Event Review: Teatime with Stan and Ollie

Young Turner Sims reviewer Rebecca discovers more about silent film when she attends Teatime with Stan and Ollie at Turner Sims, part of Southampton Film Week. 

On 17 November 2019 I went to the Teatime with Stan and Ollie event at Turner Sims. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were a comedic duo who starred in many silent films and ‘talkie’ films with sound. When we got into the auditorium there was a screen with a picture of Stan and Ollie on it in the centre of the stage curtains and a piano to the left of the stage. John Lenehan then introduced the event and played a ragtime style tune on the piano whilst a slideshow played on the screen giving some background information. After this the first short film started playing called Putting Pants on Philip (1927) by Laurel & Hardy. It was about Ollie waiting at a dock in America for his nephew Philip (Stan) who was visiting from Scotland, to meet him for the first time. When Philip stepped off the ferry he had a Scottish hat and a kilt on. The people at the dock were presumably unfamiliar with these clothes and they started laughing. Then Philip started to follow Ollie into the town and various mishaps happened, for example when Philip’s trousers under his kilt fell off due to him running so much, and him forgetting to pick them up. This resulted in Ollie taking him for a trip to the tailor’s despite Philip’s reluctance. I noticed that when the characters were running the music would speed up and when something slapstick happened short chords were used to emphasise the action. The live piano accompaniment helped in the understanding of the film when you were watching it and it was a similar experience to what the original viewers would have had.

The next short film was One AM (1916) by Charlie Chaplin. The story followed Chaplin coming home drunk late at night and various things happening such as him misplacing his key, resulting in him having to climb through the window. Visual comedy was a large element. One scene that stood out was when there was a bottle and a glass on a table and Chaplin running around to get it, despite his efforts being pointless due to the fact that the table was a revolving table which spun around as he ran.

During the interval we went into the foyer to enjoy tea and cakes.

The next short film was a section of a film called Never Weaken by Harold Lloyd (1921). It involved someone who had just been blindfolded and put on a girder from a building site suspended in the air. The character then had to try to get to a safer place. This film had a nerve-wracking atmosphere because it looked as though all the stunts were real and not done with any special effects. This means that the ‘acting’ of the character’s fear must have not been acting at all. It was interesting to see how the attitudes towards health and safety must have been quite relaxed when the film was made compared to today.

After this John played a really beautiful piece called The Single Petal of a Rose by Duke Ellington.

The next short film was a section of One Week (1920) by Buster Keaton. It involved newlyweds who were given a box as a gift that contained materials to build a house which was supposed to be easy to build in one week. The various materials had numbers on them to indicate an order but the numbers got switched around by the best man. This resulted in the house looking like a wonky mess when it was finished. The newlyweds also placed their house on the wrong patch of land and unfortunately at the last minute they realised that they had moved their house on to the train tracks. Their house then got destroyed by a train and the film ended with the newlyweds walking away from their house, which was now just a heap of wood. I noticed that some things they did were dangerous, for example being near a moving train and sitting on a rickety house.

The last short film was called Big Business (1929) by Laurel & Hardy. Stan and Ollie were trying to sell Christmas trees in summer and were very determined to get sales. They started to knock on the doors of various houses and trying to get people to buy them rather pushily. Nobody was at all interested in buying them but that didn’t stop Stan and Ollie. At one house one customer reacted quite angrily to Stan and Ollie and they got into an argument. This escalated and Stan and Ollie started to demolish the man’s house as the man had previously messed up Ollie’s clothes and broke the Christmas tree. Before the film started, John gave some background information for the film which was that the film crew accidentally used the wrong house for the film. The owners of the house were away on holiday during the filming so they would not have a very pleasant surprise when they returned to see the state of their house!

The concert was very well attended and John gave informative talks between the films. The piano playing which accompanied all the films was superb and fitted the atmosphere perfectly. Without the music there would be a loss of an important element of the films. I had never seen a silent film before but I enjoyed the event and found myself laughing a lot of the time. I would recommend this event to anyone who is interested in comedy or just films in general.

Rebecca, 2019

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