Back Stage dir. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle
By Christopher Mulrooney
Stagehands take apart the sleeper’s room, he’s backstage at the Hickville Bijou, a variety theatre (“Un souffle disperse les limites du foyer,” says Rimbaud).
Outside, a poster for Our Wives shows three well-dressed women standing around a table and conversing animatedly, their husbands stand apart gesturing toward them. Arbuckle splashes paste on a wife, for a fresh poster. A small boy in the way gets his bottom pasted to the husbands, he strikes Arbuckle, who runs his paste brush over the boy’s face. Both discover the paste is edible. With much of the work done, Arbuckle removes the boy, leaving the seat of his trousers behind. Another poster of an actress serves as a wrap.
Keaton inside receives a performer who demands the star dressing-room, in front of a sign that warns, “In Bowing, Bow as Low as Possible—You Can’t Tell What is Coming!” He insists, and once he’s occupied it Keaton operates a pulley to shift the star above the door over to the next dressing-room. “You Must Not Miss,” says Arbuckle’s freshly-applied poster, “Gertrude McSkinny, famous star who will play The Little Laundress first time here tomorrow at 2p.m.” When he opens the sliding stage-door, exactly half the poster is obscured, so that it now reads, “Miss Skinny will undress here at 2p.m.” A spry gentleman walking by stops, looks, checks his pocket watch and briskly continues.
Arbuckle finds Keaton evidently descending a flight of stairs backstage, ascending and descending. A flat goes with Fatty off-camera, revealing Keaton’s gradual way of kneeling to repair the floor.
The eccentric dancer auditions for the camera, effortlessly high-kicking stagehands to the floor and Fatty’s hat off. Arbuckle and Keaton can each dance just as well, they try to prove it.
The strong man arrives like Pozzo, his lady assistant carries all the bags, and she must unpack them, she lifts a 500-lb. weight while he crossly observes. He sends her to a dressing-room upstairs, Arbuckle operates another pulley that deftly assigns her door the star.
The gags are rapid, compressed and evocative, they give a representation of the theatre long in advance of Citizen Kane’s catwalk-critics, and unfold a surreal mystery of the theatrical profession.
The strong man’s ill-treatment of his assistant is too much, the stagehands propose to “teach this boy some manners.” He blows Arbuckle’s hat across the stage into Keaton’s hands, which then apply an axe to no avail. Electric wires attached to his barbells knock him out, Keaton is trapped under the weight, the girl extricates him and walks off with it.
The strong man leads the performers out on strike. The girl has an idea, she and the stagehands will act all the parts since they know them.
The first piece is The Falling Reign, an operetta. King Fatty I is entertained by a prima ballerina (the girl, an odalisque) and dances with the queen, played by Keaton. “Act 2,” says the funniest title in the world, after a thousand frames of this. More of the same follows, the fey eccentric dancer is in a box seat and holds his nose at the performance, Arbuckle is distracted and fails to catch leaping Keaton, who flies through the air and bowls the critic over. The queen sits down athwart the throne, Fatty gently displaces her.
The next presentation in this second part of the film is “Serenade in the Snow”. Keaton chauffeurs Fatty in a cardboard car to the home of the beloved, then turns around for the return trip, disclosing the prop’s false front. Arbuckle takes off his heavy overcoat as the prop man overhead runs out of snow. The swain (whose stage makeup lends him a resemblance to Archie Rice) plucks a ukulele from his pants and strums it while he sings to the girl in her upper window. Keaton and his prop in the wings become entangled in the set, the brick house-front falls, a painted canvas flat, on Fatty, missing him by an open window.
He had fallen in love at first sight of her swooning among the bags, and rebuked his own hand for assuaging her demure one. Now she is seated atop a tall folding ladder on a bare stage while the audience roars and the strong man in the balcony fumes. A romantic scene at the foot of the ladder ends with a succulent kiss, the enraged “Mr. Knock Out” fires a pistol, the girl falls. Other patrons attempt in vain to subdue him, Keaton rides the prop-man’s rope-seat over the audience to the balcony, wraps his legs around the strong man and lugs him back to the stage. A mêlée is ended when Arbuckle and a stagehand drop a trunk full of weights on Mr. Knock Out. The stagehand follows, knocking out himself, Keaton and a colleague.
The brief epilogue shows the girl in her hospital bed. To her Arbuckle, seated with a paper bag containing an apple. Her hand is still demure, he trims the stem and polishes it on her blanket, then polishes the apple and eats it while she stares at him.
There Will Be
dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
The show of faith (“one goddamn helluva show,” says Plainview) is swallowed up in actual faith, Plainview’s, the kind that Kierkegaard marvelled at.
Between Beckett’s upstairs butler and Henry James’ “bottomless idiocy of the world” Plainview finds silver, then oil, and comes up against The Church of the Third Revelation. Islam, third sex or Close Encounter makes no difference. Eli Sunday says “I am the Third Revelation” in the screenplay, but in the film as well Plainview smites him with the phrase, echoing Avildsen’s The Formula, “We are the Arabs.”
Rimbaud’s “bastard wisdom of the Koran” is in the diary read by a con man posing as Plainview’s brother. Moses in Egypt is the image of Plainview’s remark to his orphaned foundling gone to Mexico as a competitor, “bastard in a basket.”
Helgeland’s The Order may have served as the inspiration with its Third Age of sin-eating and the collapse of a scaffolding at the construction of St. Peter’s. The “drainage” of Little Boston suggests The Two Jakes. Bad criticism of Giant, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, It’s a Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane is rebuked.
The foundling is blown deaf by the gusher, such things are not for infants, it becomes a pillar of fire quenched by dynamite (The Hellfighters). Mann’s Thunder Bay is a little-known masterpiece in the offing to this.