Our young reviewer, Yael-Louise Dekel, enjoys silent film at Turner Sims…
On 17th November 2019 I went to Teatime with Stan and Ollie at Turner Sims which showed popular silent films from the 1920s from notable names like Laurel and Hardy, and Charlie Chapman.
The first film shown was Putting pants on Phillip (1927) which was filmed by Laurel and Hardy and was about a Scottish man, Phillip, who went to America to visit his uncle. The Americans found his ‘strange’ Scottish customs and skirt funny and the film was basically about his American uncle’s attempt to get Phillip to wear trousers (called ‘pants’ in American). It was a film that had very stereotypical characters but I found it to be one of the funniest films out of all the ones shown on the day. Maybe it was that the cartoon-like jump that Phillip would do every time he would see this particular girl. Or, maybe it was how the Uncle knew where to find Phillip once he got into trouble, by following the large crowds of people (all running to laugh at Phillip)… A good way to track someone; more effective than modern GPS… The film poked fun at both Scottish people and Americans but it was done in a light-hearted way.
One scene that stood out for me was when Phillip was standing on a street’s air vent and was trying to keep his shirt down which was blown up by the vent. This reminded me a lot of Marilyn Monroe and the famous scene where she is on a vent and is trying to keep her skirt down. She may have possibly been inspired by this silent film.
The next film was One A.M. (1916) by Charlie Chaplin. The story follows Charlie being drunk and all of the mishaps he gets into by trying to do ordinary simple tasks. This film was much more slapstick comedy than the previous. Drunken people act silly, so people think that acting drunk is easy but it is actually hard to act the opposite of how we normally behave. And so for Charlie Chaplin to be able to act drunk the entire time convincingly is an amazing feat.
Next was a section of the silent film Never Weaken (1921) by Harold Lloyd, which showed him trying to find safety while high up on a building site. What I failed to realise when I watched this was that it was probably staged. I thought that he was actually stuck up on a real construction site, as it looks so realistic, and so I found the film to be very tense and scary. If I re-watched it again now I probably would find it funnier but it proves that you don’t need fancy equipment to make a good thriller scene.
The next film was a section of the silent film One Week (1920) by Buster Keaton. This film was about a pair of newlyweds who got a wedding gift – a house. But they had to assemble the house according to numbers on the pieces that corresponded with the instructions. They had a jealous neighbour who painted the numbers differently which led to some chaos. I found this film to be really funny too, like when they attached the car to the house and tried to drive the house across the train tracks and the car just zooms off, leaving the house and seats behind. Or, at the end when the house got run over by the train and the couple went over to the pile of house left behind and put a ‘For Sale’ sign on it before walking off.
The last silent film was Big Business (1929) by Laurel and Hardy, which showed Stan and Ollie trying to sell Christmas trees… in a hot Californian summer. This film also stood out as really funny for me. Like when they were trying to get this woman to buy a tree and they asked her if she would like one and she said no. And then Stan asked her if her husband would like one and she told them that she didn’t have a husband, and then Stan said, ‘If you had a husband would he like to buy one?’… I also found it funny when the pair and another neighbour went ballistic and started smashing the house and the car (watch the film to find out why), and you could just see the confusion in the policeman’s eyes as he looked from person to person.
As I said before in my review of Turner Sims’ Salomé 1923 film screening, despite it being ‘silent’ films music always played key part. John Lenehan, who played the piano for these silent films was brilliant and I found it amazing how he could play for ages without getting tired. As well as having different instruments used here compared with Salomé’s screening, the music was different too – it was much faster and light-hearted than the slow dramatic music of Salomé.
I also learn a lot from the event as John Lenehan gave us background information about silent films – like how many silent film actors found it hard to switch over to films with sound as their whole career had been built on silent films. For example, Buster Keaton, who was famous for having a deadpan expression, and so found it difficult to keep his artistic style when he had to speak in films with sound. I also learnt things about 1920s America from just watching these silent films.
You could see how the streets looked in American back then from watching the film footage and you could also see the clothes that people wore then. I really like women’s fashion from the 1920s so it was really cool to be able to see it in ‘real life’, through the films. You could see what the general public wore and what was popular fashion at the time.
Overall I found the event to be very enjoyable and I laughed a lot and learned new things about silent movies and the history of movie-making in general (the free cake and tea may also have played a part in the event being enjoyable)… It has given me some ideas of what society and culture was like in the roaring twenties (as I got to see the films that were popular then) and I have really enjoying just to be able to watch these silent movies.
I would highly recommend this event if you want to get a taste of 1920s American culture, or just simply want to see some funny, silent movies.
Yael-Louise Dekel, Nov 2019