The World's Funniest Dissertation

I Was In A Nitrate Vault This Week

I’m not liable to spontaneous combustion, but as a human being I am flammable so it was probably for my own good.

As an archivist, you get to do some pretty cool things and go to some pretty cool places in the name of preserving history, and Monday was no different – I was in an old film processing building attending the orientation for my newest adventure in my perpetual Quest For Permanent Archival Employment, some paid training at IndieCollect, an independent film repository (check them out!). As it were, the building still has five nitrate vaults in it, so naturally I had to investigate the nearest one since I’d never gotten to go inside one before.

Photos after the cut.


Quick Hit: Harpo Marx is the World’s Cutest Dad

Again, this is a very brief post since I’ve been very busy with my new library job, but someone in the Marx Brothers Council of Facebook linked to this adorable footage in the group and I had to share it. It’s Harpo with one of his sons, Bill, in 1941.

Quick Hit: Buster Keaton money?

This is just a quick hit here, but one of my friends on Tumblr sent me this image. Look at the signature on that dollar bill.


Finally, a Guide to the Marx Brothers!


Today is the publication date of Marx Brothers Council of Britain blogger Matthew Coniam’s seminal work on all the references and in-jokes in the films of the Marx Brothers. The book is being published by McFarland and can be bought directly from the publisher here!

I’ve preordered my copy on Amazon and I can’t wait for it to arrive. Although I’m a trained historian, I know far from everything and I know there are tons of references I’m missing when I watch these films, so I’m really excited to do a rewatch with the guide in hand. Sure, most people know about Strange Interlude, for example, but for every reference modern audiences still get there are at least five more we don’t!

As a member of a Marx Brothers Facebook group, I’ve seen the work that has gone into this book and I can confirm that Matthew and his team have worked tirelessly to bring us this extremely important book. I may not have my copy yet, but I’m already recommending this to you. Seriously, go buy this. If you’re a fan of the Marxes you won’t regret it.

20 Years of Missing Peter Cook

tumblr_m0ssgmRKju1qc1qjbo1_400It’s been twenty years today since Peter Cook left us, and a group of people from Tumblr, myself included, rewatched a lot of his material, including both sketches and the 1967 film Bedazzled, in his honor. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how brilliant his writing actually was again and just how influential his material was for generations of comedians afterwards.

I figured this would be a great time to reflect on it all with those people he influenced, as well as some of his compatriots, so here’s this lovely documentary someone posted on YouTube in six parts to watch and enjoy. I figure it’s better to watch funny things instead of spend the entire day crying.

Someone Finds Alan Bennett’s On The Margin, I Cry

I know there’s a certain bias towards the Oxbridge School of Comedy on this blog. It’s their fault that I ended up deciding to really academically study comedy in the first place (who even does that to begin with?), but they’re brilliant to boot and their influence on comedy is still felt long after their ascendance in the 1960s.

Unfortunately, a lot of what members of the movement did was lost due to a horrendous practice called tape-wiping. You can ask any of my archival colleagues what that is and they’ll probably all grimace or make other disgusted faces at you. We don’t like it very much nowadays, but it was often the norm when a studio needed to reuse tapes due to space and monetary concerns. Tapes of television broadcasts were cleared of data and reused over and over again, and as a result a lot of valuable material was lost. That’s why we only have a little bit of the famed Not Only…But Also, one of the major groundbreaker programs during the period. I’m still not over that. I don’t think I’ll ever be over that. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore offered to buy the tapes and pay for new ones and they still wiped it.

I’m totally not bitter or anything. Okay, yes I am.

I’m heartened now, though, because apparently back in March someone managed to uncover audio of all six episodes of Peter and Dudley’s Beyond the Fringe confederate Alan Bennett’s program On The Margin, which ran in November of 1966 and repeated twice in 1967 before allegedly being a victim of the tape-wiping epidemic:

Audio of Alan Bennett’s first major TV show has been recovered, decades after it was wiped in a bid to save tape.

The recordings of the six-part satirical BBC Two series On The Margin were made in 1966.

The show, written by and starring Bennett, also featured Prunella Scales and John Sergeant, who later became the BBC’s chief political correspondent.

The recordings, made during a 1967 repeat of the series, are due to be returned to the BBC archive.

The show, which originally went out on BBC Two, contained satirical and observational sketches, including its own mini-soap opera.

There were also serious poetry and musical slots during the programme, including readings from actress Scales, and archive footage of music hall stars.

On The Margin was a critical success, and was repeated on BBC One, prompting the wrath of television campaigner Mary Whitehouse.

She objected to a sketch which contained the line “knickers off ready when I come home” and was perceived as insulting to Norwich, which emerges by putting together the first letter of each word.,

The programme was wiped after its final broadcast, with tape recycling a common practice at the time.

Michael Brooke, writing for the British Film Institute, said the show was “one of the most notorious victims” of material being destroyed.

It was feared that with the exception of some fragments, On The Margin had been lost forever.

I’ve always held out hope that these shows would turn up in some format somewhere, and it’s a huge relief to know we haven’t lost On The Margin completely after all. It makes me believe that my beloved Not Only…But Also is out there somewhere and might just be recovered someday.

An archivist can dream, you know.

It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Kickstarter!

Hey, you! Do you want an awesome book about an awesome movie? Of course you do!

Author and artist Dave Woodman has a Kickstarter going to publish an absolutely delightful book on It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, one of the greatest comedy films of all time. Check out the video below:

I can’t even begin to stress how wonderful this would be, so give it a look and back the project if you love the movie! This book looks incredible, seriously.

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