Dr. Rich Edwards

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

219 posts in this topic

Watching this with a critical eye, I am struck by the raw brutal but over the top and silly violence of slapstick - it's odd I never really thought about it until forced to look at it critically.  I wonder what it is that makes us enjoy that sort of humor?

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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. 

 

That's EXACTLY what I came here to comment on! It's become such a comedic trope to have one person drop the banana peel and someone else slip on it, that I expected that to happen in this Chaplin clip.  The fact that he slipped on his own peel made me laugh even harder!  I imagine the banana peel gag was already common in vaudeville, so putting this little twist on it makes it all the more surprising to the audience.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I always liked Charlie Chaplina and this just showed why. Yes, slapstick may seem brutal, but I just think that as a people we find it funny when something happens to others. We find it funny to see slapstick, pratfalls and such. That is why guys like Chaplin saw that and capitalized on that. He was a true master, but I wonder if he ever felt 'low' realizing he and others had to do this to make a living.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I always liked Charlie Chaplina and this just showed why. Yes, slapstick may seem brutal, but I just think that as a people we find it funny when something happens to others. We find it funny to see slapstick, pratfalls and such. That is why guys like Chaplin saw that and capitalized on that. He was a true master, but I wonder if he ever felt 'low' realizing he and others had to do this to make a living.

I would opine that Chaplin enjoyed everything about his craft. It shows in the way he kept getting better and better, with every film and year that went by.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It almost boggles the mind to think that these three Chaplin scenes were repeated, copied, and imitated by almost every slapstick comedian who followed Chaplin right up to the modern comedians of today.  Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, all used scenes like these or scenes very similar. The concept of the slapstick comedies protagonist being pursued by the police and the main character making the cops look like fools began right here with the scene of Chaplin rolling through the hole in the fend in "A Dog's Life".. Think of how many comedies you have seen that have shown police being foiled in slapstick comedy.   This concept was continued even into modern comedy films such as Smokey & The Bandit, The Dukes of Hazzard, and The Blues Brothers.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

I'll definitely have to check that out. Thanks for the recommendation, pawprint!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What was truly shocking to me was when I heard that such a simple comedic gag in By the Sea (1915) and something so complex as the scene in A Dog's Life (1918) were filmed only three years apart, and were it not for the film style I would have guessed that A Dog's Life (1918) was filmed much later. It really shows Chaplin's proficiency in filmmaking once he was able to get behind the camera and write as well as perform his own material.

 

I agree with this. We're just judging two very short clips, but it is really interesting how it evolved from one to the other.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's amazing to me how slapstick has evolved - but not really.  In reality we're using the same techniques, the same (relatively/sort of) gags and bits, the same setup and payoff type of beats.  In A Dog's Life, you have Chaplin have a comical run in with the police - how many movies have we seen exactly the same sort of thing played out?  There are universal themes we all feel and believe that really have changed in 100 years.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Watching this with a critical eye, I am struck by the raw brutal but over the top and silly violence of slapstick - it's odd I never really thought about it until forced to look at it critically. I wonder what it is that makes us enjoy that sort of humor?

I don't want to open a huge can of worms by introducing the idea of violence to comedy in a negative way but we actually repel from violence and that is a good thing. It's our instinct telling us escape harms way. The analysis of this particular topic in terms of comedy will be very interesting to me because it is justification of violence in many ways because it is meant for "laughs". You can replace that term with anything but it should not condone violence any more or less. That is the can of worms starting to spill out... In my opinion there is no justification for violence even when you hit someone lightly. Having said that, we are watching movies and to me that is the safest form of entertainment. They say our eyes are the windows to our souls though so proceed with comedic caution...

 

I didn't want to go dark (film noir flashbacks) too quickly but Fatty Arbuckle did a bad bad thing historically and we covered it in a film history course back when I was studying film. The long exposure to such a lifestyle may have taken its course in such circumstances. I'd argue that you have to balance your life with healthy eating, learning, physical activities, and setting examples for others because we can be very influential on others not even knowing it. You cannot just watch comedies or just watch any one genre you have to embrace as much culture as possible for a well rounded knowledge. We naturally tend to choose the forms we are most comfortable with. Usually the forms of laughter are not based on someone being hurt but someone learning something and being taught a lesson probably a lesson we are either learning or have learnt in the past. I guess my long winded response is I will be fascinated to believe people are taking the course because people just find it funny to see comedians get hurt time and time again. Why do we laugh when we laugh? I'm trying to pay attention in my analysis to that topic as well as learning all the specifics covering all those slapstick comedies through the course...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just a quick thought...I think I figured out why I can't develop an appreciation for Tillie's Punctured Romance. I don't like Chaplin playing a rather villainous sort. I guess I like my slapstick stars to be cast in a kind of heroic or at least more innocent light. There is definitely a need for the villain, or some type of opposing force to give that dynamic...but just not Charlie.

 

 

I understand your hesitance to see Charlie as a villain, but that film was made before he truly became the Charlie Chaplain we now know.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Watching “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” (again) I thought back on a comment someone made earlier after seeing the clip about being disturbed by seeing Chaplin in the role of “the bad guy.” I think that, to a certain extent, Chaplin was always playing the role of “the bad guy.” From his vaudeville days forward he portrayed characters of ill-repute, so to speak, and revealed their least likeable characteristics in the most humorous fashion. The Tramp was the epitome of “the bad guy” dressed entirely in black, constantly breaking the law, evading the police, turned into an empathetic character by exploring his environment and motivations.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

 

I think it is intentional. A course about film noir benefits from a solo presenter, talking in dim-lighted stages and "old" buildings, whereas a course about slapstick comedy benefits more from a duo of presenters playing off each other. I think it's genius.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Im loving the breakdown segments. Really gives you a new perspective on the scenes and films.

