Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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I also thought of the early Bugs Bunny cartoons while watching it. I thought it was funny, but I think the punishment might fit the crime for a first-time offence... especially if it was as obvious that it was on purpose. I am looking forward to this class to learn more about the films I grew up watching.

 

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Does anybody else get the vibe that this was originally a vaudeville routine? I have heard that many ideas for movies came from vaudeville, and this doesn't seem like an exception.

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Amazing!! It feels like stepping back in time, witnessing the first slapstick routine in film. The audience must have been thrilled to be able to see this bit...the anticipation was there, even knowing what would happen next.

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As somebody else mentioned, I remembered Bugs Bunny, specifically a cartoon when Bugs did the bucket of water on the door gag. While watching the gag unfold, Bugs says in an aside, "It's the suspense that kills me!"

 

Watching "L'Arroseur Arrose" reminded me of so many of the great comedy teams I grew up watching. You knew that the antagonist was going to step on the hose and release it. It is the waiting for the reaction by the foil that creates the suspense leading us to the laugh.

 

I agree that the success of later slapstick was the result of knowing the characters and watching their exploits. Whether it was Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, or Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner, the slapstick became funnier because we loved them and waited for their reactions. Having a plot, lovable characters, and predictable reactions, combined with an understanding that this was make-believe, we can understand it is all in fun and not malicious. Otherwise, the actions of the characters could seem brutal or hateful.

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I suppose the boy is the antagonist and the gardener is the protagonist, but we don’t know what came before this prank. We know nothing of the boy’s motivations, except that maybe it was just a simple prank. Are the tables really turned on the gardener? That English-language wording implies that something the gardener did precipitated (pun alert!) the boy’s prank. Viewers just don’t know. They can fill in a back story if they want, but the clip doesn’t provide any answers or back story. In the clip, the gardener turns the tables on the boy: He chases after him and gives him a watering!

 

I noticed the music and its tempo were well suited to the action in this short clip. In the silent era, each movie theater would have needed a talented organist or pianist to give the clip more impact. I listened to the clip without any sound, without any music, and the actions on the part of both the boy and the gardener seemed much less playful.

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Some others have pointed out Bugs Bunny and a cartoon that has similar aspects, but I also thought of the Three Stooges as well as Abbott and Costello when I watched it.  It is relatable to these other groups because you take a simple object that most everyone would have had a issue with and you use it to bring humor.  It also makes many of us think back to our childhoods and doing this during the summer - we laugh because we've done something "bad" but was it really that bad.

 

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For me, the hilarity of slapstick is the anticipation...being privey to the knowledge of the future and the possible outcome. The questions have arisen as to motive. To me, sometimes there is no other motive other than the opportunity for fun! The other part of the fun is the protagonist's reaction. For every action...true?

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What a very well done version of this gag - we've seen variations on this forever in film and tv, it's fascinating to see the original!  Really well filmed and holds up quite well honestly - the age of it doesn't matter, it's still funny to watch.  I think that's one thing about slapstick comedy - it may get more elaborate and crazy as we go along, but none of it ever really goes out of style!

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I love how its always the simple things that make people laugh the most. Those are the ones that are golden. It can be from a facial expression to a hose being sprayed into your face. Its just brilliant and pure genius. I think everyone who was involved in this film probably thought no one is going to laugh at this but yet they still gave it a shot and it worked. 

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For me, the hilarity of slapstick is the anticipation...being privey to the knowledge of the future and the possible outcome. The questions have arisen as to motive. To me, sometimes there is no other motive other than the opportunity for fun! The other part of the fun is the protagonist's reaction. For every action...true?

I've decided to take this course simply to discover why everyone thinks slapstick is so funny. Personally, I have always found slapstick predicable and rather boring. It is exactly the anticipation that others are eagerly eating up that I felt took away from the fun of comedy. For me, being able to see ahead to just what would happen (knowing the Gardner would get squirted in the face with the hose before it happens) is exactly what takes away the fun from slapstick for me. To me, it's always been, "Oh yeah, we knew the guy would get it in the face. What's so funny about that?" or the Keystone Cops ALWAYS wind up in a chase with someone so how funny can that be?

 

I'm hoping that this course will be able to change my point of view and help me to see what everyone else sees and finds so funny.

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For me, it's the simplicity of slapstick that I find funny-- but it's also the "everyday"-ness of it. A pie in the face or a poke in the eye are both things that could happen to me or the people around me. It's why I avoid banana peels. :) I'm not the biggest fan of the genre (I tend to prefer wordplay in my comedy, HUGE Mel Brooks fan), but slapstick reminds me that there's humor in the world around me. Another poster (sorry, I forgot who already!) said something about this is what we did as kids, and yeah, that rings really true to me.

 

Looking forward to modules to come!

