|Index||7 reviews in total|
In 1918, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was probably the second, or third,
most popular comedian in cinema (after Charlie Chaplin and, perhaps,
Douglas Fairbanks, depending on one's categorization). Although it
might be changing now with the increased accessibility of his films,
Arbuckle seems unduly ignored by film historians and aficionados of
today, and it's been said that probably has much to do with the rape
and manslaughter trials that ruined his career. That's unfortunate, as
everything else I've heard, indicates that Arbuckle was a friendly man;
Buster Keaton said he was "a truly jolly fat man". Moreover, he was one
of the key pioneers in forming screen comedy; his name is right up
there with Chaplin, Keaton, Max Linder, Mack Sennett and Hal Roach.
Yet, Arbuckle's comedy was less advanced, or refined, than Chaplin's burlesque. Like Chaplin, he had rid his films of much of the frenetic style of Sennett's Keystone, where the two both began their movie careers. But, while Chaplin was adding pathos and satire to his films at this time, while giving extended time to a fewer number of more elaborated gags, Arbuckle's humor remained very broad and retained the sketchy, knockabout gags of Keystone. "Moonshine" is no exception, yet those antics can still be funny enough, and this particular two-reel short is curious and, I think, especially funny because in it Arbuckle breaks down the fourth wall.
Some of the best comedies of the early silent period are parodies, from the one's that spoof a particular film ("Burlesque on Carmen", for example) or films of a single filmmaker ("Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life") to those that mimic the business of making movies ("Behind the Screen"). "Moonshine" is of the latter, but rather than being a behind-the-scenes type of film taking an inside look at film-making at a studio (of which Arbuckle had been in a few already), it pokes fun at movies and movie-making by itself being disassembled. "Moonshine" has its storyline, but the humor is in and the film is about disrupting that storyline to comment on and ridicule the film itself and the film-making process that goes into making it and other such productions. My favorite joke is when Arbuckle breaks down the fourth wall to explain to another character the reason for the implausibility of a plot turn: "Look, this is only a two-reeler. We don't have time to build up to love scenes."
Most of the self-referential humor, or self-parody, is in the intertitles. The film could have used more visual breaking down of the fourth wall, which could have been accomplished simply with a wink at the camera, for example. The print is also in poor shape, although I thought the flickering monkey climbing shot interesting as a result. Nevertheless, "Moonshine" is an interesting early effort at this kind of self-referential humor. And, it's considerably different from Anita Loos's scenarios and intertitles for Douglas Fairbanks comedies, some of which (such as "The Mystery of the Leaping Fish" and "Wild and Woolly") deconstructed in similar ways and with comical results, but not consistently throughout the picture as in "Moonshine". Aggrandizing upon this tradition, Buster Keaton, who costars in this and many other Arbuckle shorts, would make even wittier and more elaborated reflexive films, such as "The Playhouse" and "Sherlock, Jr."
"Moonshine" is a funny short comedy that serves as something of a self-parody. There is the usual slapstick, stunts, and other antics, with 'Fatty' and Buster as two revenue agents trying to crack down on a bootlegging operation. What makes it different is the satirical title cards, which poke gentle fun at many of the conventions of movie-making that were well-known even in 1918. A couple of them are hilarious. It's too bad that the print of this short is in such bad shape, because it's a funny little novelty, and it is also great to see a couple of famous artists who don't take themselves too seriously, and who can enjoy a few jokes at their own expense.
It's funny. I've reviewed several Fatty Arbuckle shorts and this one
had the lowest rating on IMDb--and yet it was by far my favorite! Oh
well--to each his own.
I think the reason I liked it so much was because the film didn't take itself seriously at all! In fact, many times throughout the film, it made reference to the fact it was a film or that they were doing what they were doing because the director told them to! But my favorite was when Arbuckle met the girl and they instantly fell in love. He then commented that falling in love so fast was understandable since it was only a 2-reel comedy! It was a real riot and I wish more old-time shorts took such an approach.
Funny. And that's what you are looking for in a comedy anyway, huh?
This is the one where you come out humming the title cards. Indeed the
self-parodying titles are the best thing about this little
Arbuckle/Keaton effort. They make us constantly aware that this is a
movie and refer to all sorts of dialogue parallel to the on-screen
action, involving the likes of the director, the extras, the amount of
time necessary to develop a story line, etc.
The bare plot line has revenuers Keaton (his ninth film appearance) and Arbuckle captured by bootleggers and of course, Arbuckle falls for the bootlegger's daughter.
Memorable bits include:
Arrival of the revenue car, with the "clown car" emptying of a score of revenuers; Fatty and Buster in turn almost falling from a cliff; The blowing up of a cabin and its re-assembly through film reversal; The bootleggers elegant soiree dinner; Arbuckle's escape by emulating The Count of Monte Cristo; Keaton and St. John chasing each other up a tree and down the other side.
It's barely amusing and not one of their greater efforts, despite the clever title writing, which might have been an after thought to spark up a tepid preview audience's review. The print used by KINO in their VHS and DVD release (Arbuckle and Keaton, Volume One) is dreadfully overexposed and barely watchable at times. As always the inimitable Alloy Orchestra contributes a dreadful score.
Several people have commented that only fragments remain of this film,
which seems completely inaccurate to me. The print I've seen many times
(it's my 8-year-olds favorite of all of Keaton's films) has a complete
story from beginning to end, runs as long as most 2-reelers, and never
seems to jump more than a couple of frames. The print is in bad shape
*visually*, but it seems pretty much all there to me.
In any event, it's a lovely film for the time, with Arbuckle and Keaton both simply wonderful. The funniest gag (at least to me and my 8-year-old) is the variation on the old clown car gag, where Keaton opens the door to a standard sedan and 49 guys get out (I counted)! Keaton's famed athleticism is well evident, but I was surprised at how strong Arbuckle was, as well. He tosses Alice Lake into the river as though she weighed twenty pounds. Arbuckle's great foil Al St. John (n mean athlete himself) is prominently figured and has a great chase sequence up and down a tree with Keaton while they both (for unknown but surreal reasons) pretend to be monkeys. The acknowledgment throughout the film that they are making a movie is funny and ices the cake of this primitive but very funny film.
The print of this silent comedy short starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Buster Keaton exists only in fragments today and that's what I saw on the Image Entertainment DVD of "The Best Arbuckle-Keaton Collection". In fact, the self-referential tone that other reviewers mentioned in their comments seemed to not to have been in what I watched. There are still a few funny gags that were presented like when Buster gets the men out of the car, there are a way lot more than what you'd expect of them coming out and it all seems to be in one continuous shot. Then there's the Buster-almost-falls-from-cliff-before-Fatty-becomes-the-almost-victim setup the was also good though this version seemed to have a few unintentional jump cuts due to overuse of film stock. After that, what I saw was a little confusing though the title cards and some more decent gags helped a little. So, according what I just watched, Moonshine is worth a look.
Fatty and Buster travel into the woods to break up a moonshine ring but are captured by the rednecks. Only fragments of this short are known to exist, which is a shame because what's available is pretty funny. Fatty staging his suicide is the highlight of what's available.
Bell Boy, The (1918)
** (out of 4)
Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton play bell boy's at a lavish hotel where trouble is always happening. Not too many laughs here, although there are some good stunts involving an elevator as well as a nice scene where a bearded Satan looking guy is transformed into other people by a haircut.
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