If you can find a copy, try watching “Charley Bowers: The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius”. Fortunately it IS currently available from Netflix and is an absolute must for fans of silent comedy. As the title of the DVD set implies, Bowers is pretty much forgotten today–even though his silents are among the best shorts of the era–rivaling those of Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin in quality and creativity. Now despite placing his name beside these great comics, Bowers’ style was really nothing like any of these three men. No, he was truly an original as he integrated stop-motion cinematography into more traditional silent comedies–and wrote, directed and starred in many of these films. And, the results were often brilliant (such as in “There It Is!”–and there’s a link to the film above). However, very sadly, very few of his films remain today and so you’ll just have to content yourself with the DVD set as well as this other film currently posted on YouTube. I’d like to say more about the man, but the bottom line is that you should just see these films–they speak for themselves. Do yourself a favor–give it a look.
I have always loved silent films. Even as a child, I remember watching them whenever they came on TV. I even remember going to an honest to goodness theater to see Harold Lloyd’s “The Freshman” (1925). No, I am NOT 100 years old–heck, I’m not quite even half that. I just have a love for early films. Now I could go on and on about the early comics like Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd or even Charley Bowers (that’s a new one–perhaps I’ll talk more about him in a future post). However, this post is about a different comic genius of the age….Felix the Cat! Now before you think I’ve lost my mind (again), hear me out first. The Felix cartoons you grew up watching were probably NOT the ones I am talking about at all. I grew up with the stupid Trans-Lux version made in the late 1950s. There also were other re-inventions of Felix in the 1930s and 1970s and 80s. No, I am talking about the ORIGINAL Felix cartoons–from about 1919 to about 1928. Back when Felix was a silent film star. In these films, Felix rarely was normal in any way. In fact, the cartoons seemed a bit inspired by Salvador Dali–weirdly surreal and a very mischievous leading man!
Of all the Felix silents I have seen, so far my favorite is “Comicalamities’–a genius of a film from 1928. In it, Felix repeatedly violates every rule for cartoon characters and the results are amazing and refreshing…yes, refreshing. He is not some boring nice-guy (like he was in the three Van Beuren Studios Felix the Cat shorts) but crazy, wild and a little bit of a jerk! My advice is to click on the link above and watch “Comicalamities’ yourself. Go ahead, I dare you. Then feel free to let me know what you think about this forgotten comic genius.