Dr. Rich Edwards

Breakdown of a Gag, Episode 1: Chaplin's Physical Comedy

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Most unusual, this new way of videos as I adored the professor doing the Film Noir class from a historic theatre and had hoped he would repeat it. But the use of a telestrator was a very nice way of explaining the gags in Chaplin's comedy. A telestrator would not work in explaining film noir.

 

Chaplin truly was the first master of the slapstick. He started off doing things simple with the banana peel and just got more and more creative once he was allowed more artistic control over his work.

 

I truly sympathize with the woman in "Tillie's Punctured Romance" because what she was doing was back breaking work back then and if it was ruined then there would be hell to pay. Still, Chaplin slipping and sliding all over the place was fun to watch.

 

I often wonder if the gags from "A Dog's Life" would still work today---especially with all that has happened in the news these days. As a nonconformist and someone who is not fond of authority and being told what to do, these were indeed delightful gags and probably had those in the audience who had similar experiences laughing extra hard.

 

Thanks for the shout out to the Paramount Theater shoot we did for Film Noir. As you can probably imagine, each course is different, and I like to try different things. Since this course is more focused on gags, we did hit upon the idea of using a telestrator to "break down the gag" and I think in some of the next episodes you will really see me put that technology to good use.

 

And while it is a bit "less classic" to do in the sports studio, I felt it was a great way to share my love of film in a different way. Once you get past the more modern looking set, it's really just a conversation about classic film :D

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Eeeesh.... 

If we aren't going to give props to Mabel Normand for discovering Chaplin and mentoring him, then i'm very saddened by this course already. If there was no Mabel, there would have been no Chaplin. Hopefully we can give her the respect she deserves for being a driving force in slapstick comedy and stop referring to her as 'the girl in the film'.  She gave Chaplin his break and taught him everything he knew. She should at least get a name credit <shakes my head sadly> 

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I get the feeling watching these in a row that Chaplin was not only building his own craft, but he knew he had regular fans who were watching each new film he put out, and they would likely get bored if he just did the same stuff over and over. This leads to a topic I wasn't expecting to come up this soon, the speed with which a slapstick gag becomes stale and some new twist needs to be put on it if you're going to use it again.

 

Possibly the starkest example ever of this is in the Abbott and Costello film Hit the Ice, where Lou's love interest gets angry and he backs away as she advances on him. A long shot shows he's going towards a swimming pool...but he stops on the edge and doesn't fall. Then when the girl leaves, he turns right to the camera and says "You thought I was going to fall in, didn't you?" And the next second, he does fall in for a different reason. The same basic gag, but it's just aware enough of its own cliche that you can laugh at it again.

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Chaplin was comic Genius Today we see  His bits, and we laugh our self silly. But back then his kicking the cop in the but was a kind of statement for Chaplin a kind of rallying against the establishment if you will. thumbing his nose so to speak. When you watch his bits you see a theme him against society His film The Kid is a great example of that 

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I also thought of one more Chaplin bit involving multiple performers, that's more challenging than anything seen here: in The Pawn Shop he swings around a giant ladder, hitting two other guys multiple times as he turns to talk to one or the other. Both guys actually look like they're getting hit every time in what's obviously a very carefully planned piece, and really makes me wonder if there were some painful outtakes involved. Like I said in the last board, I see a big part of the genre's success is the element of risk involved.

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Chaplin was one of the innovators of providing gags into his plots. From 1918 to 1957 he provided some of the best gags that are incorporated to the plot such as: The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), and A King in New York (1957).

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What impressed me while I was watching the Chaplin clips is not only his great timing, but also how natural, "real" if you will,  he made everything look!  I once did slip on a wet floor and can only hope that I looked as good as Chaplin did while I was frantically trying to regain my footing without getting hurt!!

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Viewing the clips of Charlie Chaplin's gags made me smile.  The gags shown were very creative for early cinema and I'm sure the movie theaters rocked with laughter.  The banana peel gag is so simple and executed with such grace that I felt the pain on my bum.  And we see the same routine but in a kitchen that is being cleaned.  He is also attempting to converse with Tillie (I'm guessing) and has a hard time getting up.  Again, it's done gracefully.

The 3rd clip from "A Dog's Life" the physical comedy is "perfected."  The way he evades the cop and going back and forth in the fence opening has a beautiful choreography to it.  As was mentioned, in the last clip he uses all of his physical comedy and the payoff is fantastically hilarious.

