This you have to see. Leonard Maltin, on his Movie Crazy blog, has drawn our attention to a thirty-minute 1996 silent film (in part), Heavenzapoppin’!, which its producer and star Robert Watzke has recently made available on YouTube.
The film is a head-spinningly ingenious delight. It starts off looking like a reasonably conventional silent film pastiche, filmed in black-and-white, with title cards and so forth, set in some East European village with a folk-like tale of a hopeless young man who tries to sell the village bear and instead exchanges it for some magic beans. But then the title card writer starts to complains about his lot (he always wanted to be an opera singer), and things start to get increasingly self-referential and strange …
To say much more would be to give the game away – just to say that this is a Piradellian exercise whose closest film point of reference might be The Purple Rose of Cairo. The performing troupe that plays the villagers, the ‘Bublaires’, ably demonstrates the close connection between slapstick and commedia dell-arte, and the knockabout comedy is genuinely funny. There are a couple of well-known names involved, Helen Slater (Watzke’s wife) and Bruno Kirby as a bewildered film director. Plus you get two bears, a witch, a custard pie fight, a dog with fleas and a happy ending.
The twists and turns of the narrative may tie your brain in knots, but this is a magical piece of filmmaking. Do give it a go.