Tired of tinsel?
Ready to recognise Tinseltown as tawdry?
The Mystery of the Leaping Fish is a 1916 American short silent comedy film starring Douglas Fairbanks, Bessie Love, and Alma Rubens. Directed by John Emerson, the story was written by Tod Browning with intertitles by Anita Loos.
In this unusually broad comedy for Fairbanks, the acrobatic leading man plays “Coke Ennyday“, a cocaine-shooting detective who is a parody of Sherlock Holmes.
Ennyday is given to injecting himself from a bandolier of syringes worn across his chest, and liberally helps himself to the contents of a hatbox-sized round container of white powder labeled “COCAINE” on his desk.
Fairbanks’ character otherwise lampoons Sherlock Holmes with checkered detective hat, clothes and even car, along with the aforementioned propensity for injecting cocaine whenever he feels momentarily down, then laughing with delight.
A device used for observing visitors, which is referred to in the title cards as his “scientific periscope”, bears a close resemblance to a modern closed-circuit television.
What is apparently a clock face has “EATS, DRINKS, SLEEPS, and DOPE” instead of numbers.
The film displays a lighthearted and comic attitude toward Coke Ennyday’s use of cocaine and laudanum.
While he catches a gang of drug smugglers, he does so after consuming most of their opium.
Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance describes The Mystery of the Leaping Fish as “undoubtedly the most bizarre film Fairbanks made” and that the entire scenario is “a hallucinogenic odyssey into the absurd….”
Ready to describe Hollywood as Hollyweird?
The Purple Dawn
Hollywood, the movie colony, had been forged into existence by a small group of East Coast Jewish tradesmen who thought they saw a good thing in the nickelodeon, lured West by that fabled Southern California promise of 355 days of sunshine a year, and low-priced land.
The somnolent L.A. outpost in the orange groves they settled on soon sprouted ramshackle open-air stages, sun traps for their slow ortho film.
In a few years of churning out primitive and profitable two-reelers with their pirated cameras — always on the lookout for Edison’s vengeful process servers — the former junk dealers and glove salesmen juggled a chancy operation into a celluloid bonanza.
When word reached them that nickelodeon crowds all over the country seemed to be flocking to see favorite movie performers known only as “Little Mary,” “The Biograph Boy” or “The Vitagraph Girl,” the disdained actors, until then thought of as little more than hired help, suddenly acquired ticket-selling importance.
The already-famous faces took on names and rapidly-rising salaries: the Star System — a decidedly mixed blessing — was born.
For better or for worse, Hollywood would henceforth have to contend with that fatal chimera — the STAR.
Overnight the obscure and somewhat disreputable movie performers found themselves propelled to adulation, fame and fortune.
They were the new royalty, the Golden People.
Some managed to cope and took it in their stride; some did not.
The Teens were Hollywood’s halcyon days.
A new art form was being forged from day to day; the Seventh Muse made herself up as she went along, making money and having fun.
And if the nouveau riche film folk got tired from the furious pace, there was always “joy powder,” as cocaine was called in those free-and-easy days, for a sure-thing pick-you-up.
In fact, a “joy powder” manic movie comedy style rapidly evolved — the prime example being the Triangle-Keystone “cokey comedy,” The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, with Doug Fairbanks as a bombed-out-of-his-skull detective, “Coke Ennyday.”
In 1916 “dope” could be the subject of comedy.
The year of that film, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, English drug expert Aleister Crowley passed through Hollywood, taking note of the natives as “the cinema crowd of cocaine-crazed, sexual lunatics.”
Those were the days.
Hollywood Babylon I – Kenneth Anger – 1975
Hollywood Babylon II – Kenneth Anger – 1985
Hollywood Babylon is a book by avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger which details the sordid scandals of many famous and infamous Hollywood denizens from the 1900s to the 1950s.
First published in the U.S. in 1965, it was banned ten days later and was not republished until 1975.
Upon its second release, The New York Times said of it, “If a book such as this can be said to have charm, it lies in the fact that here is a book without one single redeeming merit.”
Kenneth Anger (born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer, February 3, 1927) is an American underground experimental filmmaker, actor and author.
Working exclusively in short films, he has produced almost forty works since 1937, nine of which have been grouped together as the “Magick Lantern Cycle”.
His films variously merge surrealism with homoeroticism and the occult, and have been described as containing “elements of erotica, documentary, psychodrama, and spectacle”.
Anger himself has been described as “one of America’s first openly gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner”, and his “role in rendering gay culture visible within American cinema, commercial or otherwise, is impossible to overestimate”, with several being released prior to the legalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults in the United States.
He has also focused upon occult themes in many of his films, being fascinated by the English gnostic mage and poet Aleister Crowley, and is an adherent of Thelema, the religion Crowley founded.
Then perhaps you’re ready for 2020.