I have been a silent movie fan most of my life. I've always loved the films of Keaton, Chaplin, & Harold Lloyd. Whenever I had done research on them though, one name kept coming up consistently in all of their stories - Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.
Admittedly, I knew very few details about him. I knew, as his name lead on, that he was a rotund comic of the silent era, who was involved in a scandal that involved a young woman's death and something about a coke bottle. That was it. That alone kept me from researching his life or watching any of his films.
His name would come up again during the research for my Chris Farley video. Farley, near the end of his life, had signed on to play Arbuckle in a biopic penned by David Mamet. It was also rumored that John Belushi and John Candy had also been attached to the role at some point. Farley, evidently, had greatly identified with Arbuckle's story and related to his "tortured clown" personality. When I pieced the Chris Farley video together I decided to include clips of Arbuckle during the segment where I discussed the project. And that would be my first time really watching the work of Roscoe Arbuckle.
Shortly after, I became fascinated with his work. Almost every silent movie gag that I have laughed at or recreated in my own work seemed to originate with Arbuckle. I started going down YouTube wormholes, watching clips of him. I began buying up the rare DVD's of his work wherever I could find them. I also started reading books about his life. The catalyst in all of this was reading Jerry Stahl's "I, Fatty". This fictionalized biography, which was written as Arbuckle's lost memoir, is lovingly composed by Stahl, whom researched every aspect of Arbuckle's life to provide a deep, dark look into his soul. While parts of the book should be taken as fiction, most of the information presented is factual. Stahl paints a picture of a tormented clown, wanting nothing more than to make others laugh to hide his own pain.
Regardless of the facts and fabrications of the controversial scandal that ruined his career, Arbuckle's story was a heartbreaking one. I encourage anyone interested to do their own research on the scandal itself and form their own opinions. For me personally, it became clear, from reading any account of the scandal, that Arbuckle was slandered in the press in a way that dictated the public's perception of the case - something that is still in affect to this day. While I do believe that Arbuckle was innocent, it's also impossible to know certain details due to the media's constant mishandling of the case.
Whatever your thoughts on the topic may be, I really encourage you to look into the life and career of Roscoe Arbuckle. The stigma around his name today, just about 100 years since news of the scandal first broke, is unfair. He was a pioneer of the silent film industry and had friendships with the three biggest silent film comedians IN HISTORY. That alone is telling of his person and talent.
Below is the video piece I put together to illustrate that point. I hope you enjoy it.
For those of you that have asked where you can find his films on DVD, here's a rundown of the best options:
The Round-Up - Restored Blu-Ray/DVD - CineMuseum
As far as I know this is the only solo Arbuckle Blu-Ray available. A terrific restoration of one of his feature films. Please support these guys! They plan to restore more of his features and are the only ones willing to do so!
Forgotten Films Collection - Amazon
An out of print 2005 DVD collection for some of his starring shorts as well as ones he directed as William B. Goodrich. Worth the expensive price tag if you can find it for sale. Also check eBay!
Buster Keaton Shorts Collection - Amazon
This set is a MUST HAVE. Hidden away on this Buster Keaton Blu-Ray are 14 of the best Arbuckle & Keaton shorts. They look great, sound great and come with tons of bonus content.