Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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Welcome to #SlapstickFall!

 

We hope you will join our free and flexible online course. If you haven't done so already, go to www.tcm.com/slapstick and sign up. We just got started and the films won't begin airing on TCM till 9/5/16. 

 

We are beginning the course by going to what many critics and scholars consider the first slapstick film ever made, Louis Lumiere's 1896 short, L'Arroseur Arrosé. The film's title is a bit of a tongue twister in the original French, and is usually translated as "The Waterer Watered" or "The Sprinkler Sprinkled." I also have a link to a YouTube version of this film so you can watch it (the film is in the public domain). 

 

I raise questions about the film at the Canvas course website (which is freely available if you sign up for the course). Feel free to respond to any of those questions, or consider what impact you think this film had on the evolution of slapstick comedy in the movies. Does it contain the "seeds" of the more complex slapstick films that it would inspire? 

 

Let the discussions begin!

 

--Dr. Richard Edwards

Instructor: TCM Presents Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies

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What first comes to mind about this short film is how basic the setup is. As Gerald Mast asks, what is the protagonist trying to accomplish? Usually it is a very simple, everyday kind of routine task. And some comically exaggerated obstacle gets in the way. I guess that I've always considered the root of so many - if not most - slapstick to be unrealistical, humor-based sight gags that interfere with the tasks and/or activities of everyday life. Ex. A prankster steps on your garden hose, then you get sprayed Ex. A banana peel on the ground results in an unexpected tumble Ex. Innocent bystanders getting caught up in a public pie fight once they themselves are unintentionally hit with a stray one

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This is a very interesting look into the early days of cinematic comedy. It's a very simple gag, nonetheless and executed very simply, nonetheless. Just two people are in this "film" and I say "film" because this is less than a minute long. In this short film, a man is simply gardening and a prankster comes along and steps on his garden hose so that the gardener gets sprayed in the face. The gardener then punishes the prankster as the prankster runs away. It's a very basic slapstick gag that I'm sure we're going to be seeing much more of in the later Keystone days.

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And, if I can add, the body actions are exaggerated.

 

Interesting was how the hose had a substantial split (leak) in it  and I wonder if there may have been another scene or idea the director / actors were considering.

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Seems logical to me that this early example of slapstick begins with a very mundane task that is then turned against the protagonist to his consternation but the viewers delight.

 

I also noticed that the still photo at the head of the page does not actually appear to be from the film.

In the still, the boy is wearing a black vest, not so in the film.

It also appears to be in a different location, there is no path visible in the still, but there is clearly one in the film.

An early example of a publicity still, or were there multiple versions of this short?

 

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Two weeks ago, I was at the Lumiere Museum in Lyon, France, and I saw "L'Arroseur Arrose" and Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat [1895]), as well as several other first films. I was surprised to see that slapstick was introduced so early into movie form! By the way, your copy of the film is in much better resolution than what is shown at the Lumiere Museum, although your course material incorrectly identifies the dates of these two films as 1885 and 1886 instead of as 1895 and 1896.

 

At the museum, it was fascinating to see how the concepts of what a film should or could depict evolved so rapidly. Some of the first films recreated scenes from famous paintings. For example, one painting depicting men playing cards was made into a film depicting Antoine Lumiere playing cards with his friends. From this, the concept evolved to scenes of life, such as people playing petanque or having a snowball fight or playing a prank with a water hose, ha ha.

 

This course has started out great, and I look forward to what it will teach me.  

 

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The film has me wondering if this is the first time the antagonist has pulled a gag on the protagonist? Is it a reoccurring antagonism?

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And, if I can add, the body actions are exaggerated.

 

Interesting was how the hose had a substantial split (leak) in it  and I wonder if there may have been another scene or idea the director / actors were considering.

 

I have a comment about the "body actions are exaggerated" statement. As you will find in later slapstick comedy silent films such as the Keystone films, the body actions are often exaggerated especially with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Ford Sterling, and Fatty Arbuckle.

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The film has me wondering if this is the first time the antagonist has pulled a gag on the protagonist? Is it a reoccurring antagonism?

 

And I have no feeling for the antagonist until he became the victim.   Then I started rooting for him to obtain his revenge.

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And I have no feeling for the antagonist until he became the victim.   Then I started rooting for him to obtain his revenge.

I was just the opposite. I found myself hoping the antagonist had gotten away with it. What would have been even funnier if the victim had tripped over the hose when he chased the antagonist.

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The "first film poster," which shows an audience watching a scene from "L'Arroseur Arrose," is missing something which is in every movie poster today - namely, the title of the film! At the Lumiere Museum, it was pointed out that in the beginning, people came just to see the phenomenon of moving pictures. They did not come to see any specific film. In fact, even earlier posters than this one did not depict people in an audience or a scene from any movie. The name of the theater was sufficient.    

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First of all, I'm impressed that the film is such good quality! 

 

Second, I don't think it's necessary to overcomplicate it.  It's funny.  Period.  It's something that we can all relate to.  Who hasn't been the victim of a jokester crimping the hose and letting it go just when we put it to our face to see why the water stopped?  

 

Third, this is going to be fun!!!

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The gardner just wants to water his plants in the grass so that his plants can grow and flourish. Let's say that the antagonist in the film was his neighbor and that he just wants a reaction from the gardener just for fun. The legacy has involved usually an innocent bystander and a mischievous prankster just for comic fare nowadays the idea would be simple and tame. As the evolution of comedy has evolved over the years. So the film set a precedent for other comic films to follow as an example as well as television. This film I found out was referenced in an episode of The Simpsons Season 14 episode 5 titled "Helter Shelter" where Bart suggested that they go outside and see Homer drinking from a hose just to enjoy their merriment since there is nothing exciting on television anymore as an example.

