Monday 21 April 2008

Troubles of a Grasswidower (1912)

When investigating slapstick comedy, it became quickly apparent that 1914 was something of a dividing line. Not everything after it was of quality but it seemed that everything before it sucked. 1914 was when Charlie Chaplin arrived, and over the course of no less than 35 short films that first year made the transition from godawful to innovative and groundbreaking. Since then I've been even more fascinated with what came before the little tramp. What were Chaplin's influences or did he just invent decent slapstick on his own out of nowhere?

Well apparently one of his influences, at least to the degree that he closed his studio for a day when he found out that Linder had died, was Frenchman Max Linder. Like Chaplin, Linder was very much in charge of his films, to the degree that in this one there's almost no input from anyone else. He's the star here, for a start, and he's almost the only one in the film. There are two women in it too, but only briefly, with Max being solo for most of the ten minute running time.

He also wrote and directed the short, being the first actor to ever be credited as a director too. He had been around since 1905 and by the time he and his wife killed themselves in 1925 in a joint suicide pact, he had made over 400 films. He is also widely considered the first international movie star, as well as the first to provide a recurring character and he even wrote or at least provided notes for the music. It certainly sounds like Chaplin must have been paying attention.

If Linder was so great though, he doesn't show it here. Troubles of a Grasswidower is simply there and it does almost nothing to elicit laughter. Max is the grasswidower of the title, someone who is separated from their spouse for however short a time. Our film has him attempting to do all those traditionally female tasks: cleaning the dishes, cooking dinner, making the bed etc and I'm sure it will be no surprise to find that he's pretty bad at all of them. Unfortunately he's not comedically bad, as say Buster Keaton would be to sidesplitting results a decade later. The film isn't bad either, merely there with the last section the best, but maybe that's enough. Even at an OK level, this easily surpasses any other comedy of this age that I've seen.

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