Higgs5

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  1. Thanks for a well planned, engaging curriculum. Beyond learning about the evolution of comedy in film, I was instructed on how to evaluate films by identifying cinematic techniques, theatrical/literary devices, and acting. As an added note, TCM aired about four Keaton films back to back this morning. The other night I spotted three of the original Frankenstein horror films. Anchorman 2 is airing as I write this. I have plenty of opportunities to keep practicing what I’ve learned.
  2. The film pokes fun of the news content and stereotypical newsmen of the 70s – particularly at smaller local stations. As with Allen and Brooks characters, Farrell plays the unlikely leading man who wins over his true love. The film has a fair amount of well timed physical comedy – although much of it is crude. I find Allen’s and Brook’s films much more thoughtful, subtle, literary, steeped in film history, and less offensive than Farrell’s. The film added celebrities to the mix during the fight scene. It was a way of introducing a number of quirky characters from competing news teams into the fight. The comedians and directors we have studied so far have established rules and raised the bar and thus elevated the talents and integrity of the people who worked with them. I’m not sure who Farrell is trying to emulate. He is non- traditional and I feel as though other “emerging” comedians in the cast were taken down a notch to match his style.
  3. Despite all his resistance (accompanied by jokes and sarcastic commentary) the unlikely hero is goaded by the more “cowardly” rebels into getting food for the revolutionaries. Adding to the hilarity, Allen goes to a “road side deli” (in an impoverished South American country in the midst of a revolution) and what’s even more absurd is that the deli is able to fulfill this “customized”/ sizable order. The irony is that the rebels end up stealing the food from the very citizens they claim to be liberating. While the Great Race is more of a “contrived” tribute to slapstick with whacky and “discontinuous gags”, Bananas combines political satire (not so subtle running commentaries/parodies involving international politics and foreign policy, FBI/ CIA operatives, courtroom procedures, stereotypical relationships, the media, and political activism) and Allen’s brand (akin to Sennett’s style) of unceasing physical and verbal comedy (accompanied by whimsical music) that leaves you breathless.
  4. The scene starts out with an impressive sounding ( slick, smooth talking, logical, arrogant) young Frankenstein (Wilder) who repeatedly breaks out into a frenzy and melts down (eventually stabs himself) when the sensitive/shameful topic of his grandfather’s research comes up, or his views are challenged, or his name is mispronounced. The original Frankenstein movies frequently opened with scenes in the classroom (also in black and white) with cadavers/ preserved brains and other organs on display to establish Frankenstein’s legitimacy as a physician. Wilder becomes increasingly emotional (calling to mind his grandfather’s “madness” and emotional outbursts in the old films ) as he argues there is no way you can renew life and while his grandfather was immersed in the pursuit of regenerating life his only concern was the “preservation of life” . Instead of using his higher more scientific English, he starts to refer to hearts and kidneys as “tinker toys” stating that “dead is dead” and that his grandfather’s work was “doo doo”. The directors never lose an opportunity to inject the Marx Brother’s brand of sarcasm, play on words, sexual innuendo(“Pardon me boys is this the Transylvania station”,” rolling in the hay”, the revolving bookcase, the seductive lab assistant , “Setagive”, “Abby Normal”, the roving hunch on Igor’s back, “Ovaltine”, Horse’s neighing to the name Frau Blucher, the exaggerated movements of Inspector Kemp, the bumbling blind hermit, “you take the blond, I’ll take the one in the turban”, the high strung spoiled fiancé, “seven has always been my lucky number”)… and physical comedy (Igor operating electrical equipment in the lab, mob violence, the child being catapulted, Inspector Kemp’s prosthetic, the love scenes with Wilder and Garr on the gurney, Kahn and the monster, and subsequent honeymoon scenes). The humor intensifies as the story progresses and the quirky characters are introduced. The film was shot as a tribute to the original films which were filmed in black and white. The film color, camera movement/techniques, original props, sounds, music, are all designed to capture the flavor of the original masterpieces. Also this story is based on a gothic novel full of mystery and “darkness” so it is fitting that the film should reflect that mood.