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First of all, I'm impressed that the film is such good quality! 

 

Second, I don't think it's necessary to overcomplicate it.  It's funny.  Period.  It's something that we can all relate to.  Who hasn't been the victim of a jokester crimping the hose and letting it go just when we put it to our face to see why the water stopped?  

 

Third, this is going to be fun!!!

 

I agree with Kim_J_Lamb on this one, this film has good quality and even though the film does have multiple interpretations, it started out as just a simple premise that the filmmaker was hoping to accomplish and he did successfully.

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The "first film poster," which shows an audience watching a scene from "L'Arroseur Arrose," is missing something which is in every movie poster today - namely, the title of the film! At the Lumiere Museum, it was pointed out that in the beginning, people came just to see the phenomenon of moving pictures. They did not come to see any specific film. In fact, even earlier posters than this one did not depict people in an audience or a scene from any movie. The name of the theater was sufficient.

That's interesting! I didn't notice the missing information. I can see there's going to be a bit of history needed to understand the social context of some films. I imagine there may also be a cultural context to consider as well.

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The film has me wondering if this is the first time the antagonist has pulled a gag on the protagonist? Is it a reoccurring antagonism?

 

I was also thinking that same exact question. My answer is that it is a reoccurring antagonism. The way that the gardener spanks the kid in the end indicates that this has happened many times before. I don't think the punishment would have been this brutal if this was the first time the kid had did it.

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What a lovely film! One thing that struck me was how live performance (circus, vaudeville, etc.) influenced the first films. The first film makers didn't invent the gags for the films...they filmed what was already happening. I'm interested to see how new techniques (like Keaton using multiple exposures, etc.) for comedy that film allowed (the original SFX) compare and contrast with just straight documentary filming of physical gags...that evolution is fascinating!

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Even the Marx Brothers first film was basically a filming of their vaudeville act. So, I agree, there was a lot of slapstick even before film. And its universal. Everyone laughs when the professor gets a pie in the face, or slips in the mud, or gets stuck in cruise cabin. I love this class! I loved the Film Noir class, I learned a lot, but i'm a big fan of slapstick. My brothers and I used to watch Mel Brooks movies over and over again.  Hooray for Captain Spalding! 

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I was also thinking that same exact question. My answer is that it is a reoccurring antagonism. The way that the gardener spanks the kid in the end indicates that this has happened many times before. I don't think the punishment would have been this brutal if this was the first time the kid had did it.

I was thinking it is possibly a father/son...

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For me, this clip captures a key element of comedy, anticipation. I do not know very much about slapstick, but when I think back on old comedy routines, my enjoyment was heightened by my anticipation of the reaction I knew was coming. We see the boy messing with the hose and know that the water will spray all over the gardner, but we still find it amusing when it plays out in front of us.

I'm looking forward to learning more about this form of comedy!

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As someone below mentioned that it isn't necessary to overcomplicate things, I found this argument about the film rather amusing, but not at all convincing. 

 

 

Charles Musser in ‘The Emergence of Cinema’, wrote that

 

'this comic situation, in which the gardener and the bad boy humiliate each other, reveals a rich latent content from a psychoanalytic perspective. The long nozzle attached to the hose, which practically runs through the gardener’s legs, is an allusion to the ****. The boy’s actions in blocking and unblocking the hose suggest masturbatory play with homosexual references. While the boy’s punishment at the end resonates with societal prohibitions against ****, it does not fully negate the pleasure involved in the boy’s play with the hose. Moreover, an (implicitly assumed) adult male spectator could find nostalgic pleasure in both the transgression and the punishment.' (p. 143)

 

https://books.google.co.th/books?id=IEUMWToGOtUC

 

(interesting that TCM puts **** there)

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As someone below mentioned that it isn't necessary to overcomplicate things, I found this argument about the film rather amusing, but not at all convincing. 

 

 

Charles Musser in ‘The Emergence of Cinema’, wrote that

 

'this comic situation, in which the gardener and the bad boy humiliate each other, reveals a rich latent content from a psychoanalytic perspective. The long nozzle attached to the hose, which practically runs through the gardener’s legs, is an allusion to the ****. The boy’s actions in blocking and unblocking the hose suggest masturbatory play with homosexual references. While the boy’s punishment at the end resonates with societal prohibitions against ****, it does not fully negate the pleasure involved in the boy’s play with the hose. Moreover, an (implicitly assumed) adult male spectator could find nostalgic pleasure in both the transgression and the punishment.' (p. 143)

 

https://books.google.co.th/books?id=IEUMWToGOtUC

 

(interesting that TCM puts **** there)

...sometimes a hose is just a hose...!

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the impact of the this short is pretty big. Everyone has referenced it at some point even The Simpsons.

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The film reminds me of those old Bugs Bunny cartoons where it just becomes a complete game of one-upmanship and humiliation in creative ways. The questions it raises for me are all about what happened before and after, rather than understanding what is happening now -- why did this start? What will happen next? Who will win?

 

From a structural perspective, it's a simple, brief story: the set-up (man waters plants with hose), the revelation/potential for conflict (a boy arrives), the conflict (boy messes with hose), and the aftermath (sprays man in face, gets chased).

 

Who'd have thought three years of narrative studies would come in handy for a 45-second movie about a man spraying himself in the face? Looking forward to the next.

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This film marks a natural and happy marriage of something new - the medium of film - with something very old - visual humor. Many of the earliest films were recordings of plotless events - a train approaching, workers leaving a factory, a family eating. The novelty itself was enough to attract audiences at first, but it made good sense to combine it with something else that audiences enjoyed - a comic bit.

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