Sunday, April 5, 2015

Zack King: VFX & Physical Comedy

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Not too many years ago I was heavily into AfterEffects and taught a course in video visual effects at Bloomfield College. While my students were for the most part more into the sci-fi and gory violence applications, I preferred the comedic possibilities, the more surrealistic the better.

It's easy to see VFX and physical comedy as opposites. We physical comedy practitioners think in terms of live performance: we want the audience to know we really did the trick, not the camera. And if we do film something, we want to see the sequence in a single shot. Still, VFX and physical comedy are not always at war, and I've written a few posts showcasing some work that combines them with dazzling creativity, such as here and here.

I was reminded of this just yesterday when former BC student Goya Choi sent me a clip of VFX work by Zack King. I'd seen one of his videos before, but this inspired me to learn his name (often not listed with his videos on FB) and find out what else he has done. Not surprisingly, King has had millions of YouTube hits, but that doesn't mean you're all familiar with him.

Much of his VFX work is brilliant, though some of it is far from seamless. What I like about him is his fertile imagination, his sense of silliness, and his infectious enjoyment of his own jokes. It's easy to see his stuff as a descendant of the transformation gags pioneered by early French filmmaker/magician Georges Méliès, and that found their way into American silent film comedy and circus clowning.

There are several compilations online. Here's a short one (4+ minutes) and a longer one (18+ minutes); there's some overlap between the two.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Walter Dare Wahl & Emmet Oldfield

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When I did my recent post, Comedy Acrobatics Roundup, I meant to include this wonderfully inventive piece by ‪Walter Dare Wahl and Emmet Oldfield, but somehow it got lost in the shuffle. (Senility is a terrible thing.) Luckily Hilary Chaplain recommended it to the NYC Physical Comedy Lab after Audrey Crabtree had led an exercise in creating physical comedy chain reactions, so now here it is!

Yes, chain reactions, plus body sculpting, role reversal, and great visual originality.   Highly creative choreography!

Walter Dare Wahl also appears in this previous post, partnering Hollywood star Betty Hutton. More good stuff!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sexagenarian Physical Comedy

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I was going to call this post "Old-Fart Physical Comedy" but I thought I'd pull in more readers this way. Sexagenarian must have something to do with sex, right? Maybe there'll even be pictures! No, but while you're here...

Mike ("Buster the Clown") Bednarek writes: : One week short of turning 60, nursing an aching back, and fully realizing and appreciating the growing limitations  on my physical body when it asks to do some of the same bits from 10, 20, 30 years ago, I've got a question for you. What do older physical comedians/clowns do when their bodies tell their heads (usually after the fact, when it's too late): "Are you f---ing nuts?"

Well, I'm 66 and still throwing my weary bones around, so I think this is a very good question and that a serious answer would make for a useful blog post. So do any aging veterans of the physical comedy wars want to share their old-fart experiences and longevity recommendations with our readers? If so, just e-mail me a few thoughts and I'll take it from there.

Meanwhile, we might as well laugh at ourselves, so here are two comic takes on the sexagenarian physical comedian. The first is a 1959 performance by the Talo Boys on the French tv show La Piste aux Étoiles, live from the Moulin de la Galette. (Thanks to Max Weldy for the original video!) The opening is pretty much straight acrobatics, though we see that some troupe members are  not exactly spring chickens. At the 1:45 mark they get into some comedy schtick, but the old-man physical comedy starts at 4:40 when they re-enter as moustachioed "acrobates de la Belle Époque."

And 54 years later here's a piece in a similar (varicose) vein by "Fumagali and their Fumaboys," as they appeared on another French tv show, Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde (2013), and which I saw that same year at the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris.

Update (3-21-15)  
Raffaele De Ritis writes: Fuma Boys act was conceived and created in the late 90s by Bernhard Paul, collector and founder of Circus Roncalli, under direct and deliberate inspiration of Talo Boys.

And just for inspiration, here's how Buster Keaton entered his sixties.

And finally, one more cartoon...

