SPROCKET VAULT’s new DVD release of WHEN COMEDY WAS KING features a commentary track by noted film historian, author, filmmaker and raconteur RICHARD M. ROBERTS, who provides fascinating facts and historical information on the comedy classics showcased. He also pays tribute to WHEN COMEDY WAS KING’s producer Robert Youngson, revealing his story and his important contribution to bringing these films out of obscurity and back to the attention of the film history community and general audiences alike.

As an extra bonus, Mr. Roberts graciously allowed TSV permission to showcase three complete, rare, wild and crazy silent comedies from his own large collection of early film. For the first time in over 90 years audiences can get a taste of undeservedly forgotten names from the hundreds of comedians making films in the Comedy Film Industry of the Silent Era: Hughey Mack and Dot Farley in AN ELEPHANT ON HIS HANDS (1920), Lige Conley in the frenzied FAST AND FURIOUS (1924), and the politically-incorrect Three Fatties (Frank Alexander, Hilliard Karr and Kewpie Ross) in the deliriously destructive Ton of Fun comedy HEAVY LOVE (1926), all featuring commentary by Mr. Roberts, and a new musical accompaniment by one of the leading silent film composers, Donald Sosin.

 

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Two years ago I purchased the Medallion TV Enterprises film library.   Some movies were prestigious, others schlock, and still others in-between.  (More on Medallion in a later blog)  One, “Yesterday and Today,” is an oddity.   It’s a silent movie compilation primarily covering the period 1900 – 1910.  The excerpts  really interesting, well above average, but the identification of them in George Jessel’s  voice-over is a mess.  The majority are incorrectly identified!

It all started with two 1951 British compilations, Return Fare to Laughter, produced by Henry E. Fisher, compiled by James M. Anderson, and Those Were the Days, produced by Bishu Sen Butcher, and edited by Philip Wrestler, both for Butcher’s Film Service Ltd. Y&T is essentially a combination of these two films, The British producers apparently had access to an excellent library of early films.    But, the descriptions?  A mess!  I got the feeling that some of the films came from mislabeled, or unlabeled, cans with, in some cases, made up titles!   Y&T perpetuates these errors, but the good thing is the excerpts are sharp (from 35mm) and long enough to actually enjoy…most I’ve never seen before.

This is the part I really enjoyed:

 

Richard M. Roberts

As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to identifying the most obscure of silent films, there is Richard M. Roberts, and then all others.  I called him into service, but many of these films are so obscure that even he had to call in his fellow film historians.  They eventually identified just about every one, sometimes starting with the absolute thinnest of clues.  The fruits of their efforts are contained in the supplemental commentary track.  Roberts narrates it himself in his usual light-hearted, unpretentious way.  In fact, I think I’ll take a break from writing and watch (listen) to it again.

Trivia:  The producer was the late talent agent Abner J. (“Abby”) Greschler, who dabbled in the importation of some minor British pictures.  Here comes super-trivia; they were: Emergency Call (US: The Hundred Hour Hunt) (1952,) Bombay Waterfront, (1952,) and Life’s a Luxury (US: Caretaker’s Daughter) (1952.)  Why did a powerful, and extremely wealthy, agent for Martin and Lewis, Danny Kaye, Al Jolson, Benny Goodman, Eddie Cantor, and Milton Berle (later, Vince Edwards, Marcel Marceau, The Monkees, Jayne Mansfield, and others) bother with some grade B English movies, and also spend time creating a special-interest picture like Yesterday and Today, with the end result being a difficult-to-book 57 minute running time?  Tax shelter?  Hmmm, maybe I’ll ask Richard…when he’s recovered from this assignment! — Kit Parker

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