  5. Clouseau’s persona is original and not intended to spoof other detective characters. Drebin’s persona drifts between a Joe Friday, James Bond, Marlowe, and a bit of Dirty Harry style detective/crime solver as captured in the film clip (e.g. “Ted” the “Q” equivalent in the crimes lab and get a sampling of his latest inventions, the classical “you’ve got 24 hours” to clear your partner even though all the evidence is stacked against him, the opening scene in which Drebin blows up his own car). As with Brooks and Wilder in Young Frankenstein, ZAZ employs the technique of recombining old genres/calling to mind classical characters and building in carefully timed physical comedy, play on words, and memorable one liners. We see elements of classic (three stooges/Marx brothers like) gags and brawls in both films and each set of directors also push the envelope by injecting a fair amount of potty, ethnic, and sexual humor. Drebin is somewhat less inept than Clouseau, but equally as clumsy and as apt to set off a chain of disasters. He seems less confounded by his mistakes than Clouseau but is similarly convinced of his own intelligence. Drebin uses more detective “rhetoric” and is more proactive in solving his cases and employs more high tech “gadgets” . Like Clouseau he makes use of disguises. He is also more apt to take on criminals/terrorists directly; setting traps for them and initiating fist fights.
  6. The addition of color enhanced the beauty and realism of the scenes including magnificent outdoor locations and the more intimate locales such as outdoor markets and flower laden neighborhoods. The actors, costumes, retro furnishings, candlelight suppers, and shots in the car/on the road are more “dramatic”/ life like. Luminous, contrasting colors convey the “high end” quality of the trailer/props and evoke feelings of warmth/ nostalgia/ romance as these two innocents embark on their “adventure”. Panoramic views/ camera positions and movements (“angled shots”) capture the beauty, vastness, and elevation of the outdoor locations and emphasize the fear/tension/animosity related to the overwhelming task of hauling and manipulating the trailer in this environment. These same camera techniques are applied to fully capitalize on and capture the physical comedy. Lucille Ball’s slapstick skills shine through as her dream of the ideal home and honeymoon disintegrates through a series of mishaps. Lucille Ball performed with and was trained by the masters of slapstick. She had the skills to generate/originate unique and precise routines and they were captured by a director who was reputed to have an “artist’s eye” and “flair for color”.
  7. Professor Fate is the generic bumbling villain (with the accompanying nutty sidekick, dark clothing, mustache, and inane laugh) whose efforts to sabotage Leslie’s heroic dare devil feats, using “cartoon logic”, consistently fires back on him. His gadgets always malfunction and he ends up falling from great heights or getting “hurt”. Donned in white, Leslie is a noble, attractive hero who performs extraordinary feats, overcomes all obstacles, has an array of talents and special skills, never seems to get hurt or dirty, and always attracts women. The film is a revival of non-stop slapstick styled gags, like shooting down hot air balloons, bar room brawls, cars races/crashes, and the ultimate pie fight. The scenes are whacky, vibrant/ colorful, and “looney”.
  8. Clouseau mocks police work by making it appear foolish and disordered. He is an incompetent, clumsy individual who does recognize his own idiocy and arrogantly blames others or outside factors for outcomes – yet through fate he prevails. As illustrated in the warped cue stick gag, his sense of logic is impaired.
  9. Abbot and Costello are perfectly paired and their signature “cross talk” routines are flawlessly executed. Much like the Marx brothers , their personas never varied - Abbot was always the more rational, scheming character and Costello the more gullible, childlike one (the baaaad boy). Also, like the Marx brothers, their routines reflected their roots in burlesque. The duo uses similar play on words/verbal jousting and physical comedy(Costello loses his voice/ability to move, Chick faints, they scream a lot, slap and yell at each other, scurry around frantically or break out running and throw down obstacles as monsters pursue them). The film is staged like a real horror film with all the essential elements (scary plot, ghouls, vampires, a castle, a laboratory, thunder and lightning, dark forests); the plot is fairly complex/suspenseful; the element of fear and Costello’s frustration over “no one believing” him drives the humor . A & C were “polished” fast talking comedians that captivated us and challenged our minds. Contemporary screen comedians are definitely trending away from the more challenging, funny, and enduring kind of comedy routines of the past –much of the comedy is simply inane and crude.
