Dr. Rich Edwards

Wes Gehring on Film Comedy, Episodes 1-9

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I wanted to open a message thread dedicated to this week's web series, "Wes Gehring on Film Comedy." They are 9 short videos that cover slapstick in the movies from 1915 - 1950. Dr. Wes D. Gehring is Distinguished Professor of Film at Ball State University and has written 36 books on film, mostly on film comedy, including Forties Film Funnymen (McFarland Press, 2010).

 

Use this thread to discuss Wes's contributions to our explorations of slapstick in the movies!!

 

Thanks Wes for being a part of #SlapstickFall!

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I am so glad that Prof Gehring spent some bit of time in Part Four of his videos (The Transition to Sound) discussing the number of years spent changing over from silents to sound. Similar to the general misunderstanding expressed earlier about the availability of musical accompaniment in theaters, I believe there may be a misunderstanding on this subject. The country was still rural, based upon an agricultural economy right through World War Two (which ended in 1945, for those who may not remember). We had no highway systems to speak of because relatively few people had cars. We had no "rapid transit" systems outside the handful of major cities. Indeed, into the 1940s, many people still travelled by horse. Many people did not have electricity or running water in their homes. In the late 1920s and early 1930s--the period under discussion--the Great Migration into the cities was just underway and movie makers were still catering to the rural audience they had known for decades out "in the sticks." These rural audiences didn't so much "go to the movies" as having the movies come to them. They saw films not in grand movie palaces but in small, dark rooms that we wouldn't think to call "theaters" today. When sound was introduced, most of these could not be converted. They had to be dispensed with, and new theaters designed for sound had to be built. Obviously, the costs involved usually meant consolidating in as many instances as possibile; but serving this still geographically diverse audience meant consolidating as infrequently as possible, as well. It was a delicate balancing act, financially, for many years, especially as the burdens of the Depression squeezed everyone from all sides.

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I realize this is off topic, but since Prof Gehring brought up the subject of variety in Video 5, I was wondering about the evolution of the musical through the sound era. Clearly, Hollywood went straight to the musical (The Jazz Singer) as soon as sound was available. It was the logical first choice. But they didn't seem to stick with it, early on, despite the fact that Broadway musicals were already quite popular, and so many were available (or so it seems). They jumped quickly to other, tried and true vehicles and then to the more "common" variety show. Why?

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Prof Gehring's brief profile of Lloyd in Video three is at once both fascinating and chilling. I've always liked Lloyd, but I don't think I'll ever be able to watch him again with the same eyes after someone shared that post about his book of 3-D nudie pictures and Prof Gehring describing him as his era's Babbit.

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I watched all of Gehring's videos, and each time, I became even more enlightened to his dedication to explain in detail the development and success of the "slapstick" comedy. There is an intelligence to his discussion of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, the Marx Brothers, Charley Chase, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello. He doesn't just describe the way that those geniuses created "slapstick", he describes the importance of this genre in film history. I look forward to more of Gehring's discussion on the evolution of film comedy.  

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Dr. Gehring's interviews are a great addition to the course content.  I've learned so much about the development of slapstick film and the challenges involved in  transitioning from silent to sound films. I also appreciate being able to learn more about the comedians themselves.  Thank you, Dr. Gehring, for your willingness to take part in this course!

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Professor Gehring,

You are the cornucopia of data for all of comedy! Thank you so much, hope to see you at 2017 TCM Film Festival.

 

I was introduced to how silents became talkies and vaudevillians at last years festival. I was so impressed, I decided then to learn more about my favorite gang of childhood comic heroes. Your input has definitely tied lots of loose ends together for me already. Very grateful for you and all you have done in this field of study.

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Thanks Dr. Gehring! I would give you a golden pie or slapstick trophy if I could afford it but the thought is what counts so cheers to you and Dr. Edwards! If you two are ever so inclined you should record yourselves amongst your other Doctor peers and recite the spies like us bit where they acknowledge eachother as "Doctor, Doctor, Doctor-Doctor...and Doctor!" ;)

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I find Dr Gehring's observations to be valuable and informative, and the "Breakdown Of The Gag" videos have given me a few fresh insights into bits I've seen many times throughout my life. In general, I have to say that so far, I'm really enjoying this class and the message boards. It's a joy to be communicating with so many people who are so knowledgeable and who truly love the films as much as I do.

