Wednesday, April 13

Teevee With The Sound Off

The worst thing about Turner Classic Movies is their theme business. I don't understand artificial excitement ("Every Tuesday this month: Movies About Twine"). But then, y'know, I'd rather just have the three day weekend and skip the holiday, too. The worst is August, when the do the star-of-the-day bit and you get to see just how many clunkers Kate Hepburn made.

But this month it's comedies, which is a very good thing. Buster Keaton two-reelers on the other late night. I'm a lifelong Buster fan. I'm not sure how far back it goes or where it came from--he had a teevee show in the early days, but that was before my time. But I distinctly remember The Great Stone Face from early childhood, especially "One Week", where he and his new bride (Buster frequently had a new bride) try to build a prefabricated house. Unlike Chaplin's music-hall artiface, Keaton's movies seem somehow personal, a celuloid precursor to "Borges and I", small obsessions turned into stagey mannerisms which in this case are actually on the stage.

I do remember where I first saw the Marx Brothers: the afternoon movies hosted by Frances Farmer. Frances ended her days in Indianapolis after running out of money doing summer stock. She was notoriously drunk, they say (I was just a kid; all grown-ups seemed loopy to me). Nobody knew what she'd gone through until she got cancer and her largely fictional autobiography came out. There's a former local "personality" who was supposedly her close friend I see in the grocery store from time to time. We make small talk. I think he used to be happy for the attention, but now this grizzled prospector probably reminds him of how long ago it's been. I've always been careful not to say, "I watched you when I was a kid." Never asked him about Frances, though. Maybe someday I will.


Anonymous said...

i was in grade school during the early 1960s and lived in a small town outside indianapolis.

i watched frances farmer's show maybe two or three times but turned to something else, probably oriented toward kids.

her actions on tv -- i guess she was drunk a lot when she was on camera -- scared me, honestly. she acted like she had had a very severe stroke.

i felt a mix of pity for her condition and fear of her.

iirc, most of the movies were oriented toward women. that is, no marx bros/laurel and hardy/westerns and like that. i believe that was another reason why i changed the channel.

thanx for the reminder, doghouse.

Alex said...

Have you ever seen Samuel Beckett's Film? It's a short movie, the only one he ever made (though in his later years he directed a number of very short works for television), staring an aged Buster Keaton. It's completely incomprehensible, of course, unless you read Beckett's "treatment" (the first thing to know is that it takes as its theme a theory laid out by a philosopher whose name I can't remember: Esse est percepti, or “to be is to be perceived,” and Keaton plays a man who doesn't particularly want to be).

Not quite as funny as "Steamboat Bill, Jr" but an odd and interesting pairing of artists.

James Briggs Stratton "Doghouse" Riley said...

Alex, I saw Film many years ago. I'd quite forgotten it, I should run it down again. I've never read Beckett's treatment. I just remember, as always, feeling an enormous affection for the guy, just as I do for him in the "waxworks" scene in Sunset Boulevard,which was supposedly meant as a sick joke. It wasn't until years later I saw him in those Frankie and Annette movies. I love him even there.

Harry, my recollection, which may be faulty, is that Frances Farmer Presents played a wider range of movies, and there was something on the rival channel 8 called "Milady's Matinee" (god help us) which went more for the soap bubbles and didn't have a host. It may be a hopeless mishmash for me now, but it was Frances I watched.

Anonymous said...

Growing up in Cincinnati Ohio I watched Buster Keaton shorts on saturday mornings. I believe on the UHF channel (now Fox or UPN). Also, during the afterschool hours we had a show on called
Hattie the Witch, sorta like Kukla Fran and Ollie, that also played old B&W shorts if I remember correctly. But I think they stuck with King World Productions which did not include Keaton's work. King World had the Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy etc.
The only one that really stuck with me is Buster. I have a framed german movie poster from 'Go West' on my dining room wall. It was called 'Der Cowboy' in Germany.