Marcel Perez is a legendary figure in the annals of silent film comedy, and he is also utterly obscure. Now New Yorkers (and, of course, tourists) will have an exceedingly rare chance to watch a selection of his hilarious, raucous and groundbreaking early films in an audience this Saturday (and it’s free).
Born in Spain in 1884, he started his cinematic journey at the very dawn of film, in the early 1900s, captivating audiences with his anarchic, goofy presence and fearless and dangerous comedy. His career trajectory was meteoric, spanning nearly three decades and traversing continents. Initially honing his craft in Europe (at one point, he was a circus clown), Perez played an instrumental role in defining the nascent genre of film comedy. He was among the first to explore the potential of daredevil slapstick humor on-screen — among many others, he worked with a young and unknown Oliver Hardy — laying the groundwork for future generations of comedians.
In the early 20th century, Perez made the bold decision to relocate to the United States, drawn by the burgeoning opportunities in the nascent but growing American film industry. This transatlantic migration marked a pivotal moment in his career, allowing him to further refine his comedic sensibilities and expand his reach to new audiences. Collaborating with with a number of early studios, Perez quickly established himself as a versatile talent, adept at raucous and fearless physical comedy. His comedic persona, characterized by its endearing charm and mischievous antics, won over audiences, earning him a dedicated though fickle following.
The screening event this Saturday serves as a testament to Perez’s enduring legacy, and pays homage to the rich heritage of silent film comedians who are forgotten today. Through a selection of Perez’s best surviving films, including The Short-Sighted Cyclist, Robinet Too Much Love By His Wife, Some Hero, Oh! What A Day, and Sweet Daddy, audiences will have the chance to witness firsthand the genius of a comedic pioneer, whose anarchic sensibility seems more contemporary than ever. Many of his films are available to buy on disc, but it is always better to see this kind of thing with a crowd.
A Reckless Daredevil
Of The Short-Sighted Cyclist, Perez expert Ben Model wrote, “Perez’s falls, stunts and flips over tables and into ditches are breathtaking, and they build as the film progresses. Even more remarkable is the fact that they are performed as the result of riding a bicycle headlong into a storefront, horse-drawn-trolley, crowds of people and more.”
Accompanied by live piano accompaniment by Model, the event also features an introductory session and Q&A segment, led by Model and fellow historian Steve Massa, who offer invaluable insights into Perez’s life and contributions to the art of cinema. In celebrating Marcel Perez, we not only honor his comedic brilliance but also the many other forgotten innovators of early film.
Sat, Feb 10, 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm, free (no reservation required), at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 111 Amsterdam Avenue, between West 64th and 65th Street, Lincoln Square, in Manhattan.
Plus, A Reminder of the Forgotten John Gilbert
John Gilbert was one of the greatest leading me of the silent era, and one of its finest actors, but his career mostly imploded with the advent of sound, mostly due to his alcoholism, not (as frequently rumored) because of a bad speaking voice.
His speaking voice, in fact, was beautiful.
Proof of this can be found in the sound film Queen Christina, a 1933 historical drama starring Greta Garbo as the enigmatic and unconventional Swedish queen who navigates political intrigue and personal freedom amidst the pressures of her royal duties and romantic entanglements (with Gilbert). Garbo was Gilbert’s former true life lover, and they had starred in many films during the the silent era. Queen Christina was their last together; it is a great film, with a great performance by Gilbert (and also, of course, Garbo).
Thu, Feb 8, 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, free (no reservation required), Columbus Library, 742 10th Ave, Manhattan.