Dr. Rich Edwards

Discussion of the First Slapstick Film: "L'Arroseur Arrosé" (1896)

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I liked this short because it was so simplistic and brilliant at the same time. This was in the infancy of slapstick and things just blossomed after that. Now a days this gag seems so common place that it is seen everywhere.

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This reminds me of what Charlie Chaplin said in his biography, give me a park bench and I can give you a film.

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This was clearly imitated in the Monty Python skit 'The Wacky Queen', which was supposed to emulate silent film footage of Queen Victoria, which would make it contemperary to 'L'Arroseur Arrosé'. Not to mention I have seen the gag in dozens of cartoons.

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I had to dwell on this film a bit.  It is funny.  It is a humor I am not used to.  It’s also hard for me to see that boy as a boy as he’s just huge.  I wonder if I would find it funnier if he was younger.  I can root for the underdog, but it is hard for me to root for someone who is the class clown and taking away from someone else’s productivity.  If the boy was interfering with someone sunning himself idly, that may be a stronger laugh from me.  I do love how unifying slapstick is.  It can be expressed in a silent film.   People who spoke different languages could come together and watch that.  I recently read a David Sedaris book where he mentioned the Dutch St, Nicholas changes over time.   St. Nicholas changed from beating children who had not behaved over the years to pretending to beat them.   His slaves also just became his friendly helpers.  It’s interesting to me that this slapstick short changed so quickly (1895 to 1897).  One almost imagines a modern focus group in effect where they called in a sample and asked what needed tweaking. :)

John Cleese talked about a gag in 'Faulty Towers' where he had to hit his broken down car with a branch. He said that if the branch was too small, or too big, too firm or too floppy, the gag wouldn't be funny. The branch had to be just the right size and firmness. Cleese said these details in the execution of a gag are important to how funny it is. The same is true for 'L'Arroseur Arrosé' - the amount and force of the water coming out of the hose for example. So I can agree that the boy being younger would make it funnier.

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As others have noted, slapstick is an acquired taste and an essential form of comedy. To the uninitiated, slapstick in all forms is just stupid. However, to those disciples and true believers who consider slapstick as the ultimate art form of fine comedy, those negative infidels are just all wet,  

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Watched the film. I got the joke. It was classic slapstick. But I disagree that the "boy" wasn't a boy enought by todays standards, which is how this is being viewed. By 1896/97 standards he is a boy. If you were not a grown man then you were referred to as a boy. They also saw young man as a boy if he was the helper. 

Looking foreward to the whole course.

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Watched this last week. Never had heard of it until this course. Typical slapstick fare that we see nowadays. Was funny though, I have often thought of pulling that on someone. I have always found slapstick funny and this 'the seed' of slapstick shows how it has grown over the years, but also kind of remained the same.

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Perhaps this is obvious, but for slapstick to be funny and for this particular gag to succeed, both the protagonist and the antagonist have to be somewhat oblivious, yes, we have to suspend our belief in realism and let ourselves embrace the exaggeration in the edition of the gag. Even the term violent comedy infers this type of detachment.

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Personally, I enjoy slapstick comedy- it is more sophisticated than some folks will admit. In the case of this short film we see the antagonist sneaking up on the gardener, hiding from him in an exaggerated manner that communicates to the viewer that his intentions are mischievous, and we already suspect what he will do. When the water stops running the gardener looks directly into the nozzle- as if the answer to the interrupted flow will present itself, but instead he gets a snoot full of water, a physical jolt with the element of surprise but having a very low risk for injury and not especially violent, therefore the audience is comfortable with the laugh. We sympathize with him but see him only as the victim of a minor prank.  This ordinary item- a garden hose- becomes the comedic device because the sudden squirt is unexpected by the protagonist. At this point we aren't even thinking about the perpetrator. Although his action of stepping on the hose and subsequently releasing it is the cause/set-up, the effect/gag results in our feeling somewhat satisfied at our anticipated outcome of the dousing. Part of what makes slapstick funny is that we all have a certain amount of schadenfreude.  We see variations of this gag repeated over and over again in later films, such as when the plumbing goes awry in a Three Stooges short, or Jerry Lewis has difficulty operating the faucett in "The Caddy", and although we as viewers anticipate the "squirt", the protagonist never does. It always elicits a laugh from me.

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I thought it was so interesting to watch this film and see what inspired so many filmmakers to use slapstick in their movies.  When slapstick is done well, and for me that means when it catches me completely by surprise, it is absolutely hilarious. I'm really looking forward to watching more classic movies that showcase slapstick. 

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Personally, I enjoy slapstick comedy- it is more sophisticated than some folks will admit. In the case of this short film we see the antagonist sneaking up on the gardener, hiding from him in an exaggerated manner that communicates to the viewer that his intentions are mischievous, and we already suspect what he will do. When the water stops running the gardener looks directly into the nozzle- as if the answer to the interrupted flow will present itself, but instead he gets a snoot full of water, a physical jolt with the element of surprise but having a very low risk for injury and not especially violent, therefore the audience is comfortable with the laugh. We sympathize with him but see him only as the victim of a minor prank.  This ordinary item- a garden hose- becomes the comedic device because the sudden squirt is unexpected by the protagonist. At this point we aren't even thinking about the perpetrator. Although his action of stepping on the hose and subsequently releasing it is the cause/set-up, the effect/gag results in our feeling somewhat satisfied at our anticipated outcome of the dousing. Part of what makes slapstick funny is that we all have a certain amount of schadenfreude.  We see variations of this gag repeated over and over again in later films, such as when the plumbing goes awry in a Three Stooges short, or Jerry Lewis has difficulty operating the faucett in "The Caddy", and although we as viewers anticipate the "squirt", the protagonist never does. It always elicits a laugh.