  10. The plot is not subordinate to the comedy. The gags in this film are less physical/chaotic/ “ritualistic” than in the Chase and Marx films we viewed. The plot is a bit more complex. Fields is less physical (although the characters around him perform the usual feats). Field’s dialogue is slower paced making his humor more thought provoking. His character is lazy and boastful. His contempt for certain things (like his family life, work, and certain occupations) comes through in his loaded, sarcastic, and irreverent remarks. I made note of some of the funny quotes (even the names of the players were humorous - Egbert SOUSE, Dr. STALL, Pinkerton SNOOPington, Ogillby): “What’s a six letter word for embezzlement – prison”; Shall I bounce a rock off his head? Respect your father…what kind of rock?”; I’m very fond of children-girl children-about 18 to 20”; “This place isn’t crowded is it? No… if it wasn’t for me the place would starve to death”; “Take two pills in a glass of castor oil for two nights running”; “I know positively that our good friend Dr Stall has treated this boy for Malta fever, beriberi and that dreaded of all diseases Mogo on the Gagogo; If duty called I would go into the tsetse fly country of Africa and brave sleeping sickness if there were books to be examined; “The bank opens at ten..oh well that’s all right if I’m not there on time go right ahead without me”; “You mustn’t make fun of the gentlemen…you’d have to have a nose like that full of nickels, wouldn’t you?; The resale value of this car is going to practically nil when we get through with this trip”; “Mr. Snoopington is no longer a nightmare”.
  11. The verbal slapstick featured in this film fits Dale’s definition in all its forms. The comedy bits were so bold and unceasing that a lot of the exchanges must have been unscripted. There were notable pauses in the exchanges…even so the wise cracks and innuendo were so fleeting that I could hardly retain them. The least appealing scenes for me were some of the not so funny song and dance sequences where the Marx Brothers weren’t in front of the camera…when things “slowed down” and deviated from the continuous/bizarre jabs and gags. The film was a composite of wit and “riotous” physical comedy with a fair share of “violence”. That the brother’s characters were operating completely out of their element (the opera crowd) alone is funny. The gags that were the most memorable for me and that best employed the elements of visual slapstick comedy were: the "contract" bit (“there aint no sanity clause”) between Chico and Groucho ; the crowded state room scene; Jones, Harpo, and Chico heaping food on their plates at the buffet on the upper deck, Harpo and Chico charming the children with musical antics at the piano (with a more serious moment at the harp); the hotel scene with Harpo serving himself breakfast and all the switching of furniture between suites to avoid capture by the Detective; Harpo crawling out of a porthole, hanging on to a rope, and falling into the ocean; Jones, Chico and Harpo in bearded disguises posing as celebrity aviators with Harpo repetitively drinking glasses of water to avoid “speaking”; and finally the gags during the opera performance where Chico and Harpo “play in the orchestra”, engage the director in a “baton fight”, and eventually destroy the sets during a series of acrobatics. The visual slapstick in this film was hardly “subdued” or supplanted by the verbal wit. In fact Harpo’s character conforms to silent slapstick by not speaking. The physical routines were daring, boisterous, and exaggerated.
  12. The film is staged in the tradition of vaudeville/silent slapstick. The film even opens with the traditional “titles” used in silent films. However the comedians now have the added advantage of using conspicuous verbal sarcasm and, for added levity, recorded background music. The comedy is centered on Chase’s desperate efforts to clean up after he fouls up and tries to make himself smell and look awful for what he anticipates will be a disappointing date (that Todd is on to him makes him look even more ridiculous and adds an element of playfulness). What follows is a series of vain attempts by Chase to groom himself and reclaim his suit (using the entire stage and every prop within his reach) with the usual anarchy, blunders, mishaps, and falls (although appears less “aggressive”). The water dispenser and shaving sequences reflect the slapstick elements early on. The film also notably uses darkness (turning lights out) and dance to heighten the humor. Chase frequently expresses his frustrations throughout the story and as soon as we begin to hear a variation in background music the audience is primed for the shift to physical comedy. When the action dies down and the narrative resumes, Chase returns to his ornery /contrarian self (a real “pip” himself in the negative context). The background music reverts to a silly/ lighthearted and repetitive tune (reminded me of the background music in the Our Gang shorts). Chase's character is generally cranky and easily frustrated. Despite his difficult nature, Todd finds him charming and it didn’t escape me that frequently during his gags Chase appears to look to the audience for affirmation. He might as well have smiled and winked at the audience directly.
