Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Polydactyl Pioneer of Comedy

Freak, comedy, novelty: a gallery and a movie relic about the legendary Little Tich

The movie we shows you today, at the bottom of our gallery, is short as his solo star.
After the performance your about to see, the man starring was made Officier of the French Academy.
It is a mix acrobatic, freakery, physic anomaly, comedy, dance. And a bit of scientific virtuosism: in a time when the cinema barely existed, the sound (basic if you wanted to film a music-hall act), was recorded on a wax cylinder and syncronized.

“A foundation for everything that has been realised in comedy on the screen”.
This is how Jacques Tati described this Little Tich’s Big Boot Dance film made by Clement Maurice for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre in 1900.

The sixteenth of his brothers, Harry Relph (1867-1926) he was a polydactyl: was born with six digits on each hand and six toes on both feet.
From his earliest professional performance his deformity and lack of height (four feet six inches when fully grown) were emphasised for publicity reasons, although he always resented being promoted as a grotesque.
Around 1884 he had developed a speciality dance in which he appeared to defy gravity, either leaning forward at a precarious angle or balancing on the tips of 28 inch wooden boots. Charlie Chaplin is said been insipred by Little Tich’s boots for his character.
Later, Drury Lane pantomimes established him as one of Britain's foremost comedians, and an engagement at the Folies-Bergère in 1896 was the first of many appearances in the French capital. Little Tich sang many comic songs and was a skilful instrumentalist, but his greatest successes were furiously energetic dances in which he often burlesqued female dancers.
He later starred in three other short movies (one for colleague pioneer Gerorges Meliés), but they are probably lost. As lost soon became the music-hall specialty universe and this class of novelty talents.

No comments:

Locations of visitors to this page