The Marcel Perez Collection
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Perhaps the best silent film comedian whom no one's ever heard of is Marcel Perez. Part of the first generation of screen clowns, his career began in 1900 and flourished until 1928. During that time he helped create the ground rules for the genre in Europe and continued to refine the basics in America. An international favorite, Perez was, along with Max Linder, one of the few direct links between European and American silent comedy, and made over 200 starring shorts. The obscurity that he's fallen into today is due to the scarcity of his surviving work combined with the gypsy-like way he traveled through early screen comedy — constantly renaming himself and his screen character. For the first time, a comprehensive selection of Perez's films has been gathered together. Ten films — five made in Italy and five from America — have been carefully chosen from the collections of the Library of Congress and the EYE Filmmuseum (Netherlands), most of them from the only known surviving print. Presented in new HD digital transfers and with new scores by Ben Model, this DVD collection provides a loving and long overdue second look at this original and most neglected of silent clowns. The Films: ROBINET IN LOVE WITH A SINGER (1911) ROBINET'S WHITE SUIT (1911) MADEMOISELLE ROBINET (1912) ROBINET IS LOVED TOO MUCH BY HIS WIFE (1912) ROBINET IS JEALOUS (1914) A BATHTUB ELOPEMENT (1916) A BUSY NIGHT (1916) CAMOUFLAGE (1918) YOU'RE NEXT (1919) SWEET DADDY (1921) new piano scores composed and performed by Ben Model. B&W – 120 minutes. Not rated. NTSC. Region 0. Produced for video by Ben Model, Undercrank Productions. Films curated by Steve Massa and Ben Model. Musical scores 2015 by Ben Model, all rights reserved. *** Be sure to buy the book, Marcel Perez: The International Mirth-Maker, by Steve Massa. An essential companion to the DVD, it contains a thoroughly researched biography, an overview of Marcel Perez's career and films, and also a detailed filmography and more than 50 rare images from Perez's films.
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In recent years, however, film historians Ben Model and Steve Massa have labored to bring the surviving work of Marcel Perez back into public view. They have sponsored a number of film screenings, at the Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere. Mr. Massa devoted a chapter to Perez in his silent comedy tome Lame Brains and Lunatics, and this chapter has recently been updated and expanded into a book entitled Marcel Perez: The International Mirth-Maker. And now, happily, a representative sampling of comedies, beautifully restored, have become available on DVD, thanks to the tireless efforts of Messrs. Model & Massa.
The disc is split into two sections. The first represents Perez's European origins, with five shorts made in Italy between 1911 and 1914, while the second part represents his American output with five shorts made for various companies between 1916 and 1921. My favorites include Robinet is Jealous (1914), which highlights Perez's impressive physicality and energy; A Busy Night (1916), in which, thanks to remarkable camerawork, Perez plays multiple roles, years ahead of Buster Keaton and Lupino Lane; Camouflage (1918), which features some laugh-out-loud sight gags; and Sweet Daddy (1921), a crazy farce that plays like a live action Tex Avery cartoon.
The prints generally look quite good, considering their age, and all are backed by Mr. Model's lively and inventive piano scores. (Meanwhile, Mr. Massa's book makes the ideal source for background information.) This disc is a pleasant surprise for silent comedy buffs, especially the ones who think they've seen it all, and that there's nothing new to be discovered. I'm pleased to report that The Marcel Perez Collection proves them wrong.