What Is Home without the Boarder? (1901)
Alternate Title: La Maison tranquille, The Quiet House
A typical short comedy from Georges Méliès, but without any camera trickery in this case. The gleeful anarchy of this piece pre-sages later developments in silent slapstick comedy.
A proscenium-style set has been divided horizontally between two stages. In the lower one, a couple in dark clothes has dinner in an orderly bourgeois dining room. In the upper stage, three men in their bedclothes dance and play musical instruments. The men upstairs kick a hole in the floor/ceiling and steal wine from the table of the couple, who run out in fear. Then, one of the trouble-makers (Méliès) jumps down into the room and sends the turkey up to his flat-mates to eat. He covers himself in a sheet and simulates an elephant, terrifying the landlady when she comes back to investigate. He returns to the upstairs space in time to help his comrades defend their territory when a policeman is summoned. The policeman is pelted, first with powder and wine, then with a mattress and other pieces of furniture the men have to hand. When he, the landlord, and landlady finally retreat, the men jump downstairs and dance around, piling furniture against the door to stop any further intrusions of their chaotic fun. The movie ends with them victorious.
In this movie, Méliès utilizes several comedy tropes that would later be exploited by Charlie Chaplin and other famous silent comedians: celebrating confrontation with authority (the landlord and police), emphasis on fast action, escalation of violence and absurdity in rejection of social rules. All of these elements make for a very funny film, and the comedians who would later embrace them understood, as Méliès did the way this kind of chaos allows a release for people living in a highly structured modern society. On another level, this kind of comedy reflects the hidden fear of moderns that the veneer of social behavior can be dismissed as soon as one (or in this case three) member rejects it and that society will be helpless to contain them without their voluntary surrender. The ironic title in both languages suggests a degree of identification with the landlords, who have taken in boarders to benefit themselves economically, only to find that their comforts are threatened by this very arrangement. At any rate, the whole piece is great fun, and a measure of what Méliès could achieve without any magical effects.
Director: Georges Méliès
Starring: Georges Méliès, unknown
Run Time: 1 Min, 20 secs
You can watch it for free: here.
I like what you said about people in a highly-structured society needing some kind of chaotic release. I hadn’t thought about that before.
Also, I’m glad you included a link to the definition of the slap stick, as a physical object. I was mildly wondering about it the other day, but was too lazy to look it up on my ever-present smart phone. So, thanks for that.
Always happy to inform! Thanks for your comment.