Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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It strikes me how ingenious Buster Keaton & Stan Laurel were in their character of the innocent prankster - causing mayhem without meaning to.

 

I would actually submit that Stan Laurel wasn't so much a prankster as more of a catalyst, causing misfortune to others without effect on him. If someone doesn't have a malicious intent it's hard for me to identify them as a "prankster".  Look at Busy Bodies and specifically the "window gag" where Stan has no clue he's trapped Ollie's hands.  Now I will agree that he's being a prankster in babes in Toy Land aka March of the Wooden Soldiers when he launches a "peewee" to knock off the villain's hat. The second is a prank caused by Stan's ill feelings and need for revenge towards his target, but in the first gag Stan's lack of intent doesn't make it a prank.

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Okay, so my coffee kicked in and I saw the date for this clip. The first version of L'Arroseur Arrose is dated 1895 and has the prankster getting a spanking at the end. The second version is dated 1896 and ends with the prankster getting sprayed with the hose by the gardener. Actually the second version is more amusing to me since the prankster gets an unexpected dose of his own medicine while the gardener just goes back to his watering. There is no build up of abuse in either one, just a prankster being getting a proper payback.

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I just now looked up this film on IMDb, and guess what.  According to IMDb the film we have just watched is not the original Louis Lumiere film.  IMDb claims that our film is a REMAKE of the Louis Lumiere film done by Alice Guy for Gaumont in 1897.  In the original film (again, according to IMDb) the gardener grabs the boy by the ear and spanks him.  He does not chase him down and soak him with the hose.

 

Not sure how pertinent this information is.  Still …

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The word Schadenfreude comes to mind. Would this always be a component of Slapstick Comedy?

 

I really enjoy all the different perspectives offered in these comments. They expand my ways of thinking about the films.

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I am here because I love classic films (and this is free, and I wanted the experience of online structured learning).  But mainly, I am also a slapstick grinch - and more verbal than visual.  I think its funny not because it is unexpected, but precisely because it IS expected...  its all about the suspense of waiting for it, but then you don't know what the response is going to be.  It was interesting that even at this early stage some commentors noted that there is more than one version of this film/joke with the prankster getting a different comeuppance in each.  Looking forward to more!

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Okay, so my coffee kicked in and I saw the date for this clip. The first version of L'Arroseur Arrose is dated 1895 and has the prankster getting a spanking at the end. The second version is dated 1896 and ends with the prankster getting sprayed with the hose by the gardener. Actually the second version is more amusing to me since the prankster gets an unexpected dose of his own medicine while the gardener just goes back to his watering. There is no build up of abuse in either one, just a prankster being getting a proper payback.

 

At first, I had only watched the first version until I read your comment. Then, I went back on YouTube and watched the second version, and I'm going to have to agree with you: The second version is better. It turns into a sort of water fight definitely reminiscent of some later silent comedies and early sound comedies made at the Mack Sennett and Hal Roach studios.

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I do agree with a lot a people who have already said on here that they love slapstick because it is simple. I would like to add to the fact that I love slapstick because it's childish.

 

This clip is a great example of what I mean. A lot of the tricks that are being played on the characters are childish tricks that kids play on eachother when they are young. People who make films are often inspired by events and people around them. I would like to beleive that someone saw kids pulling this prank on eachother in the middle of summer and them laughing like crazy.

 

When it comes to these pranks you think that they would be predictable until you are at the receiving end of one of them. Yet, even as we grow up and we still pull the same lame jokes on our friends it's still funny. We still also don't tell the friend that the joke is being played on because we want to laugh at the simple stupidity of it.

 

I also believe that with this film we can't really pick who is the protagonist or the antagonist because we don't really know what happened before this clip. Based off the information that we have the Antagonist would have to be the boy stopping the hose and the protagonist would be the one that is getting the water on his face.

 

I would have to say that being one of the first movie pictures to come about not only does this open the door to future slap sticks movie but for comedies in general. Since there weren't that many movies at the time it's still uncharted territory that is looking to be explored.

 

 

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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.