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  In the clip of "L'Arroseur Arrose" I found a simple comedic routine of antagonist vs. protagonist and garden hose that has the potential to expand on other themes, as relationships in focus (between the 2 adversaries), work relationships (do they work together in the garden?) and what motivated this interchange of over-the-top behavior between the two individuals? Since this clip is at the beginning of slapstick genre, it would be a most simple routine that may signify complex possibilities. Later on in this era of slapstick, I would expect this humor to become more sophisticated and complex in its poking fun at greater targets, as society, relationships, class and bigotry or other uncomfortable subjects via the humor vehicle. Slapstick can be hyperbolic tinged with a bit of cruelty to emphasize a certain hidden point/viewpoint but makes the audience laugh as they more easily digest the sometimes painful message of the routines. Slapstick seems so simple yet it is so complex and at times astonishingly revelatory.

  I guess, this is why the course is called, "OUCH, and painfully funny...." It hurts till you laugh or as shown in the  theater icon of the half profiled face crying while the other profiled half is laughing, "Laugh till you cry, cry till you laugh." 

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Looking at the debate in the replies below, I would like to add my two cents to it: I am going completely with the argument that for the pure simplicity of it, slapstick is funny. Let's use L'Arroseur Arrose as an example as to why slapstick is funny.

 

We start the film with a gardener gardening. It's something that we all have done, which sets up the main reason why slapstick is funny: people doing everyday things, but the thing ultimately going wrong. This is something that the likes of The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy have shown many times. A job at a tailor shop isn't very funny, but The Three Stooges made it funny. A job delivering pianos isn't very funny, but Laurel and Hardy made it funny. These jobs are something that people can relate to, so suddenly it makes it funny. 

 

This short makes gardening funny by a perfect antagonist coming in: a kid prankster. Sometimes, villains come out of the most strangest places in slapstick comedy, and a kid prankster tormenting a gardener might seem a little pathetic because in real life the gardener would have the kid prankster beat in this scenario. Then, the gardener gets sprayed in the face by a hose in a bit of hilarious comedy. We all see it coming, and then suddenly when it happens, you can't help but laugh because of its predictability and because of its sheer funniness.

 

The gardener deserves his comeuppance, which is another reoccurring theme in slapstick: You always know that the main comedian is going to, at the end of the day, be the hero/get his revenge. That's why you know it's okay to laugh when the main character is getting slapped silly because you know it's all going to work out fine for Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd or whoever it may be that you're watching. That's why expecting it is part of the fun of slapstick comedy.

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I've decided to take this course simply to discover why everyone thinks slapstick is so funny. Personally, I have always found slapstick predicable and rather boring. It is exactly the anticipation that others are eagerly eating up that I felt took away from the fun of comedy. For me, being able to see ahead to just what would happen (knowing the Gardner would get squirted in the face with the hose before it happens) is exactly what takes away the fun from slapstick for me. To me, it's always been, "Oh yeah, we knew the guy would get it in the face. What's so funny about that?" or the Keystone Cops ALWAYS wind up in a chase with someone so how funny can that be?

 

I'm hoping that this course will be able to change my point of view and help me to see what everyone else sees and finds so funny.

The rudimentary forms of slapstick certainly are very predictable & I agree with your point that this can deflate the humor for some (especially "modern" audiences). I think as the form develops you will see more and more humor generated by the subversion of those expectations, rather than the fulfillment of them.

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Wow, a lot of deep analytical thought went into many of the comments made earlier. I guess I just don't really want to over think it but it really seems that the fun of slap stick comes from the all too human reaction of laughing about something that didn't happen to ME...at least not this time. I don't enjoy truly malicious actions that cause pain or humiliation, but the part of my brain that realizes that the "good" guy isn't really hurt or the"bad guy" is pretty much just getting an ego bruising kind of justice allows me to have a pretty good chuckle.

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Was I the only viewer of this first slapstick film who was aware of the antagonist placing his foot on the hose, but then unable to see the moment when his foot was removed (cause), leading to the spray in the face (effect)? 

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I show this film and couple of other early shorts to my class on the humanities in the Americas.  The film is a good example of earliest filmmaking: static camera, no sound, a coherent narrative, recognizable characters. 

 

Additionally, you get a laugh although my students classify this as corny rather than funny. But it was one of the earliest films and it provides a funny story.

 

As far as slapstick, you see the straight man doing what regular people do while the joker steps on the hose to stop the water flow. The straight man ends up the target of the joker.  We can see the same setup in the Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello.  This film was at the dawn of these slapstick traditions.

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Wow, a lot of deep analytical thought went into many of the comments made earlier. I guess I just don't really want to over think it but it really seems that the fun of slap stick comes from the all too human reaction of laughing about something that didn't happen to ME...at least not this time. I don't enjoy truly malicious actions that cause pain or humiliation, but the part of my brain that realizes that the "good" guy isn't really hurt or the"bad guy" is pretty much just getting an ego bruising kind of justice allows me to have a pretty good chuckle.

