Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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I wanted to add a quick note on the style of the video lectures so far.  It's definitely not what I expected, especially after having taken and loved the Noir Summer course and its more standard lecture-style videos in the historic Paramount movie palace.  But I enjoyed it, and I think its more relaxed and farcical style taken from the more light-hearted world of sports commentary is an inspired idea and fits the genre we're studying.  (And the telestrator does help to slow down and examine fast-moving gags.)  Compliments for trying something new and keeping it interesting.  Look forward to seeing what's next.  And I hope this TCM-Canvas-Ball-State-Richard-Edwards connection continues for more courses and innovations in the future that cover other genres and film topics.

 

Also, I'm really enjoying the message boards.  Reading the opinions and expertise of others and "talking" through the subject matter and concepts is really interesting and exciting, and helpful in coming to an understanding of the subjects and forming your own ideas and opinions.  I wish I had taken more advantage of it in the film noir course.

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I enjoyed the first video lecture. Cute "sports commentary" setup that is perfect for breaking down a scene. I teach film at the high school level and plan to show some of these segments to my students to get them to think about how to prepare an analysis. I appreciate seeing the progression of Chaplin from a minor player to the physical comedy star we know as "The Tramp". Looking forward to Buster Keaton in Week 2 as he is my favorite!

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I keep thinking about what Dr. Edwards quoted Charlie Chaplin saying about slapstick - how "nothing transcended personality." How would the same gag look if someone other than Chaplin as the Little Tramp were performing it? I wonder: how does the personality inform and transform the physicality?

 

In the first bit where the Little Tramp eats a banana and throws the peel on the ground, the Little Tramp does a little flourish with his left foot right before he turns and slips on the banana with his right foot. This is how I think he injects his personality into his physicality. That gesture shows he's so happy and carefree (why shouldn't I toss my banana peel up into the air??) and suddenly, his other foot prompts the reversal (you can slip on your own banana peel and fall!).

 

One last note: I was actually surprised that he himself slipped on it! (A lot of people seem to know exactly how these gags will end, but I don't!)  I've so often seen a second person slip on the banana peel, and that's what I expected to happen here. 

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Several things came to mind in this lecture. The personality in a gag goes with the personality of the character. The gags Chaplin executes are done in a melodic, almost dancing performance. W.C. Fields would call Chaplin a ballet dancer. Chaplin's movements were very artistict compared to say, Keaton. Keaton was more calculated and sometimes mechanical and even death defying. Much different in character to Chaplins.  Chaplin said that there must be truth in comedy so his gags were honest as well as fun.

 

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Mr. Chaplin, from what I've read, seen, and heard, was a perfectionist in how he proceeded with a gag, and this can be seen perfectly within the clips shown in the first episode. They were all carefully structured and planned out to where he was able to execute the gags flawlessly without fail, and that what made Chaplin one of the greats in both film and comedy as a whole.

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Funny.  Only yesterday, I mentioned what the clip refers to as social commentary, fighting back when being bullied by the cops, and here it is!

 

A prelude to the shot below.  : )

post-60355-0-22281400-1472687286_thumb.jpg

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I found the use of the telestrator to discuss these clips of Chaplin very entertaining. It almost seems like a person would need one to explain the gag and the reason behind it. It also was interesting to see how his gags evolutionized (if that's remotely a word) from a simple slip of the banana peel, to more physical reactions (slipping on soap and water, using a trap exit to escape the cops). In later films, Chaplin does even more physical gags to make his career skyrocket.

 

I'm excited to see more of this and others as we move along in this course. My DVR is going to hate me! ????

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I agree with Truan.  I may not comment on class material, but I do enjoy reading the message boards.  It is very much like reading the comments section at the end of an article.  It is the equivalent of participating in a round table discussion without being physically present.  Submitted comments/messages make me look at the topic from a different perspective that I would otherwise not have thought about or considered.  I appreciate what everyone has to say.  Just like the adage states:  There is no such thing as a stupid question.  I also believe there is no such thing as a stupid comment.   :D   Thanks to everyone for their input.  

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The three clips from Chaplin's early career were so smart, simple and hilarious.  I enjoyed the use of highlighting what to look for in Chaplin's physical comedy.  Chaplin's comedic timing is perfect and clearly shown in the clips.  I look forward to learning more from this class!!  ;)
 

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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.

 

"Prat" is British slang for the human posterior so a pratfall is falling on one's keister.

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

 

Jackie Chan has made numerous references to how the great silent comedians were how he first got into the movies despite not speaking English as a kid, which is why he's had so many homages to them throughout his career. It's double the enjoyment if you know your stuff.

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I definitely felt the comic simplicity of Chaplins slipping on the banana peel gag. In the next clip where he is evading the policeman by the use of that trapped door at the bottom of the fence it showed how  Chaplin made it seem so easy to perform without a hitch and then being able to escape both policemen by using the samne tactic. In the final clip slipping on the wet floor it shows how acrobatics and a touch of gymnastics is introduced by way of knowing how to fall and the slapstick of it happening several times. 

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One idea to throw out-- a gag breaks tension and shifts focus, giving the audience a break. It's a technique Shakespeare used regularly (think Romeo and Juliet, where a tense, dramatic scene is followed by Mercutio doing something amusing). I'm going to pay extra attention to this when watching the films in September, because it's honestly not something I thought about before.

 

Another thought: before Rodgers and Hammerstein popularized the form of using a song to move along the plot of a musical, songs were simply THERE. Often, a random song in the writers' vault was placed somewhat arbitrarily into some stage business, and it would stop the plot in the way some slapstick gags do. So are we perhaps seeing early movies built around gags? As in, the director or actor wants to do a particular gag and just does it without thinking about how it fits into the plot?

