Black, White and 50 Shades of Grey: Slapstick Festival 2015 in Review

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Megan Lewis finds the funny in Bristol’s annual Slapstick Festival

It’s 3pm on a Friday and I should be in college.

It’s 3pm on a Friday and I should be in college.  By my use of the word ‘should’ I think you can gather that I’m not.  I’m bunking. [Rife does not advocate bunking. Stay in school, kids – ed.]

I arrive at Watershed with my school rucksack, fresh from my great escape. I started on my own but had met a uni student and fellow film lover also going solo, so we sat together. The event was ‘Lost Clown: Eddie Cantor,’ the film was ‘Special Delivery’ from 1927. A great atmosphere became infectious, clapping before the film started. Not many will know Cantor, he is a lost clown (note the title). I do, but I have a brilliant tutor, my nanna. It’s his wide, wild, expressive eyes and face that makes him a great comedian. He’s a simple postman, who brings in a dangerous criminal, rescues the girl he loves and finds time for his mail rounds and babysitting.

That’s the beauty of silent film – you know through mime (and the odd title card) what’s going on.

The gala was hosted by actor Chris Addison, though in honesty no one upstairs heard him. That’s the beauty of silent film – you know through mime (and the odd title card) what’s going on.  Which I didn’t. That can be viewed both as a criticism for the sound system and an artistic point by Bristol Silents (the organisers) to promote silent films. The audience who hadn’t warmed up by jiving had two short films to do so; Charlie Chaplin’s satirical masterpiece, ‘The Immigrant’ 1917 and Laurel and Hardy’s ‘Big Business’ 1929. Before showing the headliner, Buster Keaton’s ‘Seven Chances’ 1925. To experts this film is infamous for the last 20 minutes being a chase scene, when I heard this I thought they were exaggerating but no, literally that happens.  Keaton, who’s in financial ruin discovers he will inherit $7 million, if (yes there’s an if) he is married by the eve of his 27th birthday, which by coincidence is that day. Who saw that coming?  He goes round proposing to anything in a skirt, it’s hilarious. During the final 20 minutes I admired Keaton’s stamina as he is chased by hundreds of would be brides over different terrains. It reminded me of Gloucester’s renowned cheese-rolling event, for which I’m certain Keaton would have won.

It reminded me of Gloucester’s renowned cheese-rolling event…

Nevertheless it was the duo, Laurel and Hardy that were the favourites of the night. A particular moment when Hardy is wrecking the lawn of a rude customer (a dream for any in the retail sector) Laurel is inside the house chucking out vases and Hardy starts batting them back with his spade. The hall shook with laughter.

The other stars of the night were the talented musicians, such as The Bristol Ensemble and Rick Wakeman (who improvised). The amount of times I was unaware there were live musicians performing were uncountable, yet they made each film come alive.

The next morning with the residue of last night’s makeup and fresh dark circles under my eyes, I arrived at the third and final venue of my slapstick journey. The historic Bristol Old Vic, to see Victoria Wood celebrate Gloria Swanson.  Finally a female star. She is most known from classic film, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ 1950. Two films were presented, 1917’s ‘Teddy at the Throttle,’ where she is tied iconically to train tracks (amusingly by her actual ex husband, hooray for Hollywood) without a mobile she sends word via her dog, Teddy. The lavish production of ‘Stage Struck’ 1925, like ‘Seven Chances’ parts are in colour.

At the cafe in the theatre, I contemplated how the festival could be topped next year, when a frightfully posh woman cut into my order and was served first. Had I been Laurel or Hardy at this point I think she would have had a cream pie in her face or her chair pulled from beneath her, but I must remind myself life isn’t a film so carefully I waited till she sat down before asking to pass. Anyway, back to reality – how do I explain my disappearance act in school on Monday?

Did you go to Slapstick this year? What did you think? Let us know: @rifemag

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