 

Agree, and am thinking that historical context matters so much. This prank seemed so innocent, a light-hearted view that would lead to good-hearted laughter. "Revenge" was achieved, but no one got hurt. It would be interesting to trace the evolution of slapstick from this to more malevolent pranks and pranksters in films of recent decades.

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I just now looked up this film on IMDb, and guess what.  According to IMDb the film we have just watched is not the original Louis Lumiere film.  IMDb claims that our film is a REMAKE of the Louis Lumiere film done by Alice Guy for Gaumont in 1897.  In the original film (again, according to IMDb) the gardener grabs the boy by the ear and spanks him.  He does not chase him down and soak him with the hose.

 

Not sure how pertinent this information is.  Still..

The film was remade several times by other filmmakers around that time, including Georges Melies.  The Lumiere brothers even remade L'arroseur I think twice themselves.  I'm not entirely sure whether the other version we've seen is one of the Lumieres' or Alice Guy's.  Regardless, Alice Guy has the distinction of being cinema's first female director, and she had a prolific career.  (The version where the prankster gets spanked is definitely the original Lumiere, from 1895.)  And Francois Truffaut paid homage to it in his 1957 short Les Mistons.

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This very short film is fascinating because we are still utilizing this form of entertainment both visually, as slapstick is a visual art form, but it has also carried over into verbal comedy. There is the set up with the boy stepping on the garden hose, and then, we're hit with the punchline, which is when the gardener is sprayed in the face while looking down the nozzle of the hose. It is an art form, which works in most situational comedy I can think of, from standup comedy to television to movies of all eras. This art form transcends time, and as someone wanting to learn how to appreciate the art of slapstick, I found this short film very entertaining!

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The Comic Discovery: How does it comes about?

 

Perhaps the slapstick here is in not knowing the "why" of it all.

A part of slapstick is making people laugh at their own ignorance of the situation.

 

Sadness sometimes comes at a great cost to us, so everything being equal, we would rather laugh. The gardener is sprayed with a garden hose and instead of us saying, "Oh dear! How awful!" we laugh; less costly.

 

 

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I just now looked up this film on IMDb, and guess what.  According to IMDb the film we have just watched is not the original Louis Lumiere film.  IMDb claims that our film is a REMAKE of the Louis Lumiere film done by Alice Guy for Gaumont in 1897.  In the original film (again, according to IMDb) the gardener grabs the boy by the ear and spanks him.  He does not chase him down and soak him with the hose.

 

Not sure how pertinent this information is.  Still …

Great catch, GeezerNoir. I meant to link to the original (and upon re-watching, I see that it is not the "spanking" version). Personally I love how carefully this community watches their films! It makes my cinephilia heart very happy.

 

I've updated my comments on this film in the Canvas module to reflect that this clip is the remake and gave you the credit for the catch.

 

Thanks again!! I don't think it changes any of the points that have been made, but I do like to get my film citations right!

 

--Dr. Rich Edwards

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It certainly was a classic gag and though we probably should not laugh at the poor gardener it is hard not to. Especially when someone would be silly enough to look into the hose when it stops working obviously you will end up sprayed in the face. Slapstick is definitely an art especially with the silent films such as the film we are discussing. It is very easy to make people laugh with words but it is another thing completely when there is no sound available to make words heard so all you have is the physical side of comedy. The stars of such silent films I think are truly the masters of comedy.

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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).

 

Yes, this is what I was thinking, as well (about a gazillion years ago, I wrote a paper for an English class comparing Bugs Bunny to Woody Woodpecker using just this argument). I can never bring myself to side with the unrepentant and unjustified prankster, and so slapstick is often lost on me. Any sort of "Candid Camera" show playing pranks on unwitting victims, or bloopers videos showing genuine accidents caught on camera and replayed for laughs, will have me quickly changing the channel. 

