Integrative Arts 10

Farce and Mack Sennett


At this critical point we must pull a rescue, must save Maybel right? Who saves her? Our hero Charlie of course. But how? There's your snag, fellers-right there!

-Mack Sennett setting up a rookie writer to see if he had the keystone 'slant'... he did.


Information on Mack, Keystone Studios and Flying Pies

Harold Lloyd Web page

Mack Sennett on his disovery: Bing Crosby


Sennett, Mack (1880-1960)

American motion-picture producer and director, who made a significant contribution to silent films in the United States with the frenetic slapstick comedy that he introduced and perfected. Sennett was the film industry's first real producer, a versatile entrepreneur who recognized and encouraged talent and who created a systematic approach to production that yielded a large quantity of films.
Born Michael Sinnott in Danville, Quebec, Canada, he initially worked as a laborer, although he had ambitions to become a singer. He soon went to New York City, where he worked for a time in burlesque and as a Broadway chorus boy. In 1908 he began his film career at the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, working with director D. W. Griffith as an actor and scriptwriter. By 1910 he was also doing some directing. In 1912, with financial backing, he formed a new studio, Keystone, which rapidly became the industry leader in the production of slapstick comedy films, a genre that had originated in French silent films but was transformed by Sennett into a more complex art form, inventive and often even surrealistic. His particular style of comedy was largely a result of his superb comic timing (demonstrated most vividly in his chase scenes), a fondness for rude visual humor, and a willingness to improvise. Indeed, at the outset his films were mostly improvised farces with an endless stream of physical humor, often at the expense of the established social order—as with the antics of his popular Keystone Kops.
A discerning judge of talent, Sennett assembled a broad range of performers in his company, among them actor Mabel Normand (whom he had taken away from Biograph and with whom he had a close relationship for many years) and others who became major figures in silent comedy: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Edgar Kennedy, Slim Summerville, Harry Swain, Chester Conklin, and Ben Turpin. As the studio prospered, Sennett's films became longer and more carefully planned, other directors were brought in, and new series were added—notably the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties and the Kid Komedies (an early precursor of the Our Gang films). Released from the responsibilities of directing, Sennett devoted most of his time to administration and to editing, overseeing the final cut of all his films.
In 1915 Keystone was merged as an autonomous unit into the new Triangle Film Corporation, which united the talents of Sennett, D. W. Griffith, and American producer Thomas Ince. With more production funds at Sennett's disposal, his films became more commercial and varied; he even made some romantic comedies with actor Gloria Swanson. When Triangle folded in 1917, Sennett formed a new company, Mack Sennett Comedies, producing longer comedy short films and even a few feature-length films, usually with Normand or Turpin. The most memorable of Sennett's features, however, had been made earlier: Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914), which starred Marie Dressler, Mabel Normand, and the young Charlie Chaplin, who was discovered by Sennett in 1913. By 1923, when Sennett ceased to work independently and began the first of a series of associations with other organizations, his best films were behind him. However, he continued to have a keen eye for talent, launching the great comedian Harry Langdon during his stint with the international motion-picture production studio Pathé (1923-1929), making short films in sound with actors W.C. Fields and Bing Crosby at Paramount Pictures (1932-1935), and working with actor Buster Keaton in 1935 at Educational Pictures. During the course of his 25-year career, Sennett produced more than 1000 silent films and several dozen sound films. He retired in 1935 at the age of 55.
In 1937 Sennett was honored with a special Academy Award "for his lasting contribution to the comedy technique of the screen." His autobiography, King of Comedy, was published in 1954.

 


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