 

And side note, thus episode also reaffirms my thoughts that Chaplin was quite possibly the greatest thing that's happened to film. He had such an impact. Not just in the comedy aspect, but correct if im wrong, maybe the first (only at that time?) to write, direct, produce, star, score a film? Genius.

 

Also goes to show how much of an impact Chaplin and Keaton and even Harold Lloyd had. Still live on to this day.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A few people have mentioned slapsticks origins in vaudeville. I'm not sure if anyone has posted this link yet, but if they haven't, it is well worth a look. It's from the University of Virginia and includes a number of shorts from around 1898 to 1903 based on vaudeville acts. They're fascinating.

 

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma02/easton/vaudeville/movies.html

 

It's too bad that none of the links work in this URL. Do you have an updated URL for this resource?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would opine that Chaplin enjoyed everything about his craft. It shows in the way he kept getting better and better, with every film and year that went by.

 

I think I would agree that, if we could ask him, Chaplin would say that he enjoyed his craft. Just a guess, but why would he continue making films if he did not enjoy doing so?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's too bad that none of the links work in this URL. Do you have an updated URL for this resource?

 

 

They all work for me on google chrome. When I click on them, they automatically download a .mov file, then I can watch them this way.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have been a Chaplin fan for years, but this background and set up shows how much there is behind what at first glance appears to be a very simple gag. It is also great to watch Chaplin grow increasingly sophisticated over the course of his career. A great way to see something I have seen so many times through fresh eyes.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I feel the the art of slapstick is to help people forget about their problems by watching others getting hurt or getting in difficult situations.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Humans enjoy violence. That's why we have boxing, ultimate fighting, football, and hockey to name a few examples. Slapstick is over the top violence, which is just a different way to enjoy violence.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think I would agree that, if we could ask him, Chaplin would say that he enjoyed his craft. Just a guess, but why would he continue making films if he did not enjoy doing so?

Exactly. That was the point I was making when responding to the member's post, who wondered if [Chaplin] ever felt low in having to do slapstick for a living. After all, his career did span over 40 years. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

These film clips of Chaplin's work serve to support my case that slapstick is an extremely sophisticated form of humor. Not only does the execution of the gags require careful planning, choreography and repetition, but the concepts themselves derive from a certain pathos of human nature. Charles Chaplin demonstrates a deeper understanding of the humanity of the situations that he sets up, the elements of which are universally relatable. Even in the absurd simplicity  of the "slipping peel"  we are reminded of our own self-defeating behaviors, and the Tramp's completely naïve reaction gives us the message that we are likely to be victims of our own sabotage again and again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I didn't want to go dark (film noir flashbacks) too quickly but Fatty Arbuckle did a bad bad thing historically and we covered it in a film history course back when I was studying film. The long exposure to such a lifestyle may have taken its course in such circumstances. I'd argue that you have to balance your life with healthy eating, learning, physical activities, and setting examples for others because we can be very influential on others not even knowing it.

 

I must correct an extremely important point.

 

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle did NOT do "a bad bad thing". Nor should he be held up as an example of someone who makes bad lifestyle choices.

 

He was the completely innocent victim of a malicious and false prosecution, based on the completely false claims of an evil woman named Maude Delmont, who cooked up the outrageous lie that Arbuckle had brutally killed Virginia Rappe at a party. (Maude soon cashed in on her story by going on a big vaudeville tour, telling the lurid story to sold-out houses.)

 

Rappe was no innocent little flower. She was notorious for getting plastered and ripping off all her clothes at parties. She was riddled with disease, and had undergone a couple of illegal abortions, the most recent of which was a few days before the party. But this didn't matter to the D.A., who was determined to use Arbuckle as a scapegoat in a campaign to clean up the "sinful" movie industry. There was evidence-tampering and jury-tampering and witnesses who would say anything for the right price.

 

Arbuckle was blacklisted and endured three trials. The first two resulted in hung juries. The evidence of Arbuckle's innocence was so overwhelming that the "clean" jury in the third trial took only a few minutes to not only reach a verdict of Not Guilty, but to issue a special statement apologizing to him and saying that it was a miscarriage of justice for him to have been brought to trial at all. Then, each juror approached him and apologized personally.

 

But, after a vicious "trial by media" (led by William Randolph Hearst's syndicate), the public had already decided that Arbuckle was a depraved and evil monster, as evidenced by his "obvious gluttony". Even if he hadn't been banned from the screen by the Hays Office, the public would have boycotted his movies. Arbuckle did return to working in the movies, but off-screen, and under the pseudonym of "William Goodrich".

 

In 1933, he'd just begun a comeback, and celebrated his first year in a new marriage. That night, he died of a massive heart attack. He was only 46.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Exactly. That was the point I was making when responding to the member's post, who wondered if [Chaplin] ever felt low in having to do slapstick for a living. After all, his career did span over 40 years. 

 

I'd agree that Chaplin enjoyed his craft and pictures that weren't even his. I wish I could remember my source, but I read somewhere that Chaplin could find the good in any picture. Take someone else's picture that had failed critically or commercially, Chaplin would find something to enjoy and compliment in the film. It didn't matter to him if the whole film was successful. He was looking at what had been done and finding what he could enjoy and likely being inspired to keep trying new things in his films.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us