Jeff Netto

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About Jeff Netto

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  1. These old Technicolor movies -- this one in particular -- always remind me of my grandparents' house. Their home is like a 50s time-capsule. Once you cross their threshold, it's as if time in that place has frozen. Carpet, plastic sofa covers, countertops, curtains, everything you see is pure vintage. And the color of everything! I'm not sure if Technicolor became the industry standard because it was best able to render the color palette of the day OR if the color palette of the day gained popularity because it made real life look like life in a Technicolor movie. I also loved the way this tilted trailer sort of gives a kooky 50s update to the tilted cabin gag from Chaplin's Goldrush.
  2. I'm so glad Jacques Tati made the lineup! Mr. Hulot satirizes the excesses of modernity, while also appreciating some of what it has to offer. He is indeed complicated in this regard. The wildly inconvenient architecture of his building contrasts with the hyper-modern convenience of his nephews house in the film. The sterility of the hyper-modern house is at obvious odds with the communal ambiance of this kooky old, retro-partitioned house. For the most part, Hulot seems like a remnant of the pre-WWII era -- a less alienating time. But he also, at times, seems to enjoy fooling around with new-school technology. Love this clip!
  3. I've been enjoying the interviews with Wes Gehring, but I find myself disagreeing with his dismissal of contemporary slapstick. I understand that the apparent vulgarity of this modern comedy might make it seem crude, unpolished, and distasteful through and through. But one of the ways we've been asked to look at slapstick is through the lens of its subversive potential. Slapstick, from the beginning, set its sights on the dictates of refinement in taste. It's always been a rough and tumble kind of comedy -- at the opposite end of the spectrum from our chuckles at Wilde's more polished witticisms and subtler ironies. So if you start off from the 1940s and flash forward sixty-some years, you move from the bluster and banter of the Marx Brothers and Abbott & Costello to the shock-comedy slapstick of Ben Stiller. Is Stiller's comedy more crude? Certainly. About sixty years more crude. But maybe that's what's necessary to give slapstick the same bite in 2016 that it had in 1948. I think we should look for continuities rather than contrasts when we examine the comedies of then and now. Nostalgia for the then can blind us to the wonderful innovations of the now.
  4. The world of W.C. Fields seems like a darker place than the world of some of our other comedians. Children strike and embarrass their parents in this world. Beaten down men turn to drink for solace, but they still don't necessarily roll over and take their beatings without a fight. Fields fights back, and his own exaggerated ferocity tends to shed light on the bullying nature of the characters and situations that assail him. He fights fire with fire, saving the water to rinse his hands after a good tipple. If the later Fields is less physical with his slapstick, I think his comedy still plays because the world around him is so physically oppressive that it picks up any slack in activity. The world fights dirty and hits him hard, but without hurting him so much that he can't come back with a slurred and drawling zinger to put the things that offend him back in their places. I think the comedy of W.C. Fields takes us closer to tragedy than that of any other comedian. We're laughing, but we're also getting awfully close to the verge of weeping. The funny one-liners abruptly re-channel our emotions at the last minute, but there's always a hint of residual uneasiness lingering in the background. "I was in love with a beautiful blonde once, dear. She drove me to drink. That's the one thing I'm so indebted to her for."
  5. It's not too much of a stretch to accommodate all five of our characteristics of silent slapstick within Dale's description of the varieties of verbal slapstick. Exaggeration -- Sure enough. Speed, volume, verbosity. The thickness of an accent. There are lots of humorous exaggerations possible in verbal delivery. Physical comedy -- Sure enough. The mouth of the comedian might contort humorously over the pronunciation of a term, the body may sway or jerk over the course of a line's delivery as the rhythm or emphasis of a word or phrase is physically enacted during pronunciation. The physicality of uttering speech provides lots of opportunities for humor. Repetitive or ritualistic gags -- Lots .of parts of parties. These get funnier and funnier as the contractual ritual unfolds. My favorite, moment of ritualistic verbal humor in this film comes when Groucho keeps asking for two, no three eggs in the stateroom scene. Make Believe -- Sure enough. The verbal lunacy of sound-era slapstick often highlights the genre's departure from any sort of realism. The simple fact that straight-men and straight-women listen to these gags and try to make sense of them is hilarious. Mr. Driftwood's zany approach to sweet-talking Mrs. Claypool out of her fortune could never come close to succeeding in the real world. But in the world of this film. this kooky seduction is allowed to continue, and it's hilarious. Violence -- Sure enough. There are all kinds of verbal violence, insults and lies being only the most straightforward violations of decorum and truth. And Otis Driftwood manages to get a lot of comic mileage out of this type of verbal violence. But this clip showcases another, less straightforward kind of verbal violence, a violence directed against language itself. In the reading of the contract, its terms are verbally chopped and chewed even as the written text is literally shredded. The climax of this violence against language is the punning malapropism at the end: Sanity Clause. You can't a-fool me. There ain't a-no Sanity Claus. We wince from the sting of this verbal violence, even as we crack up.