 

As a few others have said, I too, am hoping this course gives me a greater appreciation and/or understanding of slapstick. What I appreciate at this point is not the predictability of knowing what's coming (to the contrary, I find unpredictability to be much more likely to get me to laugh), it is the innovation of the Lumiere brothers to decide to put this gag on film 120 years ago at the dawn of movie making. At the time of static camera placement, their ability to place the entire gag in the frame (and in focus) from the moment the antagonist appears, sneaking up behind the gardener, through to the gardener chasing him down and dragging him back to get his comeuppance, is what I find impressive about "L'Arroseur Arrose." The funniest part to me? As the gardener is dragging the prankster back to the hose, he manages to kick him in the seat of the pants. Whether intentional or not, that is also prescient of future slapstick gags. 

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Trying to identify some other great slapstick uses for water: Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon and Joe E. Brown all made fireman comedies, and Keaton has a great scene in The General with water pumps for steam engines. Jacques Tati has a great fountain in Mon Oncle, and let's not forget Carl Spackler and his hose vs. the Caddyshack gopher. 

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Okay, so my coffee kicked in and I saw the date for this clip. The first version of L'Arroseur Arrose is dated 1895 and has the prankster getting a spanking at the end. The second version is dated 1896 and ends with the prankster getting sprayed with the hose by the gardener. Actually the second version is more amusing to me since the prankster gets an unexpected dose of his own medicine while the gardener just goes back to his watering. There is no build up of abuse in either one, just a prankster being getting a proper payback.

 

Thanks for this post. I watched the first version dated 1895 on YouTube and I prefer the second one, too. Although I like how the boy "runs away" from the spanking in the first version by practically running around in circles, around the man. And I like how he looks directly into the camera near the end, as though he's being defiant in some way.

 

I watched both versions, without any music, without any sound, and both seem much more playful with the music.

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Like that it is a very simple gag.  Nothing taxing is required, you sit back and enjoy.  It is also something a lot of people can identify with.  Being squirted with a hose, or having someone kink the hose so it doesn't work and then hits you wammy, has happend to a lot of people. 

 

You know it's going to happen when you see the boy stand on the hose and the gardener looking at the business end.  Wait for it, wait for it.   It's coming and the anticipation of the water doesn't lessen the fun we feel when the gardener gets its square in the face!

 

I  actually thought of the boy as my son, who has had a lifelong history of playing water pranks.  So that boy to me was my son, and I'm the gardener (forgive the mustache).

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I find that the set up with the gardener's hat is so important to the gag. What added to the hilarity was when the hat flew off the gardeners head.

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It looks like this film is a perfect example of how the sight gag came to be popular in comedy films.  Additionally, it appears that the boy who stepped on the hose is representative of rebellious characters who mock authority that is so prevalent in many comedy films.

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After having watched both versions of "L'Arroseur Arrose" ( Lumiere's and Guy's) and read some of the comments posted,  I thought an interesting angle might be this... we look at the universality of the theme, the idea that audiences find the situation between the antagonist and the protagonist funny whether in 1896 or 1910, 1920 or up till today but I wonder if there might be some innuendo or degree of just how funny it is that audiences back in 1890's France perhaps got that we today don't get?  As an example: Did the way the protagonist and antagonist dress in the film give a hint to the audience of something else going on between the gardener and the boy? Did only gardeners of the "highest rank" or "most years of experience" get to wear the straw hat or a certain type of apron? Things that today's audience doesn't get? No denying that we all get the gag and enjoy it but just wondering if it wasn't even funnier as the first slapstick film back in the France of the1890s ? In terms of this film being a template for future slapstick films, I can see that it set a high bar. Make the gag simple, fast and silent!

First post ever ;)

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Watched both. Noticed the later one by Alice Guy gives us a few seconds of delightful anticipation as the boy comes out from the background and hides behind the bush for an instant before stepping on the hose. While in the original Lumiere one he enters the frame suddenly, right next to the gardener. Each entrance is funny but in a different way.

 

To the original question - yes, I see the seeds of slapstick in this short. Big coconut-sized seeds. One more humorous component I sensed is a streak of anti-authoritarianism. An adult with a job and responsibilities and authority in the garden gets pranked by a youthful trickster. And I have to admit the gardener set himself up for it by looking into the hose-end - a sensible reaction to the water-blockage but the danger of getting sprayed is right there. :P

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Pretty smart using the straw boater hat. Not only is the actor spared a blast to the face, the visual is much better when the hat blows off!
 


 

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