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Theatrical Hundreds of Beavers (1 Viewer)

Patrick McCart

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"In this 19th century, supernatural winter epic, a drunken applejack salesman must go from zero to hero and become North America's greatest fur trapper by defeating hundreds of beavers." - official synopsis

One of my lasting memories was attending a lecture by silent film historian and filmmaker Kevin Brownlow back in 2012. The Artist and Hugo were both up for a bunch of Oscars and the topic of discussion - both love letters to silent cinema. Brownlow mused that sound may just be a fad after all.

Despite the silent era more or less ending with the 1920s, it seems like it's never actually gone away. Filmmakers continue to be deeply inspired, especially silent comedy. One could also make an argument that classic animation, such as the Looney Tunes and works by Tex Avery to be the successor in the type of visual humor. Here we are in 2024 and I feel that one of the best films I've seen recently - and also one of the funniest - is a new "silent" black and white film.

Director/co-writer Mike Cheslik and star/co-writer Ryland Brickson Cole Tews have created something extraordinary. A low-budget comedy that wears its influences on its fur-lined sleeves, while also coming off as incredibly original. It's the closest I've seen a feature film come to feeling like a live-action cartoon. Think Tex Avery, Chuck Jones' Bugs and Daffy, and Norman McLaren's pixilation films. While also having plenty of nods from the work of Keaton, Chaplin, Tati, and Laurel and Hardy. And more than enough influence from Karel Zeman's films. All while having some amusing jokes meant for video game players. Even the theatrical poster is styled after Jack Davis' style (specifically meant to homage It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World).

Tews carries the film as Jean Kayak, the drunken applejack salesman. The physicality of his performance is a masterclass on how much can be conveyed in a performance without actually talking. Most of the rest of the cast is seen as various woodland creatures - not just beavers, but also rabbits, dogs, and wolves. And yes, they're all clearly humans in mascot suits. I did like all the facial expressions by the merchant character, who seems to be channeling the great James Finlayson from the classic Hal Roach comedies of the 20s and 30s.

Why I call it "silent" is that while this film is essentially one, it has incredibly intricate sound design. Amusingly, most of the score is sourced from the DeWolfe music library, best known for providing cues for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as well as much of the Shaw Brothers library. It's interesting how orchestral library cues combined with the constantly outrageous visuals help obscure the fact this only cost about $150,000 and was shot during the height of the 2020/21 pandemic in Northern Wisconsin.

This is currently in limited release, with online rental and download also available via the official website. I caught this in a theater and laughed more than I have at a film in years. If you're already into silent film, classic animation, or even later physical comedy... this is going to be a lot of fun for you. And if you're not into those, this is a perfect gateway.
 

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