  6. What I like most about the integration of sound into slapstick (and vice versa) here is the way Chase's verbal delivery helps to establish his character. Exasperation is only part of it, and we do hear a certain edge to his voice at times. But I think it's his bustling, man of the modern city manner that seems decidedly new. Chase's delivery, while not the gattling-gun onslaught we'll get with Groucho, is electricity-quick, with an upbeat urban rhythm to it. It's pretty much the exact opposite of Buster Keaton's verbal style. Through this "clean-up gag," this guy talks quickly, moves quickly, and thinks quickly -- just like the fast and noisy world around him. He is maybe even a little quicker than the world, and this is what lets him maneuver in this gag.
  7. I agree with Schickel. Lloyd's "boy" is more realistic than Keaton's boy or Chaplin's tramp. In think maybe the essence of slapstick comedy is that we have one foot in the kooky world of childhood fantasy and one foot in the real, everyday adult world we all recognize. We get to move back and forth between these worlds, and we relish those moments when the real world of maturity goes childishly kooky on us. That's a huge part of the fun. In the nineteen-teens, the photographic capacity of cinema to capture and document scenes of real life out in the real world kept movies somewhat rooted in the everyday adult world. Characters themselves might then take up residence on the childish fantasy side of things. But by the second half of the 1920s, it seems that childishly kooky characters might be losing at least some of their footing in reality. This is maybe when the Tramp became more human, more capable of genuine adult feelings. And this is when Harold Lloyd's everyday Joe, "the boy," began to appeal to audiences. Lloyd's character definitely comes from our adult world, and he mostly seems to live in it. He's the soda jerk next door. It's when he goes into places like Coney Island, where childhood fantasy naturally erupts into our everyday world, that the real zaniness of his slapstick can be unleashed while he keeps one foot in the real adult world. Watching this, I couldn't help noticing how closely it paralleled Clara Bow's date scene in It. Lloyd obviously borrowed here, and he polished it up as well. I think both of these films are good examples of the way slapstick kookiness tended to get more realistically contextualized in the late 20s.
  8. Keaton's world and the situations he confronts tend to be predominated by machinery -- usually machinery that is broken down in some way. Again and again, Keaton needs to find a way to fix something or to fashion a tool or combination of tools to fix things. He's a tinkering hero trying to patch together a broken universe with the tools and materials at hand. Chaplin, on the other hand, seems to resist the machine-aspect of his world. It's like he's hanging on to his humanity and refusing to let the machines take over. Whether the machine in question is the factory conveyor belt in Modern Times, or the well-oiled military drills of WWI in Shoulder Arms, Chaplin seems to resist becoming assimilated and fully integrated. Keaton, on the other hand, tends to find kooky and creative ways to fix problems in the machines he encounters. His fixes don't always work in a practical way. But they always manage to manufacture laughter.
  9. 1. I'm not sure if this is what Canby has in mind, but it seems to me that silent film in general demands a whole lot more attention from the audience. We are encouraged to look harder at the screen to follow what's going on and how the characters are feeling towards one another. In slapstick, this attention is rewarded by the climaxes of the gags. The greater investments in attention tend to yield bigger payoffs in humor. We feel the suspense of the scene even more keenly as the cook tries to catch the tramp in the act of stealing food. When we first glimpse the cop, we ourselves choke just a bit on that piece of cake the tramp has shoveled into his mouth a second before. Because our eyes are so glued on him, our gullets and our gut feelings are invested in him as well. Watching these movies is more visceral for me. And I think it's because of the concentration that they demand.
  10. 1) Was the silent era a golden age of comedy? Absolutely. This is not to say that Melissa McCarthy isn't just as hilarious as Buster Keaton. It's just that Keaton was part of the group of groundbreaking geniuses that made the genius of McCarthy possible. Keaton was one of the inventors. And he's still my personal favorite among those inventors. I still feel something of the "newness" of this form of comedy when watching Keaton's films. Melissa McCarthy and Jim Carrey feel like they are refining and distilling some of the comic invention Keaton bequeathed. 2) Is the comedy of silent film purely visual? NO. A lot of it is visual, though. But it leans on the kinds of narrative irony and verbal punning of other kinds of live comedy like live theater and radio. Those zingers in the intertitles are hilarious in themselves. And when the outdoorish girl in The Balloonatic steals a kiss from Buster in the final moments of the film -- calling up memories of the kiss he may have tried to steal from her in the tunnel of love at the beginning of the film -- the fun isn't purely visual. Silent comedy definitely leaned hard on it's silent gags. But it was much too sophisticated to rely on these gags alone. 3) I think that documentaries and narrated compilations definitely distort and water down the brilliance of silent comedies -- assuming audiences haven't seen the films in their entirety before. For example, if you watch something like Youngson's Days of Thrills and Laughter, you walk away with a certain sense of Snub Pollard as a sort of weird Chaplinesque knockoff. That's assuming you haven't already watched It's a Gift in its entirety. That film brilliantly takes a Keatonesque fascination with homespun technological invention and weaves it together with a real social and economic situation (ie, fluctuating gasoline prices and the demand for affordable fuels). In Youngson's compilation, Pollard's film seems sort of primative, but the film is anything but primitive. It is oddly relevant to today.
  11. Jeff Netto