Update (3-21-15):
Click here  for a similar piece by Fratelli Bologna from about 1989. Thanks to Drew Letchworth for the link, who writes "We weren't Sexagenarians when we did this piece, but we are now. We developed The Old Act in part because we found that we were getting too old to do the young act."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sacha Baron Cohen at his Best

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Somehow I missed this when it first happened, but maybe you did too. Really hysterical. Thanks to Billy Schultz for the link. And BTW, you can see Billy bust some pretty funny moves this Friday and Sunday night at the always entertaining Comedy in Dance Festival at Triskelion Arts in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Georges Holmes

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I have yet to find any biographical information on the multi-talented Georges Holmes, but this performance is from the French tv show La Piste aux Etoiles, from the same 1959 broadcast as Les Marcellys in my previous post. Also, his first name is spelled the French way, and the few words he speaks are in French, so let's assume he's French. He's a tap dancer, acrobat, magician, and object manipulator. He's quite the human smokestack, and also does one of my favorite "stupid human tricks," the back roll with the cup of water. A variety artist full of variety!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Comedy Acrobatics Roundup

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Wow! 400 posts!! (Have you read them all?)  Never thought I'd make it this far.  But it's fitting that the big 4–0–0 be about comedy acrobatics. Yeah,  my keenest interest is physical comedy happening to real characters in real-life situations, but the truth is I never get tired of comedy acrobatics. By which I mean acrobatic acts that are prone to go wrong because at least one performer is blessed with clown DNA. Or that the act is performed by eccentric movers who are just too damn silly to conform to Standard Acrobatic Form.

Found this 1912 postcard on eBay, and now I own it. 
Anyone know anything about Palo or Sellerie?
You guys have sent me a few clips that were new to me but — not to be competitive — I've also uncovered a few more, so here's the latest round-up, presented in what I take to be chronological order. Enjoy!

1900:  Georges Méliès
We'll begin with this curiosity from 1900, Fat and Lean Wrestling Match (Nouvelles Luttes Extravagantes) by Georges Méliès. (You saw Hugo, right?) This one's full of Méliès' trademark stop-action substitution camera tricks, some smoother than others, but still it offers a glimpse into variety acts at the turn of the previous century.

1920: The Jumping Tommies
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, which offer this description. Not hilarious, but the short guy has a couple of comic moments and the concluding chair trick is quite nifty.

1935:  The Runaway Four

This is a trio I know nothing about, but according to IMDB they were in the short, All-Star Vaudeville (1935), so probably this is from that. No matter. They have serious acrobatic chops and an original brand of humor. They're amazingly oddball and, for their era, decidedly fey. They establish their tumbling skills in the first 20 seconds, and from there on out they just seem to be free associating.

1945:  Donovan and Byl
This is said to be the only recording of Donovan and Byl's music hall tumbling act, from a film short, Randle and All That. A live audience sure would help, but a nice act indeed. It's everything that can go wrong while trying to get into a two-high, with a touch of Dead or Alive thrown in at the end. Especially like the head-eating bit!

1959:  Les Marcellys
From 1959, here's a superior table act by the French tumblers, Les Marcellys, filmed at the Moulin de la Galette in Paris for the French tv show, La Piste aux Etoiles.

2013: The Maiers Comedy Trapeze Act
Last but hardly least, here's a comedy trapeze act that's recently gone semi-viral. What I like about this one is the commitment to character, matched with inventive trapeze work. They are Sabine Maier and Yogi Mohr, and have lived and worked together since 1988. They are based in Berlin, are approaching 50, and have three children. Yogi plays a goofy-looking nerd, and Sabine a proper lady, perpetually embarrassed. Yogi comments, "We look normal. We don't even go to the gym. We just do warmups and practice our routine."

If you want to get analytical, here's a longer version of the same act.

And one more tidbit from this creative duo:

That should be enough to keep you all off the streets and out of trouble! Some links:
Web site for Die Maiers.
• All of my comedy acrobatics blog posts.

