Bringing joy and laughter to an inevitably grey, grim and rainswept Bristol, next year’s fourteenth annual Slapstick Festival gala at the Colston Hall on January 26 serves up a triple-bill of classic silent comedy.
Top of the bill is the 1924 Buster Keaton masterpiece Sherlock Jr., in which Old Stoneface plays a cinema projectionist and aspiring detective who’s accused of a crime he did not commit. This one recently made 18th place in a BBC critics’ poll of the 100 greatest comedies of all time. That makes it officially funnier than Blazing Saddles and Withnail and I.
Summarising the film’s enduring appeal, David Ehrlich of Indiewire commented: “Whether performing the greatest banana peel slip in cinema history or running across the top of a moving train like he’s on a treadmill, Keaton always keeps his cool.
“His greatest trick, however, was one of his safest. Jumping through the cinema screen like a proto-James Turrell, Keaton’s bumbling gumshoe manages to solve the mystery of cinema’s fundamental appeal: the movies come into our world as much we go into theirs.”
Sherlock Jr. will be accompanied by the world premiere of a Guenter A. Buchwald new semi-improvised score, performed by the European Silent Screen Virtuosi (and members of Bristol Ensemble).
It wouldn’t be Slapstick without Charlie Chaplin. This year’s main supporting feature is a 100th anniversary screening of 1918’s A Dog’s Life, in which the little tramp plays second fiddle to an adorable mutt named Mutt (rechristened Scraps for the movie) as they team up in the struggle to survive in the big city.
At 40 minutes, this was Chaplin’s longest film and biggest hit to date. The main challenge he faced was finding the right dog. He auditioned a dachshund, a Pomeranian, a poodle, a Boston bull terrier and an English bulldog before deciding that he was better off with a common or garden mongrel.
The Slapstick screening will be accompanied by a 15-piece Bristol Ensemble orchestra performing Chaplin’s own score to the film.
There’s another comedy animal in the last film in the programme: Laurel and Hardy’s final silent short from 1929: Angora Love.
Produced by the great Hal Roach, it has the hapless duo adopted by a stray goat, which causes them no end of problems when they try to sneak it past their landlord, who’s alerted by the strong hircine aroma.
Naturally, our heroes decide to bathe the beast, whereupon all hell breaks loose.
The show also includes a live performance by award-winning silent visual comedy duo The Kagools. With a celebrity guest host yet to be revealed, the 2018 gala promises to be another winner from the Slapstick team.
Advance tickets are available at www.colstonhall.org/shows/silent-comedy-gala.
Slapstick 2018 runs from January 26-28. We’ll have full details of the rest of the programme as soon as it’s announced.