Academic journal article Film & History

Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett

Academic journal article Film & History

Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett

Article excerpt

Simon Louvish. Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett. Faber and Faber, 2003. 352 pages; $25.00.

Canadian-born Michael Sinnott

A pleasant read, with photocopies or excerpts of partial scripts, studio synopses, contemporary print cartoons, etc., randomly scattered about. If you are interested in a bio of the man featured in the title, as well as those "clowns" most closely associated with Mack Sennett's inimitable film career-such as Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, Ben Turpin and Harry Langdon-then this is a nice overview of the subject. Although there has been a fair amount of original research using the Sennett papers and a considerable effort made to nail down the often elusive details of Sennett's life prior to entering the film industry, Louvish's book is still very much a synthesis indebted to the work of other scholars.

The reviewer does take issue, though, with the title-Keystone. Perhaps it was naive of me, but I expected to be enlightened re the individual character "types" and/or ethnic comedy, cinematic style, origins, historical context, and so on, of the classic silent film phenom immortalized under the rubric of The Keystone Kops. As I plowed through a chronicle of the formative years of Canadian-born Michael Sinnott, only later to be known as Mack Sennett, his close lifelong relationship with his "mamma," his ambiguous relationship with leading lady (and early film superstar) Mabel Normand, the now rather tired stories related to the William Desmond Taylor murder and the Fatty Arbuckle "orgy death" scandal, as well as the author's self-confessed speculations upon Sennett's sexual preferences, I was tossed only a few disparate scraps of information about the titular comedie police officers and their goateed Chief of visual mayhem-Ford Sterling.

Do not throw the dust jacket away-it is one of only a couple of frame enlargements connected to the book that portray The Kops in one of their frenetic (often slow-cranked/speeded-up) moments of crazed action. If you are searching for any kind of analysis of what made the trademark Keystone knock-about humor so special re the "science" of comedy or in what way it tapped into or reflected the needs of the audience(s) for whom this classic subgenre was originally designed and presented, Louvish forces his reader to do a lot of intensive and ultimately not-fully-satisfying sifting through this 300+ page monograph. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.