While this course is about slapstick, I cannot fail to correct your statement about Rodgers & Hammerstein. Songs that advanced the plot and were integral to the musical preceded Rodgers & Hammerstein. The songs in "Show Boat" are a good example.

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It again strikes me that when you see these gags, you (the audience) know what's coming. As soon as Chaplin throws the banana peel away, you know he's going to slip on it. What you don't know is exactly how he will slip on it and what will develop next until it happens. But I wonder if this is because we have over 100 years of movie comedy behind us and therefore know the set-ups and the inevitable results or whether this foreknowledge is integral to slapstick. Was an audience member in 1915 able to anticipate what was going to happen or was he totally surprised when Chaplin slipped and fell?

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I just love the character he gives to each gag I think the policeman is one of my favorites. he can even take something as simple as slipping on a Banana peel and make it his own. 

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Mr. Chaplin, from what I've read, seen, and heard, was a perfectionist in how he proceeded with a gag, and this can be seen perfectly within the clips shown in the first episode. They were all carefully structured and planned out to where he was able to execute the gags flawlessly without fail, and that what made Chaplin one of the greats in both film and comedy as a whole.

 

There's a great British documentary series called Unknown Chaplin that shows exactly how Chaplin worked out and perfected some of his gags.  I think you can find some episodes or part-episodes on YouTube, but you can read more about it here: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/70826%7C70840/The-Unknown-Chaplin-Episode-One.html

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First of all I love the ESPN vibe. The commentators serious look at slapstick. I love Charlie Chaplin. Very funny. And he always had a lot of heart. And indeed always made a statement. It's easy to forget that because it's slapstick and silly looking. But he was brilliant at the statements as well as the funny!

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Chaplin's dedication to his craft was amazing, and he really knew what he was doing. He payed attention to each gag, and made sure it worked. It wasn't just slapstick with Chaplin; it was also humanity and the complexity that comes with it. There is nothing better than a great Chaplin gag!

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The set (“from Turner Sports Studios”) and the discussion format made me laugh, and I thought it was genius to put some parody into the discussion of Charlie Chaplin’s comedy bits. But the setup really started me thinking. The set and the discussion format were humorous to me because I am familiar with modern sports casting and sports commentary. But someone in Chaplin’s era probably wouldn’t know what to make of either one.

 

So I’m wondering if Chaplin’s comedic genius also involved knowing his medium (film) and knowing his audience. He and all comics need an audience—people who find the material funny. Did the increasing sophistication of his comedy bits match the increasing sophistication of movie audiences as they grew familiar with film and what it could convey?

 

My guess is that all three—Chaplin’s comedic genius, technology, and audience—played nearly equal roles.

 

I found the discussion of personality development in Chaplin's comedy fascinating. It gets audiences to identify with the character and then to invest something of themselves in the character's story. I'm going to look for this in the next episode about Keaton. I bet it will apply to him, too.

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Never really thought much about the intricate workings of a slapstick comedy routine. Just find them amusing. This course is giving me a whole new perspective on how much work really has to go into something that looks so effortless.

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I am going to check out the movies before really jumping in on the clips. The Dog's Life clip was poetic genius as was the banana peel but, and there always is one, I wasn't very engaged by the one film I have watched: Tillie's Punctured Romance. The gags didn't seem well developed. I mean, how many time does anyone need to kick someone in the fanny? A lot of the action seemed too chaotic and down right unnecessary. I am going to watch it again because I may have just been too tired when I watched it last.

 

I could really begin to empathize with him in Dog's Life and I truly enjoyed the way he moved, timing perfect and his reaction to the second cop behind him was brilliant. You can really see and enjoy his growth in his craft.

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What strikes me most about the initial discussion of Chaplin is understanding the context in which he was able to succeed. When you consider the early works of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd, and dozens of others, you must remember that they were pioneering a new genre of expression. They were developing their characters and rituals that would define them, and they were bringing comedy to film.

 

I guess I never really thought about it before but, because early films were silent, the comedy had to be slapstick. The exaggeration, rituals, physical nature, and violence were necessities without the dialogue and sound effects that followed. The violence tended to be milder, so it was easier to see it was make believe.

 

In the end, while some may view these films as primitive and simple, I am amazed at what these geniuses were able to accomplish.

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First of all I love the ESPN vibe. The commentators serious look at slapstick. I love Charlie Chaplin. Very funny. And he always had a lot of heart. And indeed always made a statement. It's easy to forget that because it's slapstick and silly looking. But he was brilliant at the statements as well as the funny!

I loved the set and using the telestrator made me feel like the game was at halftime..

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I grew up watching slapstick and no matter how many times I see it and know what's going on, I still bust up. Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, etc were great at slapstick and the timing. They were all great in their own ways. I like the video and getting breakdowns of the movie and the meaning of slapstick and gag. I'm learning more than I ever dreamed and it makes me excited when I watch these movies again.

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It again strikes me that when you see these gags, you (the audience) know what's coming. As soon as Chaplin throws the banana peel away, you know he's going to slip on it. What you don't know is exactly how he will slip on it and what will develop next until it happens. But I wonder if this is because we have over 100 years of movie comedy behind us and therefore know the set-ups and the inevitable results or whether this foreknowledge is integral to slapstick. Was an audience member in 1915 able to anticipate what was going to happen or was he totally surprised when Chaplin slipped and fell?

I think so. When Chaplin does these foolish routines it being so natural is what makes it funny - I'm going to walk now...boom.. Crazy.

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