Special thanks to Dan Vie, Hank Sapoznik, Jeffrey Weissman,  Jim Bacci, Riley Kellogg, and Tanya Solomon for the links, plus anyone else I'm likely forgetting!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Discovering the Slate Brothers

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I chanced upon the Slate Brothers in a star-studded but less-than-memorable film, College Swing (1938; available on Netflix). Just eight minutes into the movie, this bit comes out of nowhere:

You can imagine how that got my attention! I immediately thought Ritz Brothers, only they're not. My next thought was: they better be in this movie again... Yep, here they are singing, dancing, and slapping and poking each other silly, again ending in a big pile-up.

They make one more appearance in the movie, ending up in the same 3-person fall, as if there's just no way these guys can avoid it. For us pratfall aficionados eager to find a new way to commune with the ground, it's great to be able to study it from another angle.

So who the hell are these guys? Well, they're damn good eccentric dancers but it's pretty clear they're also part of that whole anarchistic "crazy comedy" tradition that includes the Marx Brothers, the Ritz Brothers, Olsen & Johnson (Hellzapoppin'), and Britain's Crazy Gang, and that no doubt influenced the Goon Show and Monty Python.

Unfortunately, I have not unearthed a treasure trove of video clips. In fact, this next one is the last, at least so far. It's A Little Jive is Good For You (1941), a 3-minute "jukebox soundie" with Martha Tilton as the singing nurse whose dulcet tones miraculously get our crippled boys back in the groove.

The Slate Brothers are also listed as appearing in 
Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), a movie I could only find for sale or rental on Amazon. I love you guys so much that I plunked down $2.99 to rent it streaming for 24 hours, but I don't love you enough to have spent two of those hours watching the whole movie. Instead, I fast-forwarded through it a minute at a time — twice! — and never found our heroes, unless they are the bellhops doing nothing interesting for 10 seconds in the opening scene. Any more patient researchers out there?

Unlike the Ritz Brothers, who made sixteen films, the Slate Brothers mostly worked onstage, apparently very successfully, but they were denied the fame that major movies bring. According to Sid (see clip below), they did in fact appear in eight movies in the early 30s, but I find no record of these. Hopefully more clips will surface, and I am happy to see here that they made numerous appearances in early television, including three times on the Texaco Star Theatre when Milton Berle was hosting.

From The Milwaukee Journal, Sept.18, 1942

Meanwhile here's a bit more info:

• They were Jack (1909–1989), Henry, and Sid Slate, and they began as Charleston dancers in the 1920s. They worked as a trio until 1948 or 1956 (sources vary on the date), when Henry left the act, after which Jack and Sid performed as a duo.

• In their later years, they were co-owners of the Slate Brothers Club, a very successful night club  in Los Angeles. According to the insult comedian Don Rickles in his autobiography, this is where he got his start:

Lenny [Bruce], now a budding star, was playing The Slate Brothers when the owners took offense at his language. I don't know the details, but they considered Lenny, who others recognized as brilliant, too offensive for their audience. Now here's the funny part. They hired me, Mr. Good Taste, to replace Lenny Bruce.

And according to the NY Times:
Soon he [Rickles] found himself onstage at a nightclub called Slate Brothers, insulting gangsters and movie stars with alacrity. This was the scene of his first Sinatra sting: when Mr. Rickles turned to Sinatra, he told the singer he should make himself at home by hitting somebody. A friendship was forged. “Slate Brothers seated maybe 100 people,” Mr. Rickles said. “I used to get dressed in the kitchen. I sweated a lot onstage, and Harry Goins” — Mr. Rickles’s longtime friend and man Friday — “used to douse me with cold water in the alleyway while I stood stark naked.” Slate Brothers is long gone, as are many of the rooms Mr. Rickles used to work.

This incident is covered in more graphic detail in the book The Trials of Lenny Bruce.

• Henry Slate and Jack Slate had minor roles in various movies in the 70s and 80s.

That's it for now. Updates if and when I learn more.