    What is Slapstick? A Discussion of Definitions

    I think there's a kind of subtle violence in these I Love Lucy scenes. It's the violence of mechanical disciplining imposed on the body of the character and the body's dogged resilience in resisting this kind of discipline. I'm thinking of the opening scene of Chaplin's Shoulder Arms here. The army training is inflicted on Chaplin, violently inflicted on him. But his body unleashes some undisciplined, disorderly violence on the drills he can't quite pick up. He goes the wrong way. Not a violent struggle between people hitting one another. It's a struggle between imposed order and a natural, human disorder. A different kind of mayhem.
  12. There's just something about the way Lancaster suffers that makes him ideal for film noir. He looks young and old at the same time, naively earnest in his clipped speech and tortured and weary in his slow grimaces. And where he provides the suffering, Yvonne De Carlo gives us all the stunning style we could ever want. Who wouldn't kill for the opportunity to suffer in her presence? These daily doses have been the highlight of the course for me. I've fallen in love with the TCM message boards this summer, and I look forward to hanging out there some more.
  13. Continental philosophy is one good touchstone for interpreting this scene. History is another good one. The musical accompaniment to this scene of torture calls to mind the story about American soldiers' finding an edition of Rilke's poetry in a guard station as the Allies were liberating the concentration camps. The stinging irony here is that the people who are apparently the most inhuman are still enthralled by the humanities. It's the very "humanness" of these inhuman monsters that makes us shudder when we hear about Nazis reading poetry. If they are at least somewhat human like us, then maybe we're at least somewhat monstrous like they are. In Brute Force, the torturer's choice of Wagner to accompany his brutal labors resonates with the post-war discoveries of Nazi atrocities in the camps. Wagner, the composer most associated with the valorization of German culture and national myths, is here used to drown out the sounds of blows and groans. Perhaps the Nazi guard with a taste for poetry similarly used Rilke's verse to distract himself from the cries of his victims.
  14. Expressionistic lighting? You betcha. As the lamp swings back and forth and the beating moves off-screen, we watch the still faces of the heavies, who in turn watch the off-screen beating. We hear the blows and grunts, but all we see are the faces of the mobsters in the variable lighting of the swinging light. And in a strange sort of way, we actually see much more than we would have if the camera had framed the actual beating. The faces of the mobsters are immobile, but the swinging of the lamp sets in motion a play of shadows and highlights across these two faces, as if they are changing -- morphing into something inhuman. Its as if the dark spirits incarnated in these two villains were emerging through their skin and causing the flesh to warp and buckle before our eyes.
  15. Several posts have suggested how the Huston's quasi-documentary depiction of the unnamed city gone to seed recalls the early neorealist films in postwar Italy. I think that's an excellent observation. I love these discussion boards and the way they help me think about the clips! In the Italian movies (Bicycle Thieves, Open City, Germany Year Zero, etc.), we get a sense that some of the social forces that provided the foundation for life in these cities are suddenly laid bare in the blasted and crumbling ruins through which the characters move. It's as if institutional corruption and progressive ideals were both mixed into the mortar of the buildings and then plastered over and ignored. The corruption and the ideals of prewar Italian society seem to seep out of the blasted rubble of these buildings. I think we get a similar sense of seepage from the opening of Asphalt Jungle. Only instead of social ideals and corruption, its more a matter of moral & psychological ideals and corruption. Out of the rubble in this seedy industrial part of town, we see forces of conscience and desire laid bare and put back into circulation.

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