I couldn't agree more!  I think what gets me the most is the brief anticipation of wondering what comes next in this very small step out of the original plot.

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I'm catching up (thanks, Hermine!)  so forgive me if I'm repeating, but one of the most comedic aspects, to me, of this early film is the anticipation:  we know what's going to happen as soon as the boy steps on the hose (really when he gets near it),  but we wait, and wait, and wait for it to happen.  It's timed really well, so that even though we know what will happen, we are surprised when it does.

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This was the embryo of all the following slapstick films that would follow. It is primitive and authentic as well as its characters that were taken from the everyday life. The man, the garderner, tries to water the plants while a naughty youngster makes fun of him. Yes indeed, we don't know these characters in depth but we would like to learn what is all about them and what is the reason behind their antagonism that fuels this climax of comedy and fun. I definitely liked it a lot! 
I'm glad I'm here in this course, second time around with professor Edwards! 
Hello everybody!

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Hi, Everyone!  I am honored to be a part of the TCM & Ball State University online course on Slapstick Comedy.  I enjoyed watching the first set of films last evening in the network's salute to slapstick comedy.  I will be catching up with this course.

 

The first slapstick motion picture, "L'Arroseur Arrosé" (1896, remade in 1897) is significant to the foundations of slapstick comedy, as it was an essential building block for this motion picture genre.  In connection to one of Gerald Mast's questions in regards to the short, the comedic discovery of "L'Arroseur Arrosé" occurs when the young man sneaks up into the garden while the gardener is watering his plants, later leading to the chaotic moment in the short.

 

"L'Arroseur Arrosé" is one of the essential building blocks in the art of slapstick comedy, as Augustus and Louis Lumière made cinematic (and comedic) history in 1896 (remade in 1897 by Alice Guy for Gaumont).  This short would possibly inspire future slapstick comedies made by Mack Sennett, Roscoe Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and Hal Roach (just to name a few).  

 

Looking forward to tonight's other set of vintage silent slapstick comedies (after the 2014 documentary on Charlie Chaplin, "The Birth of the Tramp" at 8 p.m. eastern)!

 

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This is the most basic of comedic gags. Very much like vaudeville where there would be a "straight" man and the guy who tells the joke. The man with the hose is the straight man, and the prankster is the one who releases the water. There's a small set up, A leads to B, joke is done. Over time, as audiences became more sophisticated, so have the jokes. And yet, these basic kind of jokes are the ones we learn when we are young. Almost like reading the Dick and Jane books (for those of you familiar with them). And there are those who will always prefer this simplicity of joke telling over anything more complicated - Dumb and Dumber.

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The slapstick tropes are there in a nascent form but they are there nonetheless: an exaggerated situation, a pratfall, violence, absurdity and humor. The two protagonists turned the tables on each other. All in 44 seconds. Groundbreaking then and impressive now.

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As the movie poster brilliantly points us, this movie was produced in a time when cinema was giving its first steps. While some of the earliest experiments from Lumiére were focused on common situations, this one shows the audience a simple and quick gag. It is clear to me that this short intention's weren't just register a situation, but make the audience laugh! It is probably one of the first experiments lead by the French brothers to make the movies such an important art for the 20th century.

 

We already see here some elements really common in slapsticks, like the exagerated situations and the antagonism between two characters that represent themselves difuse personalities. If we continue to dig up, it is clear that Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin used a lot those characteristics on their careers.

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Great points, wjones20.

 

About practical jokes vs. things that happen to people. I don't know if practical-joke slapstick is the lower art form, but I tend to like it less because of the meanness/malice.

 

Modern Times is a great example of slapstick being a way to work out discomfort with new technology, of course. I'm trying to think of any similar scenes more recent than IBM era and failing. The only recent movies/TV that deals with modernity I can think of  are dark and/or apocalyptic science-fiction movies.

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I have seen this gag in more than one silent film. I think they added to it by changing the hose to something else.

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With the Lumiere Brothers short subject "L' Arroseur Arrose" (1896), we have the film origin of visual slapstick.  So simple but effective -- and hilarious.  This kind of simple gag would rule film comedy for almost twenty years.  In the mid-1910's, Charlie Chaplin would expand the complexity and emotional impact of these kind of gags, as he integrated them into larger narrative structures that told increasingly complex stories.  But, it all started here: from this small acorn, a mighty oak grew! 

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I think it's hilarious and completely innovative for that time. I mean it was only in that century or so that they even had indoor plumbing. Moving from the outhouse on the farm to the big city why not use everything there to it's full advantage? If you have a hose, spray it. LOL!  :P

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