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I must confess, I almost didn't sign up for this class because I thought I had "outgrown" slapstick humor long ago.  However, breaking down the nuances of the gag really gives me more appreciation.  For instance, I might have overlooked how Chaplin maintains eye contact while he was doing the slips and falls;  how difficult that must have been!

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It was really fun to see the progression of complexity in Chaplin's gags over several years. As the gags get more sophisticated, one would think that they would grow funnier as well. However, I thought that the first and third clips (By The Sea, A Dog's Life) were funnier than the second (Tillie's Punctured Romance) due to the stronger personality Chaplin had in those clips. In both By The Sea and A Dog's Life, the tramp is very confident in his actions right before the main joke happens. In the first film, the tramp nonchalantly eats his banana and tosses the peel on the ground, complete with a sassy flip of his foot. We laugh when he slips on the peel because his confidence is thwarted. The same thing happens in A Dog's Life; after outsmarting the first cop, the tramp lifts his arms in triumphant victory, only to realize that there is a second cop he has to contend with. I think it is the little tramp's inexplicable confidence followed by a humbling gag that makes these scenes so funny, and also assures us that he can take whatever life throws him.

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I have loved Chaplin's films from when I remember myself up to this day. As English is not my native language, his and other slapstick films (Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton) were the very first American films I've watched and liked. I continue to consider slapstick as perhaps the purest and simplest form comedy, due to its being simple and easy to understand and, when executed properly, one of the funniest.

 

Charlie Chapin is, in my opinion, the king of comedy, and it was more than fair that this first episode began with clips of his films. He took simple but funny gags, like the banana peel and transformed them to a mature comedy form, with definite structure and characteristics and usually combined with social or political commentary. I'm just looking forward to see and learn more about him and the other slapstick heroes from the past and the present!

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I liked the concept of slapstick progression and I think it has a lot to do with the individual actor, artistic freedom, and, frankly, the physical ability. This is going to be fun! And, yes, girls can do and watch slapstick. Think of Lucy! Madeline Kahn! All of the female SNL cast! I have seen slapstick fail when the woman is the butt of the joke, or if the behavior doesn;t match the character (Meg Ryan in French Kiss, for example). But, it can be totally successful and has been in all different times. Can anyone think of other awesome slapstick women?

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The Chaplin each clips emphasize the 5-point definition from 1.2.

 

1. Slapstick involves exaggeration:

Slipping on a banana peel is now a classic gag. In reality, though, how many of us have done such a thing? To the point that we've slid across the ground and turned feet over head and fallen hard from it? This is the epitome of exaggeration.

 

2. Slapstick is physical:

Slipping, flailing, rolling back and forth through the hole in the fence, the body language speaks louder than words ever could.

 

3. Slapstick is ritualistic:

As Chaplin's character evolved, the nature of the gags did as well, but not the foundation of the gags.

 

4. Slapstick is make believe:

Because his little tramp was a character -- a "personality", as Dr. Edward points out -- unlike anyone you'd come across in day-to-day life, his existence alone is communicated to be make believe.

 

5. Slapstick is violent:

I don't read "violent" in this definition so much to be the act of causing physical harm to someone else as much as I see it as causing physical harm to oneself. Chaplin falls on his back, runs into things, slips, gets hit. It's physical to the point of being a sport, and has got to be painful. I'm looking forward to discussing Keaton, who beat himself up so terribly and so often that he broke his own neck and didn't even realize it.

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Eeeesh.... 

If we aren't going to give props to Mabel Normand for discovering Chaplin and mentoring him, then i'm very saddened by this course already. If there was no Mabel, there would have been no Chaplin. Hopefully we can give her the respect she deserves for being a driving force in slapstick comedy and stop referring to her as 'the girl in the film'.  She gave Chaplin his break and taught him everything he knew. She should at least get a name credit <shakes my head sadly>

 

No slight of Mabel Normand was intended. I was focusing on Chaplin in the analysis, and didn't mean to not give Mabel Normand her proper due. But the emphasis was on three different variations of "pratfalls" and not on his on-screen relationships with the other actors.

 

This course will celebrate Mabel Normand - we have two of her films in OUCH! A Salute to Slapstick, and I hope fans of Normand contribute to twitter and the message boards.

 

Finally, please recognize it is hard to cover everything in a short six minute video. 

 

Best, Dr. E.

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cpelfrey:Can anyone think of other awesome slapstick women?