 

You made a very, very good point about "laughing about something that didn't happen to ME...". Perhaps that is the reason why we, as a society, laugh when people fall down or get hurt. Maybe, it's because it didn't happen to us. I, myself, have never been a big fan of laughing at injuries, say, on YouTube but in slapstick I know it's perfectly fine because nobody really broke any bones for the most part.

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Comedy has been around since ancient Greece and the stories of gods and heroes. Humor is intelligence and it is clever. We feel smart when we can "pull one over" on someone. And who doesn't like to laugh? It feels good and gives us a sense of well-being. It makes perfect sense that Lumiere would want to capture this feeling. Especially when trying to promote film as an art form. Nothing can be so engaging and inclusive to an audience as laughter. It is the shared experience that brings us together. 

 

What I love most about these types of comedic gags is the disposition of the protagonist. Do they get mad or do they laugh along? It's funnier when the person doesn't take a joke well. The cranky old man who gets water in the the face, the arrogant performer who wears the juicy tomato. It's always best when the "bad" guy gets it!  We really mean him/her no harm, just a little lighthearted justice! 

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My thoughts actually went much more to Woody Woodpecker than Bugs Bunny. The typical setup of those cartoons (and exactly why I could never get into them even as a kid) was Woody randomly pranking some guy over and over, and never getting any comeuppance for it. And this film makes it work because the pranker does get his comeuppance, making it more reminiscent of Woody's direct predecessors Heckle and Jeckle.

 

And of course, what makes the likes of Bugs and Road Runner more palatable is that the person they're up against is actively trying to harm them first (though not all the time, once the audience knew the characters well enough to automatically be on their side).

 

One other bit that popped into my head was the closing credits running gag in the second series of Blackadder, which shows how this kind of gag can be improved with a longer format. Each time, Blackadder gets taunted by a guy singing about the problem he had in the episode, and he searches a garden for him. Each time the search becomes angrier and more violent, until in the last episode he finally catches the guy and dunks him into a fountain. The buildup (especially if you saw them weekly on the original airing) is what makes it all worth it.

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As another student mentioned, historical context is interesting here. I found myself wondering about the invention of the hose, for one thing. And looking into this particular film's history, I noticed that it was on the bill at the very first "film festival", for paying customers. Actually, the very first film screening with paid attendance. I also noticed that the Luminaire brothers may have been on the wrong side of history during WW2, so they were denied some honors in France.

 

I loved the gardener's costume. That hat! That rubber-looking butcher apron! It didn't save him from the prank and his own ignorance.

 

For me, the hose was the star of this production. It mirrored the action of the performers during the chaotic slapstick moments by spewing wildly. 

 

As someone who prefers the narrative to the visual at most times, I'm looking forward to this class with sight-gags being a key detail.

 

 

 

 

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This clip made me think of the various kinds of pranksters.  In this case, the film-maker makes the prankster a very over-the-top character, one that you couldn't possibly miss.  It strikes me how ingenious Buster Keaton & Stan Laurel were in their character of the innocent prankster - causing mayhem without meaning to, making a much more empathetic situation, which worked for me on multiple levels - both the comedy aspect but also drawing me in through sympathy for their character.

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Good

 

Comedy has been around since ancient Greece and the stories of gods and heroes. Humor is intelligence and it is clever. We feel smart when we can "pull one over" on someone. And who doesn't like to laugh? It feels good and gives us a sense of well-being. It makes perfect sense that Lumiere would want to capture this feeling. Especially when trying to promote film as an art form. Nothing can be so engaging and inclusive to an audience as laughter. It is the shared experience that brings us together. 

 

What I love most about these types of comedic gags is the disposition of the protagonist. Do they get mad or do they laugh along? It's funnier when the person doesn't take a joke well. The cranky old man who gets water in the the face, the arrogant performer who wears the juicy tomato. It's always best when the "bad" guy gets it!  We really mean him/her no harm, just a little lighthearted justice! 

 Point!  I think also this plays into rebelling against authority, the person in charge.  Charlie Chaplin certainly was all about that.

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I thought about vaudeville. Were water pranks part of comedy skits on stage? Comedy began before films. This early film is outside and natural looking. Is that something that would entice and audience? 

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I thought about vaudeville. Were water pranks part of comedy skits on stage? Comedy began before films. This early film is outside and natural looking. Is that something that would entice and audience? 

 

I would assume that water pranks were part of comedy skits on stage. I'm making this assumption because I read once in Moe Howard's (of The Three Stooges fame) biography, and it said something about him and his pal Ted Healy doing a skit called "Fire and Water" which ended with a comedian getting doused with water. Moe said that the person who got doused with water in the end quit because of it, so I'm guessing not too many people were happy with being on the receiving end of the water prank.

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