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#99 Laurel & Hardy
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AmperArt #99, Laurel & Hardy, was inspired by my best friend of fifty years, Joe Rinaudo, whom I met in seventh grade. We were both into “old stuff”—I collected & refurbished old office machines (mimeographs & typewriters) & Joe collected 16mm films of early cinematic comedy—Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Keystone Cops, Fatty Arbuckle , & of course Laurel & Hardy. I sure had fun going to his house & watching those old films. As a teenager he already had a large collection of 16mm films, both silent & sound. Later, Joe began investing in 35mm silent films & acquired a Power’s 1909 Cameragraph Model 6 Motion Picture Machine which he restored to pristine condition. He also became an expert at restoring the old films & acquired vast knowledge about the early cinema industry.
Visit SilentCinemaSociety.org, Joe’s new website for old entertainment.
Today, besides running Rinaudo’s Reproductions, his Victorian lamp business which reproduces & custom designs superb lighting fixtures of the Victorian, Craftsman & Art Deco periods (you’ll find many of his lamps throughout the Disney parks—yes, those massive chandeliers in the Emporium are his), Joe Rinaudo continues to collect, restore, & host itinerant shows of the silent era, as that is his ultimate passion. He frequently lectures & hand-cranks his beautiful antique projector at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences—to producers, directors & stars, many of whom have little knowledge of how their industry started. They are always in awe when Joe presents his shows (in full turn-of-the-century costume, no less). He also hosts smaller itinerant shows, similar to when projectionists would travel from town to town where there were no formal theaters & project at a hall, church, or even inside a tent —hence the term “tent show.” Twice a year Joe teams up with able assistant Gary Gibson & organist extraordinaire Dean Mora at the Mighty Wurlitzer to present a spectacular show complete with colorful glass lantern slides at intermission (or when the film breaks). This event is held at the Nethercutt in Sylmar, California, usually in October & February.
Most recently Joe has formed an organization called Silent Cinema Society “for the preservation & presention of the art & technology of silent cinema.” (It was originally named SCAT—Silent Cinema Art & Technology—but we’re still trying to obtain that domain.) I had the pleasure of creating Joe’s website, SilentCinemaSociety.org, where you’ll find most interesting & entertaining information about the art as well as the technology of the silent cinema era. Be sure & subscribe to his newsletter, “The Newsreel,” to learn of upcoming silent film shows & news in general. (It’s always exciting when a 100-year-old lost reel is found in a storeroom or attic, usually pristine but so frail that it must be handled gently & with the greatest caution, as old nitrate film is spontaneously combustible.)
See Laurel & Hardy in Burbank June 4, 2016
Joe’s upcoming Classic Silent Comedies itinerant show will be held in Burbank, California, Saturday June 4, 2016, at 7pm. Joe will hand-crank his 1909 Power’s projector as Scott Lasky embellishes each scene with live piano accompaniment. Gary Gibson will project glass lantern slides of the era. The show is nearly 2 hours with light refreshments for sale. Admission is $10. Full details here.
Joe Rinaudo is especially excited about this show, following the surprising turnout for the show in March. The audience was a lively, young crowd interested in this old technology & art form, the results of promoting the event on Facebook. More on that story here—& a bizarre scene of a dancing pig.
Adding sound to silent…
Joe Rinaudo playing his American Fotoplayer. Plug your ears!
Although early films were silent, as in no dialog or recorded music, there was plenty of sound in most theaters. Large theaters employed an orchestra. Smaller theaters & those with lower budgets relied on a photoplayer. The photoplayer (“photo” from photoplay & “player” from player piano) was built specifically to provide music & sound effects for silent movies. These machines appeared around 1912 & were used in medium sized theaters. Photoplayers were inexpensive to operate because you didn’t have to be a musician to play them—they were also playable by way of player piano rolls. But the person at the bench did change rolls & add the sound effects, as you can see in this demonstration.
Joe Rinaudo is playing his American Fotoplayer in the video above, which was featured on Huell Howser’s California Gold.
The photoplayer used a fascinating combination of piano, organ pipes, drums, & various sound effects designed to narrate the action of any silent film. Pedals, levers, switches, buttons, & pull cords were all used to turn on the xylophone, beat a drum, ring a bell, create the sound of thunder, or chirp like a bird.
When sound films came into being in the late 1920’s, the photoplayer became passé. Of the thousands of American Fotoplayers made during their heyday, sadly less than 50 survive, & of those only 12 are known to be in playing condition. One of those 12 is in Joe’s living room. & his neighbors ask him to leave the door open when he’s playing the instrument, as they love the happy sound.
Joe discusses the American Fotoplayer in depth, with video & photographs, here.
Laurel & Hardy: greatest comedy duo of all time
Quoted from “The 25 Best Comedy Duos“ by Martin Chilton at The Telegraph:
Writer Kurt Vonnegut once said that his favourite comedians were Laurel & Hardy. “I used to laugh my head off at Laurel & Hardy,” said the author of Slaughterhouse-Five. “There is terrible tragedy there somehow. These men are too sweet to survive in this world & are in terrible danger all the time. They could so easily be killed.” What survives of the comedians – American Hardy died in 1957 & English-born Laurel died in 1965 – is 107 films released between 1921 & 1951. Their catchphrase was: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” & their mixture of slapstick, wordplay & utterly charming comedy makes them the greatest comedy duo of all time. The Music Box, which depicts the pair’s hapless attempts to move a piano up a large flight of steps, won the first Academy Award for Live Action Short Film (Comedy) in 1932. “Those two fellows we played,” Oliver Hardy told an interviewer, “they were nice, very nice people. They never got anywhere because they were so very dumb, only they didn’t know they were dumb.”
Above all, Laurel & Hardy are wonderfully, upliftingly, silly:
Ollie: “Call me a cab.”
Stan: “You’re a cab.”
(Another Fine Mess, 1930)
Laurel & Hardy’s influence is alive & well in The Simpsons. Homer’s repeated use of the word “D’oh” was inspired by Jimmy Finlayson, the mustachioed Scottish actor who appeared in 33 Laurel & Hardy films.
fine nice mess (d’oh)
The famous catch phrase of Laurel & Hardy, from Another Fine Mess, is often misquoted as “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” The actual phrase in the film is “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”
This scene is from “The Stolen Jools,” a short made in 1931 “with more prominent stars than have ever before appeared in any one feature” as stated at the beginning of the film. The stars appeared as cameos to help raise funds for the National Variety Artists tuberculosis sanitarium. You can watch the entire film here on YouTube. It’s great to see all the old stars in one film & there are some funny lines & gags.
Who is your favorite comedy team with an ampersand?
Laurel & Hardy? Abbott & Costello? Burns & Allen? Lucy & Desi? Martin & Lewis? French & Saunders? Tom & Jerry? Wallace & Gromit? Any others?
Comment here (or below if you see a big blue box).