Tuesday, May 11, 2021

“Canned Laughter” in the Dark – Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You?

One of the pleasures of being Beverly in Movieland is encouraging the rise of talented young filmmakers. Chris Brake wrote to me from the south of England, just as he was launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund his latest project. Chris, a London Film School graduate who makes short films with a fantasy twist, is working on Canned Laughter. It’s a distinctly idiosyncratic project about a retired comedian, Deirdre Gossamer, who misses the limelight. That’s why she knits herself an audience full of fans eager to enjoy her at-home performances. What she doesn’t anticipate, though, is a heckler in their midst.

 As in an earlier effort called “Scraps,” Brake plans to mix live action with puppetry. Having grown up watching E.T. over and over, he’s a lifelong fan of puppets as a way to convey serious ideas. He still marvels at how E.T. “elicits sympathy from a lump of rubber and foam. Everyone always remembers it as a film about an alien, but it’s really not. It’s a story about divorce and the effect that has on a family. And that’s what puppetry can do; it can externalize something fairly abstract and introduce complex themes to an audience in a way that’s more palatable by being symbolic or allegorical.”  

 Though Chris has long been committed to filmmaking as a career, he took a major detour for a while into stand-up comedy. Fortunately, he managed to elude the hecklers who badgered some of his colleagues. His own brand of comedy relied heavily on rhythm, on “finding the perfect words when I write, so the thought of that flow being interrupted was terrifying to me.” He’s now able to see his retreat to film as “almost like seeking a kind of protection from potential criticism.” Film, of course, is a fixed medium: “You can engineer a scene to hit all of the emotional or funny beats you need it to, and it will play like that forever.”

 Chris’s first-ever visit to a cinema was to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the age of six. As he describes it now, “The whole experience has been permanently imprinted on me.  I can recall almost everything about it; where we sat, the smell of the popcorn, the standees in the lobby, the dust in the projector-light, the line we had to wait in that snaked around the block, the woman behind us who made it about 10 minutes into the movie before realizing she was in the wrong screen and storming out shouting, ‘This ain’t the f***in’ Addams Family!’” To the young boy it mattered not at all that this cinema, the only one in his area, was “a total flea-pit.” Despite its sticky floors and stickier seats, he claimed it as a church of sorts, and later (once it gave way to the multiplexes) as “a treasure box of memories.”

  Now the proud father of a teething 10-month-old, Chris looks forward to introducing his son to the joys of moviegoing. As of now the boy is much too young to see a whole movie, “but I’ve sat with him and watched some of the old Laurel and Hardy shorts that my own Dad used to watch with me as a kid. To me they’re really a perfect introduction to cinema because so much of it is silent, visual comedy that’s just beautifully silly. I think it’s a great gateway not only into cinema but also into its heritage.”

To help Chris and his work become part of that heritage, check out his Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cannedlaughter/canned-laughter Or contact him directly at info@chris-brake.com 






  1. As someone who has researched and written about Laurel and Hardy for much of his life, I'm very glad to read that Mr. Brake is raising his children well! Thank you for writing and posting this.

  2. My pleasure, Randy. I hope you visit Beverly in Movieland again. (I know from personal experience that little tykes adore Laurel and Hardy, especially when pie-throwing is involved.)