Friday, March 12, 2010

Pie Throwing — Live from Barcelona! #5

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"God always has a custard pie up his sleeve."
—the character Georgy (played by Lynn Redgrave) in the movie Georgy Girl

Okay, so I'm not really in Barcelona any more and I'm no expert on the art or history of pie throwing, but these photos really are from Tuesday afternoon at the Nouveau Clown Institute and I knew you'd all enjoy seeing a photo of me with pie on my face, shot by Rich Potter with much joy in his heart.

The occasion was a workshop by Pat Cashin and Greg DeSanto in — yep, you guessed it — the making and launching of pies. Despite a career that has not been without its unique experiences, I had never been on either end of an airborne pie, so I found myself actually eager to volunteer my mug for target practice. It was totally stupid and very funny. Sometimes we (yeah, me) get too analytical about clowning and forget the power of pure silliness. Well, this was silly.

A very short action video of Daniela ConTe on the receiving end:

Update (3-17-10): Some more pie photos from the Facebook album, N.C.I. -Second Class- March 2010, courtesy of Mandy Dalton, and featuring Pat Cashin making a batch of pies and then delivering one up in top balletic form.

Like I said, I'm no pie historian, but it was fun unearthing a few famous scenes for you....

The first pie in the movies was apparently received, not by Fatty Arbuckle or Mabel Normand, as is often said, but by Ben Turpin in Mr. Flip (1909). The annoyingly flirtatious Mr. Flip gets his pie comeuppance in the final scene of this 3:45 short. (You can see or download the whole movie here.)

But to give Arbuckle his due, here he is wrecking the general store in The Butcher Boy (1917) with Buster Keaton (in his first film) and Al St. John. They start with flour but work their way up to pies. Pies in the kisser must be funny because you can actually see Keaton smile for a brief moment. (You can see or download the whole movie for free here.)

Here's Keaton on This is Your Life in 1957 talking about getting hit by Arbuckle's sack of flour.

In his autobiography, Keaton commented: "When we turned to the making of features we found a whole set of new problems facing us. One of the first decisions I made was to cut out custard-pie throwing. It seemed to me that the public — by that time it was 1923 — had had enough of that. The pies looked messy on the screen anyway. So no pie was ever thrown in a Buster Keaton feature." (My Wonderful World of Slapstick, pp.173–4) However, when Keaton made somewhat of a comeback on television in the 50s and 60s, it was pies they wanted to hear about. Here he is demonstrating the technique in 1962:


Update (4-13-10): This just in from 1916! Less than two years after leaving Keystone, Charlie Chaplin was already making fun of Mack Sennett's studio in Behind the Screen, in which pie throwing is sarcastically referred to as "a new idea." But while Chaplin may be spoofing Sennett, he still puts together a pretty good pie fight. Most of the throws in this are done in two shots, but just past the 3-minute mark you can see Chaplin get off two accurate long-distance tosses, accomplished without any editing.


Laurel & Hardy take it up a notch in The Battle of the Century (1927)

The Great Race (1965) features a take-no-prisoners, multi-colored pie battle. It was directed by Blake Edwards, of Pink Panther fame, is dedicated to Laurel & Hardy, and stars Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Natalie Wood, but is still a pretty disappointing movie. I do like the joke of Curtis strolling through the mayhem unscathed, though the payoff could be stronger. I didn't like the fact that 99% of the pie tosses are done in two shots so you never get to see a pie fly any real distance. This film is available on Netflix Instant Play.

And in more recent times, click here or on the image to see Greg DeSanto shaking it like a modern-day Arbuckle in the soap entrée with Barry Lubin. (Big Apple Circus, The Medicine Show, 1996) .

Finally, for the serious pie scholar:
• Thanks to alert reader Hank Smith (see comment to this post) for pointing out that the original ending to the classic satirical film, Dr. Strangelove, was a pie fight (photo, right) in the War Room! Director Stanley Kubrick cut it because "I decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film."
• The flying flour in The Butcher Boy reminds me of one story, which may or may not be apocryphal, about the origins of the clown's whiteface makeup. The practice is usually attributed to French Pierrots of the 1600s, who were said to have powdered their faces white, inspired by the laughs they got from a comic combat with bags of flour.
• The Keystone Cops, popularizers of pie throwing in the early days of silent film comedy.
Soupy Sales, who brought pie throwing to television in a big way starting in the 1950s.
Pieing, the controversial practice of embarrassing political opponents with a pie in the face.
• And did you know that Sunday (3-14) was Pi Day?


Hank Smith said...

I seem to remember reading somewhere that Stanley Kubrick was originally going to end "Dr. Strangelove" with a huge pie throwing fight in the War Room and may have actually shot it. But for some reason he did not use that ending.

I just checked,and that ending was shot. This is a link to a photo of it.

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