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Date: 30/08/18

Falling About With Amazement

I've mentioned here (or somewhere) before that I was one of the first cohort of children of The Television Age.

One of the cheaper ways that BBC and ITV had of amusing ver lickluns in those days was to run (or re-run) old black-and-white serials such as Casey Jones or The Lone Ranger, or old comedy shorts from the thirties, or compendia of scenes from silent comedies of an even earlier vintage.

It was in such a manner that I was introduced early to the wonders of Stan Laurel's comic inventiveness matched with the immense dignity (often punctured, but just as often restored) of Oliver Hardy; to the motorised foolery of the Keystone Cops; to the baby-faced drollery of Harry Langdon; to the terminally cross-eyed Ben Turpin; and, most particularly, the sheer verve and audacity of Joseph Frank 'Buster' Keaton.

But where in your list, I hear you ask - yes I do, don't deny it - are the names of Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin? Well, I found Lloyd far too winsome; and I never warmed to Chaplin, and consider him to this day to be as over-rated in his field as the two Dylans - Thomas and Bob - are in theirs. Chaplin's movies struck me - even back then - as being too emotionally calculating, with a tendency towards mawkish sentimentality (a pitfall emulated decades later by Robin Williams' films), a characteristic which reached its full nauseating potential once he was able to add spoken dialogue to his work.

But Keaton was the true genius of them all. From his background as an infant performer in his parents' vaudeville act he brought the ability to fall and tumble without serious injury, and to that he added a highly inventive and imaginative grasp of physical comedy allied with a mastery of the techniques of early cinema. With this combination, he created works which at their best - which they frequently were - leave even today's jaded and CGI-saturated audiences wondering just how the hell he did it. He took great yet painstaking risks and produced films (and set pieces within them) which take the breath away nearly a full century on.

Watch the following clip (which its compiler has put to a background of Philip Glass music which succeeds in further enhancing the visuals) and wonder at how such scenes were even remotely possible in Hollywood's pre-lapsarian times with the most basic of technology.