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I've watched his 1st thru 7th videos but I'm not seeing Dr. Gehring's 8th and 9th videos... Where the heck are they? Thanks for any help...

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I have been enjoying Wes Gerhings series. Its so informative to see the whys and wherefores. I look forward to more.

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I've watched his 1st thru 7th videos but I'm not seeing Dr. Gehring's 8th and 9th videos... Where the heck are they? Thanks for any help...

 

I think only episodes 1 through 7 have been posted so far. The first seven episodes were the only ones covered on the second quiz, so I think the remaining two will be coming this week. Just a guess.

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I just checked the course at Canvas, and Episode 8 of Wes Gehring's presentation is posted for Week 4.

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I think you meant 1-8, because there was no 9th video when I was watching it. But other than that it was great fun watching the videos, since I got to learn about these different comedians and the different eras in which they became popular.

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I think only episodes 1 through 7 have been posted so far. The first seven episodes were the only ones covered on the second quiz, so I think the remaining two will be coming this week. Just a guess.

Thanks Marianne. That's what I was worried about. Thanks again...

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Episode 8: Some interesting insights on the transition of actors from film to television, and which studios were viewed as more comedian friendly than others.  Another transitional period for the industry and like other transitional periods - some actors actually increased in stature, while others fell behind.  Much like transition from vaudeville and circus to silent, silent to sound, move from radio to film - the evolution continues.  Also, the view that television was a lesser art form.  

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I think you meant 1-8, because there was no 9th video when I was watching it. But other than that it was great fun watching the videos, since I got to learn about these different comedians and the different eras in which they became popular.

 

I think Episode 9 is still to come. The title of this discussion thread reads partly "Episodes 1-9," so there's every reason to believe, so far, that another episode is coming our way.

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I think Episode 9 is still to come. The title of this discussion thread reads partly "Episodes 1-9," so there's every reason to believe, so far, that another episode is coming our way.

 

Yes, there is still a final Episode, #9, which is going to be a part of Super Slapstick, Part 2 - the next part of the current module. It will be up for Monday, September 19. Thanks!

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When Dr. Gehring says Skelton's "career" ended, he means his "film career," of course. His television career lasted quite a long time and had a signifcant impact on the career of many other comedians.

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Regarding Dr. Gehring's comments in episode #9, I find it ironic that just as some people in the film industry didn't think "talking pictures" would be around very long, there were those in Hollywood who didn't think that TV would have an significant impact! For whatever reasons, they had no vision of the future!

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I was a bit taken aback with Dr. Gehring's comment that because Red Skelton left movies for television we didn't know him. I mainly knew of him because of his TV show, which we watched each week when I was a kid. Movies weren't as available as they are now, at least where I grew up. My first view of him in a movie was a revelation... and that was on TV also, not in a theater. Since that time, of course, I sought out all of his films and really enjoyed them all. A great visual and verbal comedian.

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It is very interesting and enlightening to listen to Dr. Gehring's insights on Slapstick. He has a marvelous way of humanizing the people that are often bigger than life. Say the name, Chaplin and try not to associate the word "genius" with him. The same is true with Keaton, The Marx Brothers and many others. But Dr. Gehring's conversational style liberates them from their pedestals bringing them and the times they inhabited down to earth and back to life. His knowledge connects the eras to one another with the overlap of stars from earlier eras or different mediums (circus, vaudeville, stage, radio) serving as bridges. Knowing this helps to explain both the innovations and constant retooling of familiar gags. He explains the vagaries of popularity of those who were once the darlings of comedy but whose names now are known only by hardcore fans. His knowledge is so extensive there is almost nothing he does not know concerning the history of Slapstick. It has really been a treat.

 

A big thank you to both Dr. Gehring and Dr. Edwards.

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These episodes are a great addition to the course. It was very gracious of Dr. Gehring to offer his knowledge and insights. I have his name on my reading list: I know I will want to read more after the course has finished.

 

And I could say the same for the films. I just can't fit all of them in while the course is still in progress, but I'll have plenty to see afterward.

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I picked up a lot from Dr. Gehring and have appreciated his insights and contributions. He has added background and context. I particularly liked his kind words about Red Skelton, who I think is under appreciated.

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