Sunday, November 29, 2015

Lupino Lane's Pratfall Tutorial

[post 408]

Yes, the blog is back! I've pretty much been away from it for a year as I worked on a new book (see sidebar), but I've got plenty of new stuff to share. Well, this post's new stuff is actually quite old, but I'm sure new to most of you: a tutorial on pratfalls from silent film great Lupino Lane's out-of-print book, How to Become a Comedian.

If you don't know Lupino Lane (1892–1959), it's because a lot of his best work is still not available on DVD or YouTube. Growing up in London in the storied Lupino music hall family (dating back to 1612), it was no surprise that he made his stage debut at the age of 4 and was already a seasoned veteran when he made his first film at 23. Lane never developed a clown persona as memorable as that of Chaplin or Keaton (or even Lloyd or Langdon), but he was Keaton's equal as an acrobat, and Chaplin's as a dancer, and all three shared an encyclopedic knowledge of physical comedy vocabulary and gags.

Before we get to that tutorial, here's a clip from Hello, Sailors (1927), co-starring his brother Wallace Lupino, that shows off some of Lane's acrobatic prowess.

And here's a spoof of an Apache dance from Fandango (1928). Try to imagine this one with tango music instead!

Yes, Lane was partial to cheap special effects, especially using wires to fly.

Oh yeah, he could sing too. When sound films came in, Lane was better positioned than most for the transition, as he was in some ways more at home in musical comedy than in silent film. No wonder he shows up right away in Ernst Lubitsch's first talkie, The Love Parade (1929), which starred Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. Here he is with Lillian Roth in a comic turn that showcases all of his talents. (Most of the physical comedy comes after the 2-minute mark.)

After his Hollywood phase in the 20s, Lane returned to England and enjoyed a prosperous film and stage career. In the late 30s he starred in the musical Me and My Girl (a revival made it to Broadway in 1986) for which he created the dance craze "The Lambeth Walk" and became famous all over again. And in 1946 he published How to Become a Comedian. Not necessarily a great book, but a very interesting one, and it does include the following chapter on ''funny falls."

A lot of standard stuff here, but there are some interesting moves and insights. (Small quibble: I've always spelled it "knap," which Merriam-Webster defines as "to break with a quick blow.") The instructions are rudimentary at best, so be careful. If you get hurt, I'm not legally liable!


illusiongenius said...

I am very impressed by this entry. I check this blog most daze so I am delighted to see it return with the fury of Lupino Lane. His moves and dancing and general countenance are really delightful. I am so happy to have seen these clips and am somewhat astonished to find such detailed reference to "funny falls." (It is also saddening tome that we even think of the legal liability for publishing something. Such a comment on our society.) Great work John!

jt said...

I'd love to produce a quality DVD, of course with his best work.

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