Top critical review
Perhaps Mr. Merton should have stayed quiet on the subject
19 December 2012
I recently caught some clips of the Paul Merton's 'Silent Clowns' show that focused on the likes of Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. I have to say that that show appears to be far more useful a guide to the world of silent comedies than this book is.
Initially, I was hooked- reading about the vaudevillian days and the acts that grew up on the stage and evolved their schtick in front of the cameras, but unfortunately Mr. Merton appears to run out of anything particularly interesting to say pretty quickly, and instead decides to describe a whole bunch of silent shorts and then features in exhaustive detail.
This would be okay, but if you have seen the films then it is a pointless exercise to have them retold to you gag by gag, scene by scene in this way. If, on the other hand, you haven't gotten around to seeing any of those early films yet then expect to have them spoiled in the driest, most humourless way possible.
It wouldn't be too bad if he just spoiled the odd Arbuckle short, but when he goes on to spoil films like The Kid or The General then that really is an act too far.
It is as if he has sat down with a pen and paper and just written down exactly what happened, maybe extrapolating with notes from other sources to flesh things out a little.
Truth be told, this is one of the most pointless books that I have ever read. I was constantly skipping over sections where he would yet again describe the films scene by scene, only to find that I was skipping through umpteen pages only to find perhaps only a paragraph of interesting trivia before he was telling me how yet another short film plays out, scene by scene.
Lazy Mr. Merton failed to engage me in any way shape or form with this book, which is a shame as I thought that it would be a nice introduction to a forgotten world which I am only just starting to explore for myself.
The approach is dry, and ironically humourless, and I am sure that if this wasn't penned by someone pretty famous then it would have never garnered any attention.
There are far better reads on the subject than this, and I cannot recommend it to anyone I'm afraid, unless perhaps you are someone who never intends to watch these films at all in which case why would you even want to pick this book up?
Pointless, and informative only in flashes- it gets two stars from me on the basis that the introduction is at least interesting. One to miss though really.