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Eighteen Comedians of Silent Film Paperback – August 25, 2012
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by Anthony Balducci. 2012
I had been anticipating this being a 5 star book.
A book on the unsung heroes of the silent comedy era is a topic dear to my heart. There have been at least two books on the subject that have become classics in the field of Silent Comedy writing.
The first was the seminal Clown Princes and Court Jesters by Kalton C. Lahue and Sam Gill published in 1970.
Even with the information available to them back in those pre-internet days the book shines with excellent writing that makes each silent comedian come alive. Lahue and Gill found the essence of what the various film comics were and wrote about them beautifully. The book is not out dated in the least as I can attest because I read it after I had read this book.
The other masterwork on the subject that I have found is the more recent and excellent book by Steve Massa, Lame Brains and Lunatics. That book is written with a wonderful sense of humor and it is so well done that I have gone back to it numerous times over the last year to get some info as I turn up these films. I also a get few chuckles in re-reading some of the witty passages therein.
I can't get enough literature on the lesser clowns of the 15 year or so span of silent comedy shorts.
That's why I was eagerly anticipating getting a copy of this book. I wanted to like it so much, but there are too many things that irked me about it. I have listed them below.
1. Endless Synopsizes. I would say better than 80% of the book consists of plot descriptions. Since these have plots that are almost interchangeable at times, I was beginning to feel that I was reading the same 4 or 5 descriptions over and over.
2. After wetting our appetites to see some of these films, the author gives us no venue by which to find them. I wanted to hear about DVD releases of some of these. I know a lot of them are out there (Alpha of all people are doing a splendid job) but there is no mention of places like LOOSER THAN LOOSE PUBLISHING and their extensive releases of silent comedy gems, for example.
I am assuming that most of these are in archives where the average Joe such as myself will never be able to see them. Sure he describes them, but the author's writing is a bit amateurish and the mind wanders after say the 100th plot description. Very quickly these descriptions just go in one ear and out the other. I want to SEE these films and not just have somebody tell me he has seen them!
It's like the guy who will take hours of your time giving you every minute detail (which are impossible to remember) on how to drive somewhere you don't even intend to go!
3. The photos are not very well produced, but that is not the problem. Some of the 18 comics are in stills that are long shot or in groups with other actors. (eg. page 209. Good thing I know what Larry Semon looks like!). Some have nice portraits which will help me to recognize the actor, but the worst offense of all is that some of them have NO photo at all! The first chapter alone discusses 3 comedians. There is a photo of NONE of them. What does Big Boy look like? Well we have to rely on the author's telling us what he looks like as he is another without an image of some kind. In fact now that I am leafing back through the book, I would say that MOST of the comics are not represented with a photo.
4. The writing is monotonous as I had mentioned, but the book seems not to be written for anyone who has an eye for style or flowing sentences. I can tell the author loves these films, but he just doesn't have a way of writing that makes the reading enjoyable. It becomes more like a task. There are some typos, but that never bothers me.
5. This is the absolute worst flaw in the book.
I figured that by now everyone knew about F GWYNPLAINE MAC INTYRE.
I capitalize his name (a pseudonym apparently) because it may help people to spot him.
He was an obnoxious and dangerous man who would make believe he has seen a film that he never could possibly have seen. He is deceased now, but his progeny lives on here at Amazon and on the Internet Movie Database with the countless entries written by him still being allowed to stand. He's obviously still leading film scholars down the wrong path and, worse, put false information out there for future film students. Dangerous as I said.
Even worse; when this lunatic finally decided to off himself, he also tried to take all the innocent people living in his apartment building along with him.
He set fire to his living quarters in a densely populated area in hopes of burning the building down. Thankfully this crazy man only managed to kill himself. One could have called him a mass murderer if he had succeeded. I believe some people had to leave their homes because of smoke damage. As I said he was dangerous in more ways than one.
He died a few years before this book was written and published and by now just about anyone who has stumbled over his writings knows enough to skip over them as being the ravings of a madman. I wish there was some way to have all his posts removed from the Internet Movie Database and Amazon so that they won't spread into books such as this.
Poor Mr. Balducci was obviously not aware of any of this. The book quotes F GWYNPLAINE MAC INTYRE at least twice, maybe more. I stopped reading it at that point. Now that F GWYNPLAINE MAC INTYRE is in print, one hopes that his insanity will not be used for future research. Dangerous.
As I mentioned, the book does have some good info, but most of it is also covered well in the two excellent books that I have mentioned.
It's a shame because I am a big fan of Lloyd Hamilton and the only book on that great comedian is also written by this same author. I would love to read it and report back that it is worth the money, but, unlike this one, which at least has a reasonable price tag, that Hamilton book is way out of my price range.
I would like to say that the author here has his heart in the right place and I do see his love for these films equals mine. There is some info in this book that is exclusive to it as well.
I feel like an awful heel writing this because if I ever did find myself in the author's presence, I'm sure we would get along splendidly (provided I use an alias!). Both our surnames end in "cci" for god's sake!
Still I unfortunately felt the need to warn the prospective consumers about the serious flaws here, that for me at least, have left a very bad taste in my mouth.