  13. Keaton captivates his audience with sets that are larger and I would guess more expensive, stunts that are more risky/acrobatic and scenes that are more sensational/violent. The acting is less expressive and highly physical. He did not employ the kind of “grace”/emotion or include the “social commentary” you find in Chaplin films. He added a little spice with the bathing scene (probably to introduce the tub he would later fall into) and captivates the audience with full frame and long distance shots that focus on large props collapsing and performing stunts at, or falling from, great heights. He frequently stands back and surveys the set as a prelude to the next mishap, to view the large job or object to be tackled, or to show the outcome of his handy work (which is priceless). The only close-ups are for disseminating certain information… like showing the house kit instructions to inform the audience and the dates on the calendar to convey the duration and mounting frustration over the botched up construction of the house. He uses his “stone face” as the train narrowly misses the house but the story quickly ends when unnoticed, a train from the opposite direction destroys the house. That the couple would even attempt to save the sorry little house is comical in and of itself, but then again in their minds things were “perfect”. The film is like a “live cartoon”. Keaton commended his body to his art at a time where little was done to protect actors from injury. It required flawless timing and coordination and set a new precedent for physical comedy. Also while he is pan faced, he still manages to convey so much with that stare of his, even without the benefit of close ups.
  14. Much like in a Woody Allen film, Lloyd uses New York as a backdrop for his comedy and the result is some of the most comprehensive and animated footage of New York streets and attractions of the period. Every form of transportation in the city is displayed while he performs his harrowing driving and narrow escapes (using film footage in the background – probably a first) and we see all kinds of characters from working class folks to unscrupulous railroad magnets, street gangs, a Baseball hero and Civil War Veterans. How symbolic that a dying breed of civil war vets dressed in football uniforms and armed with horseshoes fight to prevent a swindle by the railway men and help save a horse car that is destined to become obsolete. The storyline is suspended when the couple goes off to Coney Island – another opportunity for Lloyd to showcase New York and the park’s exhilarating amusements and more notably to pause and display his antics. Here we see Speedy carefree, “drifting” through life, unaware as he gets caught up in one mishap after another; totally by chance . The guy who cares so much about his treasured suit of clothes gets sprayed in the face at the precise moment he simply walks by a water fountain, is so preoccupied by the misconstrued “spots” on his suit that he is unaware that he has leaned against wet painted fence posts , inadvertently attracts the affections of a stray dog despite his best efforts to get rid of him, unawares, lands a crab in his pocket and then reeks havoc on a balloon man, lifts ladies scarves and skirts and also pinches a few in the process. Another best is at the arcade where he accidently smacks a man eating an ice-cream cone and ends up winning a prize when a ball thrown at him in retaliation hits the target. Next when Speedy runs out of money and in a simple gesture of frustration he removes his hat, someone drops change into it … he is a victim of a series of mishaps and leads a charmed existence at the same time. All these little mishaps and recoveries occur abruptly and authentically; not in the highly stylized or exaggerated way as with Chaplin and Keaton. But when the storyline resumes in the city, Speedy uses his wits and daring to overcome obstacles and help Pops get his due. We move from “life happens” to taking the bull by the horns. Thanks to Lloyd for the historical footage of a modern era and using “new” techniques like adding film footage in the background to heighten the action (also for the sarcasm in lines like “Where did you learn to drive – I didn’t it’s a gift” and “If I ever wanted to commit suicide I’d call you”).
  15. I can see that with very little variation in the position of the camera and through long shots, Chaplin manages to capture the entire “landscape” and meld together the setting, storyline, and the mood, expressions and emotions of the players. The acting is so effective…the story is conveyed through a string of innovative comedic sketches interspersed with scenes that frustrate us and stir up emotions. The realities of the Depression Era are immediately introduced - vagrants, deteriorated structures, thread worn and mismatched clothing, hunger, homelessness, unemployment lines, cheap rooming houses – people subjected to hardships not so different from the gang of dogs seen running rampant, displaced, and scrounging for/ fighting over food. People retreat to the dance/beer hall and enjoy the occasional beer and hotdog, but the for the most part are trapped by their circumstances. The film has an “epic” quality - the acting is soulful and full of contrasting emotions as Chaplin (the hero) and the dog bond and struggle ( eventually resort to stealing) to survive and overcome a series of obstacles (both comedic and dangerous) and ultimately triumph and find peace and prosper in the countryside. It’ s no wonder that scholars are so enamored with this film and feel that modern visual comedies are “lacking”. The numerous gags – now classic and familiar - captivate us and (in between bouts of sorrow) our laughter builds up from setup to finish. This is unlike the “broken up”/less “revealing” comedy trending today that Canby refers to…cameras cut away to capture “bits” of humor/zingers and canned laughter. I agree sketches today often aren’t as well acted and don’t appear as dangerous or complicated, and if we compare things to this film, so pure and honest, but physical comedy/ pantomime still appears in selected post era and recent sitcoms and comedy films and still makes me roar with laughter.

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