Modern silent films are a mixed bag. Too often the spirit is willing but the inspiration is weak. In particular the modern silent comedy tends towards lame pantomime and fails to learn the first lesson of the original silent comedy films, which is to be funny. That involves more than being in monochrome, aping Chaplinesque movements and throwing in an intertitle or two. It requires the ability to express humour visually. The gag has to be funnier seen than it appears to be written down. The camera reveals the comedy.
So it is a particular pleasure to bring you the video on display here, because I think it is a genuinely funny modern silent comedy. It is a comic sketch set to ‘Largo al Factotum’ from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, and the story revolves around a humble barber’s assistant who dreams of trichological glory. I won’t give the gag away, but suffice to say that it’s something beyond Rossini’s imagination.
Largo al Factotum is directed by Dougal Wilson (whose background is pop videos), photographed by Alvin H. Kutchler and produced by Matthew Fone for Blink Productions. The hero is played by Mat Baynton. The film is one of a number of ‘Opera Shorts‘ commissioned by Sky Arts for the English National Opera, which were first broadcast in February of this year. The ENO always sings in English, so we get Rossini’s aria in English.
It’s a classy piece of work, from the lateral tracking shots to the astute photography (looking both of the past and of today), with welcome points of detail such as the slightly wobbly intertitles. Mop-haired Mat Baynton is an engaging hero, resourceful as a Keaton or Lloyd would be in the face of the oddities of fate. And the film matches the music perfectly. Enjoy.