Very little of this Billy West comedy from 1918 is known to survive today: only a forty-second fragment in which Leo White instructs a half dozen girls (including a very young and conventionally coifed Leatrice Joy) in a gym class, using Billy as a saw horse for their gymnastics. Billy's playing of the scene indicates some mild sexual anxiety, which seems funny and perfectly human to me.
Perhaps there are reviews extant of this movie that make it apparent what this movie was about, or perhaps the production company's records have survived. Or perhaps they haven't. While the survival rate of movies from this era would seem to be more than adequate -- hundreds of movies survive from 1918 in one form or another -- they are actually, very poor. Thousands of movies were produced, some good, some bad, and even those that survive are frequently in poor shape or, as in this case, fragmentary. And as they vanish into the maelstrom of dust, goo and fire that is the fate of celluloid, we lose another piece of our history.
Perhaps we can do without yet another movie by Billy West doing his rip-off of Chaplin, just as we can do without all the scrolls lost in the library of Alexandria. But still, it would be nice to have them. If some odd chance has brought you to this page, I urge you to do what you can to preserve these old movies. Even if it is only looking at this fragment on a DVD: try THE LARGER WORLD OF LAUREL AND HARDY from Looser than Loose. They're on the Internet, where you're likely reading this.
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