Charley Bowers: the film genius no one's ever heard of
July 10, 2011 12:44 AM Subscribe
“Highbrow critics talk in ornate polysyllables about the ingenuity and art of the German filmmakers. If they condescended to witness the nonsensical genius of a Charley Bowers comedy they could drool dictionaries.” Educational Pictures Press Book for THERE IT IS, January 23, 1928Charley Bowers is a genius of silent film and animation that never got the level of attention of his peers Buster Keaton or the Fleischer Brothers. You'll have to search hard to find him in film literature. But watching his work—as a bird lays a Ford Model T or a scruffy ghost tortures a Scotsman and his insect sidekick—you can see the inspiration for the later sight gags of Ernie Kovacs, the visual non sequiturs of Looney Toons, the cut paper trickery of Terry Gilliam and surrealist Andre Breton citing one of Bowers' shorts as the most influential film of 1937.
Bowers' early life is unknown, with claims about his childhood full of fanciful stories of kidnapping, losing his father and being raised in the circus as a tightrope walker. But what is known for sure is that he went from a career as a cartoonist to turning Bud Fisher's Mutt and Jeff comics into animated cartoons as his first major foray into film making. (Although the Winsor McCay-like AWOL shows he was exploring the medium outside of Mutt and Jeff early on.)
He then began to experiment with a mix of live action and stop motion, perfecting the “Bowers Technique” of incorporating the two. His films were never widely popular, he tried doing animation for other filmmakers and then retired to write and illustrate children's books.
Most of his films had been lost to time and flammable film stock. However, in a tale that sounds more FORGOTTEN SILVER than fact, a film archeologist bought a box of films marked simply “Bricolo” from a gypsy and through research discovered that Bricolo and Bowers were one in the same.
A DVD box set was released (sadly out of print in the US, but still around for those in Europe – or with a NetFlix account) and you can now find his work on YouTube and even like him on Facebook.
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