 

To one extent or another the following ladies have accomplished great physical gags in some classic films:

 

Carole Lombard in "Nothing Sacred" and "My Man Godfrey"

Claudette Colbert In "It Happened One Night" and"Palm Beach Story"

Katherine Hepburn in "Woman of the Year" and "The Philadelphia Story"

 
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cpelfrey:Can anyone think of other awesome slapstick women?

 

To one extent or another the following ladies have accomplished great physical gags in some classic films:

 

Carole Lombard in "Nothing Sacred" and "My Man Godfrey"

Claudette Colbert In "It Happened One Night" and"Palm Beach Story"

Katherine Hepburn in "Woman of the Year" and "The Philadelphia Story"

 

My personal favorite is Lucille Ball - she was one of my first introductions to slapstick comedy

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This is going to sound sappy and it only references back to a few, Chaplin and Keaton definitely but mixed in with all the prat falls (a word I'm now curious about) but mixed in with all the physicality and overt violence there is an underlying sweetness, a kind of innocence. I sense it also in Oliver and Hardy. And it's a big part of what makes it so much fun when they get the better of and escape from authority figures, etc. They are everyman. I'm sure to a country of immigrants this was part of the allure. And you did not need to know how to speak English to enjoy slapstick. It is a universal language all its own.

 

Chaplin's gags are so fresh they still feel as if they were shot last week. And there is such a beauty in the way he moves his body as if he is in a dance. He always knew where he was in time and space. He made it all look so easy.

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On a side note: Anyone else just amazed by the course format? 

I've never seen this setup in an online course (not sure if the previous noir course was similar to this one) but I'm finding it quite fun actually. And how much work must have gone into all this! :o 
Looking forward to the rest of hte course!

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I enjoy watching these films because you have to really watch and be mindful of what is going on around the characters.  My children, now all adults, were introduced to these films when they were young.  They also enjoy them.  Hopefully, through this course I will be able to attain even more understanding of all the nuances of these films.

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I have loved Chaplin's films from when I remember myself up to this day. As English is not my native language, his and other slapstick films (Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton) were the very first American films I've watched and liked. I continue to consider slapstick as perhaps the purest and simplest form comedy, due to its being simple and easy to understand and, when executed properly, one of the funniest.

 

Charlie Chapin is, in my opinion, the king of comedy, and it was more than fair that this first episode began with clips of his films. He took simple but funny gags, like the banana peel and transformed them to a mature comedy form, with definite structure and characteristics and usually combined with social or political commentary. I'm just looking forward to see and learn more about him and the other slapstick heroes from the past and the present!

Its great that you could enjoy these silent movies- slapstick has no language barriers.

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My personal favorite is Lucille Ball - she was one of my first introductions to slapstick comedy

 

Well, I grew up on "I Love Lucy." I still laugh if I think of her interactions with William Holden , especially when she sets fire to her putty nose while he lights her cigarette. That said, Lucy wasn't ladylike in her gags. Even as a little girl, watching "I Love Lucy," I can remember wondering why Ricky loved her. She was hilarious, but I didn't see her as a woman.

 

In my view, no one can doubt that Lombard, Colbert and Hepburn are ladylike, even in the midst of physical comedy.

 

BTW, I am not a big fan of slapstick a la the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Abbott and Costello. I took this class because I enjoyed the noir course so much last summer. I woke up each Monday through Thursday anxious to write my essay on these boards. Although I knew a lot about noir, I learned quite a bit. We also watched lots of films I had never seen before. It was a thoroughly enjoyable two months. Thank You!

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Good use of the clips to show Chaplin's technique. As others have mentioned, the key to their success includes integration into the story and character, no matter how simple. This is especially effective in the "Dog's Life" scene where evading the police is crucial. Also, Chaplin's smile of victory having evaded the first cop while we see the second cop coming behind - all humorous set-up.

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Amazing to watch Chaplin!  Truly an innovative, creative artist.  I've enjoyed  the films I've seen of his immensely and will definitely explore more.   I like that he consciously inserted social commentary in his films.  Dog's Life was delightful too!

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I think one of the things in comedy is the ability for comedians to connect with an audience on an emotional level. We like Chaplin, and therefore, find it funny that he is able to elude the police in a humorous and mocking way.  In his latter films, Chaplin created great empathy and pathos in films like The Kid and City Lights that really connected with audiences through a range of emotions between laughter and sadness.  He made us laugh with the most rudimentary sight gags and pratfalls and made us cry with just an facial expression.  In both cases, we are touched by Chaplin's character deeply and emotionally beyond just watching someone slip on a banana peel.

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