Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Marcel Perez Collection

Robinet Is Jealous (1914)

My boundless love of silent film comedy made it impossible for me to resist purchasing The Marcel Perez Collection.  The collection includes ten short films starring and directed by the funny and clever Marcel Perez.

Robinet makes a tour of Italy cycling (1912)
The first five films were produced in Italy between 1911 and 1914.  European entertainers played a dominant role in the early history of film comedy.  Perez stands out among his vastly talented peers by combining the expressiveness and charm of Max Linder with the goofiness and aggressiveness of AndrĂ© Deed.

Robinet is a Real American (1914)

The best of the DVD's Italian films is Robinet is Loved Too Much By His Wife (1912).  At the start of the film, Perez expresses his growing frustration with his overly attentive wife.  His wife has, for all of her care and affection, become an annoyance to him.  The worst part of having his wife cling to him is that he is unable to enjoy his occasional dalliances with other fair ladies.  French and Italian comedies of the period were more liberal on the subject of adultery than American comedies.  A charming, likable fellow could breezily cheat on his wife and the filmmakers would not find it necessary to have the character punished for his actions.  It makes this type of film seem, by modern standards, subversive.

Robinet Is Jealous (1914)

The remaining five films were produced in the United States between 1916 and 1921.  A Bathtub Elopement (1916), which was filmed in Florida, is a curious effort by Perez.  The filmmaker, who had specialized in European boulevard farces, was trying his best to approximate the rural comedies that were popular in the United States at the time.  Any comprehensive study of special effects in film comedy should include an examination of A Busy Night (1916), which uses split-screen photography along with clever editing and staging to feature Perez in sixteen different roles.  I regard this film so highly for its technical aspects that I wrote about it at length in my last book, Eighteen Comedians of Silent Film.

The American comedies of this group are longer and better developed.  In You're Next (1919), Perez is tossed out of a boarding house due to unpaid rent.  Police arrive on the scene when they learn that Perez's furniture is blocking traffic.  The genial officers take pity on the gregarious evictee and allow him take up residence in one of their jail cells.

Perez means to bring levity to the jail by banging out a lively tune on his piano.  Men and women are released from their holding cells for a merry dance party.  The most amusing part of the scene occurs when Perez has to greet the jail's unnerving collection of robbers and murderers, including a notorious "mother-in-law strangler."  The women look even rougher than the men.  Perez swallows hard when a sturdy little gal named Baby Lobster gives him a flirtatious wink.  But, because the inmates are more interested in a breakout than a ballad, Perez's effort to create frivolity only succeeds in creating a riot.  Good fellowship has its limits.

Later, Perez meets up with a pretty young woman (Dorothy Earle) who has also been evicted from her home.  Earle, who was Perez's wife, adds a great deal of charm to the comedian's American films.  It is surprising that the actress didn't work outside of the Perez series. 

The picture quality of these restored prints is exceptional.  I have, in my study of silent comedy films, seen so much terribly degraded prints that it is a relief to enjoy prints of this high quality.

I have been interested in Perez's work for the last five years.  It was not that I sought out his films at first.  The truth is that my introduction to Perez came about by mistake.  I was conducting research on AndrĂ© Deed when I came upon a film on YouTube that, according to the poster's description, featured Deed as a novice aviator.  The aviator, who is as clumsy as he is cocky, tears across the Paris skyline in a fish-shaped aircraft.  The film was imaginative and it was funny.  I later learned from Cole Johnson, a major authority on silent film comedy, that the errant aviator who made me laugh as he smashed up the City of Love was in fact played by Perez.  Cole sent me other Perez comedies that he had in his collection.  I will always be grateful to Cole for his generous support of my books and his kind efforts to better educate me on the subject of silent film comedy.  I benefited greatly from the photos that he contributed to my Lloyd Hamilton biography and my Funny Parts book, but I also valued the encouragement that he provided (always with affection and good humor) and the advice that he provided (always with knowledge and attitude).  I make a point to say this because, on January 23, Cole Johnson passed away.  I could not help but think of this good man as I was watched Marcel Perez, as clumsy and cocky as ever, create mayhem in the comedies featured on this DVD.

Love gave strength to Robinet (1914 )

Other highlights from the DVD:

Robinet is Jealous features Perez being subject to a violent rubdown (much like Chaplin would later experience in his 1917 Mutual comedy The Cure).

Perez secretly pursues a suspected spy while disguised as a pile of trash in Camouflage (1918).

Perez gets a job at a film studio by imitating Chaplin in You're Next (1919).

Perez plays a beaten-down husband in Sweet Daddy (1921).  As he admires the image of a beautiful woman featured on a billboard, the image magically comes to life.  Perez remained a fantasist throughout his career. 

This is the box cover to The Marcel Perez CollectionClick here to purchase.

I also recommend this biography of Perez written by Steve Massa.  Click here to purchase.

From the press release: "DVD has 10 rare comedy shorts. . . sourced from the Library of Congress and EYE FIlmmuseum seen in new digital transfers and with new musical scores by Ben Model, who also produced the DVD.  The 100-page book has more than 50 rare photos from Perez's films."

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