Archive | December, 2013

Uses For A Castle

22 Dec

Back in the silent movie days, a few of the stars formed a partnership. It was called United Artists. The partners were Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. As a company, its glory days were to come later after the originals had left the scene. But it was an early attempt by the stars to control their own destinies.

The biggest Hollywood Set of the time was Griffith’s INTOLERANCE. Douglas Fairbanks determined to out do it in his lavish no expense spared action picture ROBIN HOOD. The set was the Sheriff of Nottingham’s castle. As it slowly reared up to dwarf the surrounding stages, people became fascinated. One had to see it. It was the eighth wonder of the world. It beggared all description. A perfect stage for Douglas Fairbanks’ patented acrobatic stunts. It was all anybody could talk about. Which was just what Fairbanks had calculated. He showed the set off proudly to his friends. One of them being his partner Charlie Chaplin. I want to type in the name of Buster Keaton instead. But that would not be correct.

Anyway Chaplin came and oohed and aahed with the best of them. A couple of days later, he ran into Fairbanks and casually asked if he could borrow the castle for an hour or two the next day. Fairbanks said “fine” and went on his way. But he began to think about it. The castle was the key element in his film. What was Chaplin planning? Might it steal Fairbanks’ thunder?

Chaplin (and I’m sorry but I keep visualizing Keaton) sent over a shot list of what he proposed.

Shot 1 – establishing shot of massive castle

Shot 2 – the closed drawbridge lowers over the moat

Shot 3 – the giant portcullis rises. Out toddles Chaplin the householder ┬áin dressing gown and slippers, cat in his arms. He releases the cat to do its business, picks up the milk and the newspaper and shuffles back inside. The portcullis descends.

At the bottom of the page Chaplin had scrawled a reassuring note. “We’ll be out of there in an hour”.

Fairbanks had a sense of humour but he knew his movie would never survive that sight gag. He promptly forbade Chaplin from shooting anywhere near his castle. I believe I am correct in saying that no copy of that silent ROBIN HOOD now exists. The visualization of that sight gag is now what keeps it alive. But I still keep seeing Buster Keaton.