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Dec 16

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Anniversary Post: Max Linder

Max Linder[I’m reusing some copy two years ago, The Invention of Modern Comedy. As I noted before, he is probably someone you’ve never heard of. Yet he is one of the titans of film comedy. So now you can bring him up at cocktail parties. -FM]

On this day in 1883, Max Linder who was born. If you like comedic movies, then you should really care about Max Linder. Before him, silent film comedy was of the style of Mack Sennett and the Keystone Cops kind of humor — outrageous pratfalls and general silliness. What they didn’t have where actual characters who the audience cared about. That’s what Max Linder brought to the movies. He created the character of “Max,” rich man-about-town who got into adventures. The films stand today as satire of the well to do buffoon. His later films are better, but below is an early one (1907!), The Skater’s Debut where you can see what will become of screen comedy and not really change, right through the Marx Brothers and on to Jim Carrey. Note also, Charlie Chaplin was a huge fan and eventually a friend of Linder. On Linder’s death, Chaplin dedicated a film to him, “For the unique Max, the great master —his disciple Charles Chaplin.”

I suppose I should tell you something else about Linder: he suffered greatly from depression and anxiety. He and his young wife made a suicide pact, and the two killed themselves (their second attempt), leaving behind an infant daughter who went on to package Linder’s work for later generations. It’s very sad.

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2 comments

  1. James Fillmore

    A few things from this:

    I’ve worked with adults who have disabilities for 20 years, and a constant I come across is how they are angry they can’t participate in what others consider “normal” activities.

    So one thing I try to do is play up my failures. I’m not going to be condescending and pretend my limbs don’t work when they do. I make an effort to show how I screw up, all the time. I have no need to fake this. Everybody is a fucking disaster. We all make mistakes.

    In this video, Linder gives off a body-language comedy which indicates he can’t ice skate. It’s taken to the normal silent-movie extreme, but really the funniest part of it is before he even starts skating. He’s clueless out there, and the working-class shmoes try to help him.

    I can’t ice skate either, never will, who gives a fuck, but that’s not the point.

    The point is relinquishing power. The power of disabled-assistance workers over the vulnerable; the power of a top hat over the poor.

    Letting people laugh at you (and, as terrible a writer as I am, I have become a reasonably competent physical comedian) nukes that power over others. A little. They’re still aware of who’s in charge, and it’s awful that this power dynamic exists. But making yourself a fool is really rewarding, when you do it right. You change the power dynamic a little.

    That’s what Linder, Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton were doing. IMHO.

    WTF with the suicide! ! ? ! ? ! That’s crazy!

    1. Frank Moraes

      The power of comedy to heal. There is something very compelling about people who just don’t care. I think that’s part of the charm of Melissa McCarthy.

      As for the suicide, well, the funniest people I know are also the most depressed. I’m not sure why that is.

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