THE MARCEL PEREZ COLLECTION, Volume 2 – A DVD Review by John Strange
Late last year I was asked to review a DVD for a silent film, When Knighthood Was In Flower, that was being released by Undercrank Productions and Ben Model. Not only was the movie excellent but it connected me with Ben, an amazing composer who finds amazing silent films and composes new soundtracks for them.
This year he asked me to take a look at The Marcel Perez Collection, Volume 2. I had never heard of the man before the email. As I had not seen the first volume, Ben included it in my package. As I read up an Mr. Perez I found myself looking forward to seeing the films on the disks.
Marcel Perez was born in Madrid, Spain in 1884. He started he show business career in Paris, France as a circus clown. His early films were comedies made for Pathé Frères and Éclair. He got his start in directing on films with Ambrosio Films, an Italian film production and distribution company, around 1910.
During World War I, Perez moved to the United States where he continued to act in films until cancer cost him a leg in 1923. Throughout his time in the U.S. he directed many of his own shorts as well as several feature films.
He went by many names for his films including Marcel Fabre, Michel Fabre, Fernandea Perez, Manuel Fernández Pérez, Robinet, Tweedy, Tweedledum, and Twede-Dan. The one constant I found in all of the shorts on these two DVDs is the level of physical humor that Marcel was able to bring to the production. After watching the films I think his style of acting came from his days in clown face paint in the French circus.
After watching all of the films from both volumes (whose runtimes range from 4 to 21 minutes), I found that Marcel's brand of humor was similar to a lot of other classic comedians of the time. They had to be much more physical to get their story across to us. Their expressions and gestures were their way of presenting us with the story.
In The Marcel Perez Collection, Volume 1, all of the Italian entries star Marcel as Robinet. Robinet is someone who was in tune with his times. These films are somewhat similar in that his acting is very grandiose as all were in those days. All looked to have been shot in the same location so several of the scenes are similar. This was normal in those days as studios didn't build sets for each film but used sections of pre-built set as needed. The takeaway from these films is that Marcel's comedic timing was the center of each of them. These short films (ranging from 4 to 8 minutes, 1911 to 1914) are fun to watch.
Next comes a set of films from his days in America. They were made between 1907 and 1921. These are films where he was called Tweedledum "The International Mirth Maker", Twede-Dan, or Tweedy. In one, A Busy Night (1916), he plays 16 parts. He utilized several tricks to allow himself to be in the same room with himself that are still used today.
These films employed more slapstick and much more physical humor. They were also made in a wider range of locales which ranged from farms to the big city (though you will recognize a few locations popping up in multiple films). They, too, are fun to watch. All except for Sweet Daddy where hen-packed Tweedy is actually knocked out a window by his wife to hang from the chain attached to the collar around his neck! This one got a bit too intense to really be funny to me.
Some these films have damage that the restorers were not able to correct. One of the films, Camouflage, is missing its first reel. Others are missing title cards or a few (or more) minutes of action. The American films were made available to the film company by the Library of Congress.
Finally, we come to the films in The Marcel Perez Collection, Volume 2. Following the release of the first volume, Ben and his team found several more (nine to be exact) films by Marcel Perez. These films are all in rougher shape that those in the first volume and many are missing title cards which were used to give us information and dialogue during the film (where scripts were found, these cards were reproduced). Several are truly rough prints due to damage from nitrate decomposition. The film stock used in these early films was simply never meant to last this long.
Like the first volume, these are all restored films that had digital copies made from the original 35mm prints. These films were sourced from the Library of Congress and the Museum of Modern Art. The eight films from 1916 to 1923 have not been seen by the general public since their original theater runs. One, Friday the 13th (1923), has only 2 minutes surviving to tell us its story.
These films are much more varied that the first volume. I think they give us a better idea of Marcel Perez's abilities as an actor and comedian in this era of over-the-top performances. If you have both volumes (and you should) then take a moment and compare the styles of the earliest with the older films. You will get a good idea of the growth the industry was experiencing as the styles of both acting and comedy improved.
These were tougher to watch due to the missing pieces and deterioration but still thoroughly enjoyable. I have two favorites on this disk. The first is Oh! What a Day! (1918) which introduced Babette and stars Perez and Tweedy/Twede in a nice comedic love story of boy loves girl from afar / boy has a BAD day wooing her. The second is Chickens in Turkey (1919) for its imaginative storyline and use of "foreign" locales in a day when that just wasn't the norm!
The films in this compilation are full of the slapstick you would expect from the era. Marcel Perez proves his clown training gave him a leg up on the physicality of the medium. He is slapped, hit, falls, pulls six inch nails from his heel, hangs by his neck, and so many other feats that were not computer generated as they would have been today. There were no green screens to place him in peril, it was all shot on film either in a studio or outside on location.
The music you hear on the disk with each film truly is a good portion of the reason you will find yourself enjoying these films, just as it was when they first played in theaters. Though they were silent, these films were never expected to be viewed without the musical accompaniment I don't know if any of the sheet music for these films survived but Ben's efforts to re-score the music for each film is spot on for the accompaniments used in that era.
Robinet in Love With a Singer (1911)
Robinet's White Suit (1911)
Mademoiselle Robinet (1912)
Robinet is Loved Too Much By His Wife (1912)
Robinet is Jealous (1914)
The Near-Sighted Cyclist (1907, Eclipse) – 5 Min
Some Hero (1916, Eagle) – 12 Min
Lend Me Your Wife (1916, Eagle) – 20 Min
A Scrambled Honeymoon (1916, Eagle) – 10 Min
Oh! What a Day (1918, Jester) – 19 Min
Chickens in Turkey (1919, Jester) – 12 Min
Pinched (1921), Wild (1921, Reelcraft) – 7 Min
Wild (1921, Reelcraft) – 20 Min
Friday the 13th (fragment) (1923, Sanford) – 2 Min
Selig Rating Scale:
BRAND NEW: Should add to your DVD collection at any cost
SALE ITEM: Worth owning, but try to catch it a sale
SECOND HAND: Plan to get it, but wait to buy it used
RENTAL: Worth taking a look at, but not owning
COASTER: Pick it up at a garage sale and use it for drinks
PULL!: Makes a great Trap Shooting target