Thursday, October 05, 2023

Laurel & Hardy Year One: The Newly Restored 1927 Silents (2023 Flicker Alley blu-ray)

Laurel & Hardy Year One: The Newly Restored 1927 Silents (2023 Flicker Alley blu-ray). Cover photo from: The Battle of the Century. Ollie plants a banana peel in a scheme to collect Stan's insurance money, but when a pastry chef slips on it, events take a different turn.

Year of publication: 2023.


" Brand: Flicker Alley
Format: Blu-ray
Director: Fred L. Guiol, Clyde Bruckman, Frank Butler, Jess Robbins
Year: 1921-1927
Language: Silent (English Intertitles)
Length: 315 mins.
UPC: 6-17311-68839-3

Very few original negatives of the silent films of Laurel and Hardy survive, and the available elements scattered throughout the world are always mediocre or unwatchable. It took three years to gather all the surviving prints of these shorts, compare them shot by shot and give them the best digital restoration possible. Today, these invisible films look as young as they did 95 years ago. A world premiere for all the Laurel and Hardy fans.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy first appeared on film together in 1921, after an initial period in their careers spent apart. The two would formally team up in 1927 and found success by following a simple comic formula that displayed the hilariously ambitious and anarchic qualities of their joint personality. Laurel & Hardy: Year One, The Newly Restored 1927 Silents, as proudly presented by Flicker Alley and Blackhawk Films®, offers fans new and old the rare opportunity to observe the evolving partnership of the comedy team that would reach enormous popularity. Featuring all new restorations sourced from best available materials contributed by archives and collectors around the world restored by Blackhawk Films® and Lobster Films in Paris, this comprehensive deluxe Blu-ray 2-Disc collection features thirteen extant films produced in 1927 and two additional films from before they were officially a team. It includes new scores from some of the best silent film composers working today: Neil Brand, Antonio Coppola, Eric le Guen, and Donald Sosin.

The films included are:

The Lucky Dog (1921)
45 Minutes from Hollywood (1926)
Duck Soup (1927)
Slipping Wives (1927)
Love ‘em and Weep (1927)
Why Girls Love Sailors (1927)
With Love and Hisses (1927)
Sailors, Beware! (1927)
Do Detectives Think? (1927)
Flying Elephants (1928)
Sugar Daddies (1927)
The Second 100 Years (1927)
Call of the Cuckoo (1927)
Putting Pants on Philip (1927), and
The Battle of the Century (1927).

It is curated by film historians and Laurel and Hardy specialists; Randy Skretvedt, Richard W. Bann, Serge Bromberg, Eric Lange, and Ulrich Ruedel.

Arthur Stanley Jefferson for a time understudied Chaplin in England and the US. Meanwhile Oliver Norvell Hardy was a talented actor in comedies and melodramas, yet neither had reached the status of movie star. It became clear upon their teaming up that their contradictory physiques and personalities complimented each other perfectly. The team would go on to do many films together reaching wide acclaim, and eventually becoming nearly unanimously considered by film critics, scholars, and movie fans alike, the funniest comedy duo in film history.


Audio commentary tracks - For each film by historian and author Randy Skretvedt
Restoring Laurel & Hardy - A documentary by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange
Laurel & Hardy On-Location - A Video Essay by historian John Bengtson on selected location exteriors
Hats Off! (1927) - Slide Show presentation from this currently lost film
Multiple image galleries - Containing original publicity materials, press reviews, and rare production stills
Souvenir booklet - Featuring a new essay by historian Richard W. Bann on the Blackhawk Films Story and the company’s stewardship of the Laurel & Hardy film materials, a Collection Introduction by Serge Bromberg, and notes on each film by historian Randy Skretvedt
Additional musical scores - Soundtracks for the 1930s French re-releases of Slipping Wives, Why Girls Love Sailors, and Flying Elephants are presented here as alternate music tracks
Audio commentary track for The Battle of the Century - By historians Randy Skretvedt and Serge Bromberg
English SDH Subtitles "

AA: In 2014, in Peter von Bagh's last morning discussion at the Midnight Sun Film Festival, everything was turned upside down. Instead of Peter von Bagh interviewing Aki Kaurismäki, Aki interviewed Peter. Besides them offering their selections for the desert island film, they turned the question to the audience. My answer was: a Laurel & Hardy box set.

At the time, that meant the four fabulous Kinowelt / Studiocanal / Universal box sets (rereleased as a single box set in 2021). In Finland they were first released in 2010. In European editions, also the silents - their greatest films - were included.

Now Flicker Alley brings the Laurel & Hardy experience to a new level for contemporary viewers. All titles except The Lucky Dog were also included in the 2010 release, but they are superior here.

The Year One release includes seminal restorations of the key films Duck Soup and The Battle of the Century. An eye-popping treat is With Love and Hisses scanned from a first generation nitrate silent print discovered in 2022 by the English collector Dave Wyatt.

Among the beloved essential films is of course The Second 100 Years, the first film and immediately already the first masterpiece conceived for L&H as a comedy duo. Watching in this edition Putting Pants on Philip, the "foundation myth" of their first meeting, I am struck by the surrealist urge.

The missing film from 1927 is still Hats Off, presented here as it was in the 2010 box set as a slideshow of stills. It is obviously essential L&H material, in the territories of The Music Box and the escalation of retaliation narratives such as The Battle of the Century.

In With Love and Hisses it is amusing to discover a connection with Extase (tables turned: the nude male stars have to hide from female riders). In films such as the stone age spoof Flying Elephants there is an appealing erotic current. 

In 1927, several L&H films are actually James Finlayson vehicles (until Sugar Daddies), and there is also a Max Davidson vehicle (Call of the Cuckoo).

The wonderful Anita Garvin in full flapper mode is introduced here into the world of Laurel and Hardy. Also starring are Carlotte Mineau, Dorothy Coburn and Lupe Velez. My favourite actress in these films is Viola Richard, an exception from the norm of the L&H virago.

The superior visual quality does justice to the cinematography of George Stevens and his colleagues. It also helps to appreciate the nuances of the art of the mime at Hal Roach's "lot of fun". The rich variety of Hardy's camera looks has been analyzed by Charles Barr, among others.

Watching this blu-ray I become more aware of the register of Stan Laurel. There are remarkable reaction shots in Putting Pants on Philip (when kilt-wearing Stan's leg is measured by the tailor) and The Battle of the Century (when the policeman hits Stan severely on the head with his club). Laurel's reactions reach beyond comedy to real pain and suffering. The sense of hurt and agony, and wounded pride and dignity, introduces a disturbing dimension to what might otherwise be slapstick.

In this year of debate on ChatGPT* and the existential divide between man and machine I keep thinking about a typical Stan Laurel expression: like a newborn baby bewildered by the simple fact of existence or like someone who has just woken up from sleep as deep as the Mariana Trench. A being who still lingers in dream-time, a primordial state of existence. Human awareness, language, consciousness, thinking, intelligence, intention and the drive for knowledge emerge from the depths of such an infantile condition. Stan Laurel's comedy character can be seen as the antithesis of intelligence, but it takes exceptional intelligence to convey him. A key feature is a sense of wonder: the precondition of human intelligence, absent from a machine.

Flicker Alley's Laurel & Hardy Annales is about to become my selection for the desert island film.

* " ChatGPT, which stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, is a large language model-based chatbot developed by OpenAI and launched on November 30, 2022, which enables users to refine and steer a conversation towards a desired length, format, style, level of detail, and language. Successive prompts and replies, known as prompt engineering, are considered at each conversation stage as a context. " (Wikipedia, read on 8 Oct 2023).

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