Saturday, December 4, 2010

Live from Paris: In Search of Max Linder

[post 106]

Supposedly I'm a big expert on all this clown and physical comedy stuff. Yeah, like I actually have the time to watch all those DVDs overcrowding my shelves.

Sad to admit, but this time last year I knew very little about the French silent film comedian, Max Linder (1883–1925).  I knew he was the first international comic film superstar and that Chaplin revered him. I even knew he died young in what was labeled a double suicide with his 21-year-old wife, Ninette Peters.  All I had seen of him in action, however, were very brief snippets from his surviving films (about 130 out of 400+) included on various anthologies of silent film history. Usually they got passed over quickly as the narration turned to everyone's all-American favorites,  Chaplin & Keaton, Lloyd & Langdon.

I was not terribly impressed by those few glimpses of Linder, not surprising considering that some of them dated all the way back to 1905, a full dozen years before Keaton's first film with Arbuckle.  But when I saw his 1921 film Seven Years Bad Luck, I thought it was clearly one of the best silent film features ever made. Well acted, ingeniously written, and with the best use of the mirror gag ever.  But more on that later!

Shortly thereafter I came across a New Theatre Quarterly article about Linder that was so fascinating that I immediately wrote the magazine's editor, Simon Trussler, to help me get in contact with the author, Frank Bren, whose web site you can reach by clicking here.  (And so good that I begged Mr. Trussler and Mr. Bren to allow me to reprint it on this blog. They very kindly agreed, and you will find it as the very next post.)  Reaching Frank Bren has proved to be a gold mine, for it was he who turned me on to the Pierre Etaix comeback story (see previous Etaix posts) and introduced me to the remarkable Maud Linder, daughter and biographer of Max.

And what a story!

Maud Linder was orphaned at the age of 15 months by her parents' death, and did not realize who her real father was until some twenty years later.  She came to know him only through his films, coming to hate the man who had abandoned his baby daughter, taking her mother with him, and yet very much admiring the artist.  Somehow she was able to separate the two in her mind, and she made it her mission to revive the reputation of the comedian who had once been the most famous entertainer in the world.  I was understandably thrilled when Frank told me that Maud was alive and well and living in Paris and would very likely be quite receptive to meeting me during my April sojourn in Paris.  And so it came to pass!

More than 80 years later, a vibrant and energetic Maud Linder still lives in that same house Linder had built for his family on a gated street in Neuilly, an upscale suburb of Paris.  Though Max never got to live there, he would no doubt be thrilled to see that his daughter has survived and thrived despite all odds and that she has worked so hard to perpetuate his legacy.

In this first segment from my interview with Mme. Linder, she explains her personal mission:

Some thoughts on Linder's legacy and the struggle to keep his work alive in the 21st century:

And here Mme. Linder muses about the difference between a clown and a film comedian:

I may have been 85 years late in my search for the living, breathing Max Linder, but meeting his daughter was both an honor and an inspiration for the posts that follow this one.


Snorre Mathiesen said...

Extremely interesting, thank you very much for sharing this. Especially the first part about Maud being able to separate the father from the artist is touching... Though I'm only in my early 20's I've been a fan of Linder for several years. I've even written a long article about him, but can't seem to find the right place to publish it...

Lokadhyaksa dasa said...

thank you for your blog. we are part of an international organization that has its history connected with one of Max Linder's movie. We are looking for a clip from a movie where his coat tail is ripped off and he dances with so much enthusiasm that he starts a new fashion. Would you by any chance know which movie we are talking about. we would be very grateful for any lead or help on this. we have been looking for this movie for the last 12 years.

thank you