In the documentary Looking for Charlie Bowers, film archaeologist Raymond Borde recollects buying a box of silent film reels marked “Bricolo” from a gypsy. Borde was unable to identify the films or the filmmaker, but found the films quite unique. The character in the Bricolo shorts was clearly patterned off of Keaton, but the gags were highly surreal, mixing animation with live action. The search for the identity of Bricolo took Borde to the Belgium Royal Film Library and the Annecy Animated Film Festival. Still, no one could identify the films. Borde searched the exhaustive reviews of “Midi Minuet Fantastique,” which lead to a dead end. Finally, Borde discovered a 1928 reference to Charley Bowers as Bricolo in a “Meric Cinematographers” ad in Mareilles. From there Borden contacted Louise Beaudet of the Montreal Film Library. Beaudet knew Bowers as the animator of the “Mutt and Jeff” series. Together, Borde and Beudet contacted the Library of Congress and struck gold. With much material, including press releases and hundreds of photographs, they were able to positively identify Bowers as the Bricolo of the reels.
Bowers life story proves as fascinating as his films and the discovery of his films. Charley Bowers joined the circus as a tightrope walker at the age of five. From there he worked as a jockey, cowboy, horse trainer, theatrical performer and caricaturist for newspapers. In 1916 Bowers took on the role of producer, opened his own studio, and began producing a series of animated shorts with a small, ragtag team of animators. In 1924, Bowers began producing shorts which mixed live action with animation, casting himself as the lead. Bowers character was called Bricolo by French critics of the time. Bizarre animated objects and puppets were part of the animated sequences.
Borden discovered a late 1930s reference to Bowers by Surrealist Andre Breton. Breton had only seen Bowers’ short “It’s a Bird” as an introduction to a feature film. Breton was surprised by the film and listed it as an important surrealist film in “The Surrealist Almanac.” Borden discovered that Breton’s admiration for Bowers was shared by the avant-garde poet Rafael Alberti.
Bowers died, destitute and obscure, at the age of 57 in 1946, following a long illness. Although he made hundreds of animated short films, along with the live action shorts, only fifteen of his films survive. These were restored and distributed by Lobster Films in France. This indispensable collection of Bowers films is on the two-disc set Charley Bowers, The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius.
Like all great surrealism, Bowers film are imaginatively and aesthetically provocative. Recurring obsessive themes permeate Bowers shorts. “Egged On” (1926) and “Say Ah-h!” (1928) both feature unbreakable eggs. In “Egged On” Charley is an inventor and Continue reading DISCOVERING CHARLEY BOWERS